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Want to control anger? This Japanese technique works surprisingly well

We’ve all been there. Someone cuts you off in traffic, your coworker gets credit for your idea, or you get the rudest comment online. Suddenly, it’s like a cartoon – steam out your ears, face turning bright red. Your heart races, your hands clench… you want to scream, or maybe throw something. But what is the best way to to control anger?

The science of anger

Let’s face it, anger is a part of life. But sometimes, anger can escalate quickly. Our brains have a part called the amygdala, which is basically our primal alarm system.

When the amygdala perceives a threat, it triggers a cascade of chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol.

This is our fight-or-flight response, preparing us to deal with danger. The problem? In our modern world, many of the things that tick us off aren’t true threats.

The rude driver isn’t a predator, the coworker who stole your idea isn’t a wild animal. Yet, our bodies react the same way. This surge of chemicals clouds our judgement and makes it hard to think clearly.

Before we know it, we’ve yelled something hurtful or slammed a door, and the situation has spiraled out of control.

Grab a pen and write your feelings down

Researchers from Nagoya University in Japan recently discovered a surprisingly effective technique for managing anger: write it down and destroy it.

Yes, you read that right. The study involved people writing about issues that typically rile them up. Then, to really fire them up, the researchers gave them some fake negative feedback on their writing (think scathing teacher comments). This predictably made the participants quite angry.

Destroying the paper

Here’s the key part: The researchers then divided the participants into groups. One group simply threw away the piece of paper they used to express their anger. Another group got to shred it into tiny pieces.

The results were fascinating. Both the trashing and shredding groups reported feeling significantly less angry after getting rid of their written frustrations. The people who held onto the paper with their angry thoughts, however, still felt pretty steamed.

“We expected that our method would suppress anger to some extent,” said lead researcher Nobuyuki Kawai. “However, we were amazed that anger was eliminated almost entirely.” 

How does writing and shredding control anger?

So, why does this work? Writing down your anger forces you to confront it head-on. It allows you to organize the jumble of emotions swirling around in your head and see them for what they are.

The act of physically destroying the paper seems to be symbolic as well. It’s a way of taking control of your anger and saying, “This doesn’t control me.”

The technique has interesting parallels to a Japanese tradition called Hakidashisara. During this festival, people write down things that make them angry on small plates and then smash them. The researchers believe their findings might explain why this ritual feels so cathartic.

Now, this trick probably won’t solve all your anger issues overnight. But it’s a simple and science-backed tool you can use to manage anger in the moment.

Next time you feel that familiar surge of frustration, grab a pen and paper. Write down what’s making you mad. Let it all out. Then, with a satisfying rip or a whirring shredder, destroy that piece of paper and take back control of your emotions.

Control anger at the workplace

Let’s take an example of work, a breeding ground for frustration. Maybe you have a coworker, let’s call her Karen, who consistently sends emails that make your blood pressure rise.

You draft a scathing reply in your head, one that perfectly captures every injustice you feel. But before you hit send and unleash your digital fury, there’s a simple technique you can try that might surprise you.

Here’s the scenario: you open your inbox and see a message from Karen with a subject line that instantly puts you on edge. You take a deep breath, trying to stay calm. Instead of diving headfirst into a fiery reply, grab a sticky note and a pen.

Now, on that small piece of paper, write down exactly how you’re feeling. Be honest, be direct. If the email made you want to throw your stapler across the room, write that down. Maybe Karen’s tone was so dismissive it made you see red? Put it on the sticky note.

Next, here’s the most satisfying part: shred it. Feed that tiny piece of paper into the shredder and watch your frustration disappear into tiny bits. The rhythmic whirring of the shredder can almost be therapeutic.

Benefit of the technique

This technique allows you to step back from the situation and see it more clearly. Second, destroying the sticky note is a symbolic act of taking back control. You’re literally shredding your anger and choosing not to let it control you.

Here’s the key: after shredding your anger, don’t go back and compose that scathing reply to Karen. Take another deep breath and approach the email with a clear head. Maybe you can craft a more professional response, or perhaps the situation doesn’t even require a reply at all.

The point is, the shredding has helped you defuse the initial surge of anger and made space for a more rational approach.

This technique isn’t a magic bullet, but it’s a powerful tool you can keep in your back pocket for those inevitable moments of workplace frustration.

So next time Karen’s email lands in your inbox, remember the power of the shredded sticky note to reduce anger. It might just save you from an email exchange you’d later regret.


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