emotion

Calm the heck down in 4 easy steps

July 17, 2012 at 9:55 AM ET

Darren Green Photography /
By Ashley Insalaco

Men's Health

 

In Charlie Sheen's new show, "Anger Management," the ever-volatile actor plays a therapist who calms down fiery, pissed-off dudes. Feel like you've needed to seek Sheen's counsel lately? New research in the Journal of Neuroscience might explain why.

Your anger could be due to a genetic predisposition of low levels of the enzyme monoamine oxidase A, which help you to break down adrenaline, the study found.

So how can you relax? Take a cue from Mitch Abrams, Psy.D., a sports psychologist and the author of "Anger Management in Sport," to learn how to tame your rage for good. We can guarantee it's better advice than what you'd get from Sheen. (Want more must-have health insight delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the Men's Health Daily Dose newsletter.)

1. Use your belly

Your typical anger response is a mix of an increased heart rate, sweating, hastened breathing, muscle tension, and the urge to urinate, says Abrams. And while you can really only control your breathing and muscle tension, fortunately, it's all you need to stop your anger. "If we can reverse one, we can reverse them all," he says.

Take a deep breath. Does your stomach expand? If not, like most Americans, you're breathing wrong. And since breathing is one of the anger responses that you can control, it's important to do it right. The correct way to breathe--a method called "diaphragmatic breathing"--should involve the extension of your stomach, not your chest, says Abrams.

Do this: Put your hand between your sternum and navel. As you breathe in, your hand should move outward. Imagine that you're blowing up a balloon in your stomach as you inhale. Visualize a relaxing place, like a beach, and time your breathing with the waves. "The more sensory involved the image is, the better the breathing will be," says Abrams.

2. Relax your muscles

Make a fist . . . just don't use it on anyone. Starting with your hands, tense your muscles for 10 seconds before releasing, then work your way down your body. Alternating between states of tension and relaxation in your muscles will help you perfect the art of calming down, says Abrams. Just like in sports, you have to practice to get it right when you need it most. After doing this a few times, you'll be able to scan your body and notice which muscles are the most tense. Once you relax them, you'll release your anger.

3. Play the right tunes

If you're all worked up, grab your iPod and find your favorite song. In a study from the Long Island Conservatory, participants who listened to familiar music that they enjoyed had lower anxiety levels and blood pressure than those who listened to music they didn't like. "The emotional response triggers a profound physiological response," says George Stefano, lead author of the study. "It's a feel-good system that allows us to relax." (Hitting the beach this summer and want to make the most of your downtime? Learn 3 Ways to Relax on Vacation.)

4. Distract yourself

"The better you can distract yourself [from your rage], the better off you are," says Abrams. Break the gaze with the person you're arguing with, leave the room, and watch a movie. Or better yet, head outside for a jog. "Exercise is tremendously helpful in calming yourself down," he says. But don't hit the heavy bag or use any punching exercises in fits of rage, Abrams cautions. Striking exercises work, but they work so well that if you don't have a bag the next time you're stressed, you'll use the person closest to you as one.

Additional reporting by Matt Bean.

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