Quick anger de-escalation techniques

Now that we’ve completed Part 2. Recognizing and Understanding Our Anger and have a better understanding of what fuels our anger, we can focus on learning a few ways to cool it as soon as we notice we’re angry, before things get out of hand.

If we don’t know how to cool off when our anger is triggered, we can get increasingly worked up and say or do something we’ll probably regret later. Learning how to keep calm is not only appreciated by those around us – it’s good for us too. We’ll be in a better position to react to whatever is triggering our anger in an adaptive way that helps us solve our problems instead of just stewing in our emotions.

We’ve divided Part 3 into two sub-sections:

  1. When you only have a few seconds
  2. When you have a few minutes

These sections will walk us through some clear and simple strategies that we can use separately, or combine to make them even more effective.

Trying out different strategies is part of the process. What might work once or a few times might not always work, but that’s okay – try another strategy or adjust a technique and see what happens. Learning how to adapt to manage our anger in different situations, and how to not be hard on ourselves when things don’t work, is extremely important.

Luckily, our bodies can’t be simultaneously stressed and relaxed, so we can work to cool our anger by activating our body’s ability to relax. This can give us enough time to think before we act, and successfully de-escalate a situation.


Sometimes we get angry quickly, but are in the middle of a situation that requires our immediate attention, or we can’t leave the situation to cool off (e.g., we may be in an important conversation with our boss or driving on the freeway). In these instances, we need some quick tricks to get us through the situation without blowing up.

The following strategies can be helpful for quickly cooling our anger in a few seconds.

Counting to Three – Slow Breathing

By controlling and slowing our breathing, we activate the part of our nervous system that shuts down our fight-or-flight response.

This technique gets our mind off whatever is triggering our anger, by focusing our attention on inhaling and exhaling slowly.

This gives some control back to the rational part of our brain, allowing us to make more clear-headed decisions.

It’s small and doesn’t seem like much, but just taking a second to slowly inhale/exhale and count a few breaths helps me stop my anger from getting out of hand. If I can stop myself before saying anything and just take a deep breath, I can usually find a better way to handle things, instead of getting really worked up about it.” – James, 34

Putting it into practice

  1. Take a breath, inhaling slowly and deeply through your nose while counting to three.
  2. Hold your breath for a second.
  3. Exhale slowly, and count “one” to yourself.
  4. Repeat this process twice more, counting “two”, then “three” when exhaling (try to exhale as slowly as feels comfortable to you)
  5. If you still feel on edge, you can start back at “one” and focus on breathing out even more slowly.

It can take some practice before exhaling slowly feels natural, but it’s one of the most effective ways we can quickly calm down.

Take a Reality Check

This technique encourages us to see the situation triggering our anger from a wider perspective. Prompting ourselves to see the bigger picture can help us focus on the relative importance of the situation at hand, instead of the intensity of our feelings. When we’re angry, the issue often seems a lot more important than it actually is.

When I feel my blood starting to boil, I take a really deep breath in and ask myself “Is this worth my time?” By the time I’m done breathing out, I’ve usually decided that it isn’t…” – Craig, 28

Putting it into practice

Stop to ask yourself these questions:

  1. Considering everything, how important is this in comparison to everything else going on in my life?
  2. Is it worth getting angry about and possibly ruining the rest of my day?
  3. Is there anything better I could spend my energy on right now?

Quickly asking yourself even just one of these questions can give you time to consider how you want to respond, instead of just reacting to your anger.


This technique can allow us to talk ourselves down from a confrontation. Actively talking ourselves down from a triggering situation can help us feel more in control, as we  counter negative thoughts that might be getting us worked up and escalating our anger.

When I’m angry, I keep thinking how wrong or how stupid or how much of an idiot someone is. But once I started actively noticing these thoughts and instead saying to myself “Don’t go there” they don’t feel so intense. This helped me get a better handle on things.” – Charlie, 41

Putting it into practice

When you start to notice your anger ratcheting up, interrupt it with a calming phrase to yourself – something that you would tell a friend who’s getting worked up. These aren’t mantras to deny or shut down our anger altogether, they’re about acknowledging our anger and retaking control of our thoughts and actions.

  • “Don’t go there” or “Don’t think that”
  • “I’ve been here before, I’m not getting angry about this again”
  • “Don’t let this bother or get to me”
  • “I can do this, I don’t need to get angry now”
  • “Don’t escalate, de-escalate. Focus on solving the problem”
  • “My anger doesn’t control me”

Most of us have angry thoughts that only increase our anger in the moment – having a couple of go-to phrases can help shut those angry thoughts down so we can redirect our energy to staying calm and fixing the problem at hand.

The next page will help us in situations where we have a bit more time to settle our anger down.

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