Managing Anger When We Have a Few Minutes

Breaking free from the anger cycle

Sometimes our anger gets triggered in a situation where we are able to physically get up and leave the area temporarily or disengage from whatever is going on (e.g., we may be in a heated discussion with a family member, or a coworker is distracting us at the office). In instances like these, we have a little more time to calm down and make decisions about how we want to handle ourselves.

The following strategies can be helpful for quickly checking our anger when we have a few minutes.


Strategically calling a “time-out” for yourself works just like how a coach calls a time-out to regroup his team in a pivotal moment during a game. It’s a chance to gather his team, refocus, and make a game plan. It’s not about escaping a situation or permanently avoiding it. 

When you take a “time-out”, you’re agreeing to return to deal with the issue or postpone it until you feel prepared to address the issue calmly. This tactic gives us the time and space we need to calm down and communicate more effectively – instead of letting our anger do the talking. 

My wife and I have an understanding – if I need a few minutes to take a break then I take them. No questions asked. No matter the situation. We do the same thing for her too. Our relationship got much better when we started doing it.” – Paul, 33

Putting it into practice

  1. Notice your anger warning signs.
  2. If you are in a situation where you feel that you can’t leave without negative consequences, make it clear you need a quick moment to collect yourself. You could say, “I need a minute to think about this, thanks for your patience.”
  3. If possible, distance yourself from whatever is triggering your anger – this often involves temporarily physically removing yourself from the situation.
  4. Communicate with the people around you (when appropriate) that you need a few minutes. You could say something like, “I need to step out for a few minutes to take care of something, I’ll be back soon.”
  5. Once you’re away from the situation, you can practice additional strategies to cool your anger.
  6. When you’re feeling calmer, think over how you want to handle the triggering situation. You could focus on something you want to say, or a technique you want to practice once you get back, like counting to 3 or slow breathing.
  7. Return to the situation to resolve the issue rather than trying to defend your position on the issue. Say what you think or feel using ‘I’ statements to avoid blaming or attacking the other person. Instead of saying “you’re making me frustrated”, say “I’m feeling frustrated”. 

Taking a break as soon as you notice your anger flaring up is one of the most foolproof ways to avoid reacting to your anger in the heat of the moment. 


Controlled breathing is about consciously slowing down your breathing. Slowly and deeply inhaling through your nose to expand your belly (instead of breathing in through your mouth and only expanding your chest), pausing to hold your breath, and slowly exhaling, can effectively calm your body down and help you regain some control of how you’re feeling. 

We learned earlier that slowing our exhales can help counteract our fight-or-flight response. Since it’s physically impossible to be both relaxed and stressed at the same time, we can refocus our body into being relaxed and our stress will ease off. If we can relax successfully, we can counteract and control our anger. Since we often start breathing shallowly and quickly when we’re angry without realizing it, learning to focus on and control our breathing can be especially effective at combating stress and helping us regain our senses.

I use breathing techniques to help me relax in all sorts of situations now, not just when I’m angry. It helps when I’m feeling stressed about work, worried about money, or even when I’m having trouble falling asleep.” – José, 48

Lots of people in stressful positions are trained to use breathing exercises to steady their nerves, including Navy SEALs:

…[it] allowed me to perform exceedingly well in the SEALs…it was instrumental in saving my life several times in crises, I was able to remain calm and focus clearly to avoid reactionary thinking, or worse, panic” Mark Divine, former US Navy SEALs Commander, NYT bestselling author of The Way of the SEAL and founder of SEALFIT

Putting it into practice

Here are two different methods for controlled breathing exercises. Try both for a few days and see what works best for you. 

The 3-4-5 Technique:

  1. Breathe in deeply for three seconds, eg. In 1-2-3
  2. Hold this breath for four seconds, eg. Hold 1-2-3-4
  3. Breathe out for five seconds, eg. Out 1-2-3-4-5.
    It can be helpful to count in your head as you do this
  4. Breathe like this for a minute. You should start to feel more relaxe.If you start feeling dizzy you should stop the exercise, as this means you aren’t getting enough oxygen. Sometimes this happens when you aren’t inhaling deeply enough, but it gets easier with practice and usually goes away.

Box Breathing:

  1. Start by sitting with your spine as straight as possible. 
  2. Close your mouth and eyes. 
  3. Exhale all of the air out of your lungs through your nose.
  4. Next, inhale slowly through your nose, counting for 4 seconds (you can count 1-2-3-4 in your head).
  5. Now hold your breath, counting 1-2-3-4.
  6. Next, exhale slowly through your nose, counting 1-2-3-4. 
  7. Hold your breath again, counting 1-2-3-4, after the exhale.
  8. If counting to 4 seconds feels too challenging, start with counting to 2 or 3 seconds.

If you’re having trouble keeping the counts, you can imagine drawing a box in the air in front of you as you breathe. Draw upwards to make the left side of the box as you inhale for four seconds, draw across the top of the box as you hold for four seconds, draw downwards to make the right side of the box as you exhale for four seconds, and draw across the bottom of the box as you hold for four seconds.

Controlled breathing exercises are great for increasing our performance in high-stress situations by helping us remain calm and avoid reactionary thinking. It may take some practice before the exercises feel easy, but you should feel more relaxed after just a few rounds of controlled breathing.


This technique helps relieve muscle tension by purposely tensing a group of muscles during inhalation, and relaxing them during exhalation.

When we’re angry and stressed, one of the ways our body can respond is by tensing up our muscles, making us uncomfortable and frustrated. Just like how breathing exercises can help our body relax, tensing and then relaxing our muscles can also help our body relax.

I didn’t realize I was carrying around so much tension in my neck and shoulders because of my anger. I would get tension headaches cause my neck muscles were so tight.” – Aaron, 47

Putting it into practice

  1. Find a place to sit or lay down comfortably, like an office chair, couch, or even the floor, where you won’t be interrupted for a few minutes.
  2. You can start with muscles at the top of your face and work down your body, or start with your toes and work your way up. Some guys find it helps to write down a list of muscle groups beforehand or listen to a ‘progressive muscle relaxation’ recording to guide them through it. Breathe in deeply and tense the first muscle group for 4-10 seconds. Don’t tense hard enough to cause pain, but just enough to contract the muscle until it feels tight.
  3. Breathe out and completely relax the muscle group. Relax it suddenly, not gradually.
  4. Relax for 10 to 20 seconds. You can count out the seconds to keep track of time if you’re not listening to a recording. It’s a good chance to utilize some of the deep breathing exercises as well. 
  5. Repeat this process with the next muscle group. 
  6. When you are finished relaxing all of the muscle groups, count backward from 5 to 1 to bring your attention back to the present moment.

Muscle groups: What to do

  • Hands: Clench them into a fist.
  • Wrists and forearms: Extend them, and bend your hands back at the wrist.
  • Biceps and upper arms: Clench your hands into fists, bend your arms at the elbows, and flex your biceps.
  • Shoulders: Hold them up (raise toward your ears) in a shrug.
  • Forehead: Try to wrinkle it tightly as you might with a deep frown.
  • Around the eyes and bridge of the nose: Close your eyes as tightly as you can. (You can remove contact lenses before you start the exercise if you think this may cause an issue).
  • Cheeks and jaws: Smile as widely as you can.
  • Around the mouth: Press your lips together tightly. (Check your face for tension. You just want to use your lips).
  • Back of the neck: Press the back of your head against the floor or chair.
  • Front of the neck: Touch your chin towards your chest. (Try not to create tension in your neck and head).
  • Chest: Flex your pectoral muscles as you take a deep breath, and hold it for several seconds.
  • Back: Arch your back up and away from the floor or chair.
  • Stomach: Engage your abdominal muscles strongly (Tuck your tailbone forward so there is very little space between your back and the floor, and your stomach is tight).
  • Hips and glutes: Clench your glutes together tightly.
  • Thighs: Engage your thighs and clench them tightly.
  • Lower legs: Point your toes toward your face. Then point your toes away, and curl them downward at the same time (Check the area from your waist down for tension).

*Adapted from University of Michigan Health: Stress Management: Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation 

This technique may feel silly if you’ve never done it before, but it’s worth trying the whole routine a couple of times before making any judgments.

If you don’t have the space or the time to do the full routine, try focusing on a part of your body (like your neck and shoulders) that is really tight, and just clenching and releasing those areas.

You can also just stretch out an area that feels tight (like shoulder shrugs and cross-arm stretches for your neck, shoulders, and arms), or use a stress ball to squeeze and relax your hands and forearms, or use a massage ball to roll out knots in a few consistently tight muscles.


Sometimes when we’re angry, all we need is to temporarily distract ourselves from whatever is triggering us, in order for our anger to dissipate. This technique is highly dependent on what you like to do and find interesting – but as long as it completely distracts you from thinking in an angry loop about the situation that’s pissing you off, it can help you calm down.

What I’ve found works for me is to distract myself with thoughts of my son’s smile. Whenever I feel myself starting to get angry, I just picture holding him in my arms and grinning at me. – Eric, 33

Putting it into practice

Try these activities to distract yourself from whatever is triggering your anger.

  • Imagining your favourite place to go on vacation, looking at some photos, or recalling a fond memory.
  • Make a cup of coffee and focus on your senses while drinking it – the smell and taste of the coffee.
  • Read a few pages of a book you enjoy
  • Watch a funny video on your phone
  • Go for a quick walk, and note the things you see, hear, smell, and what the ground feels like under your feet.
  • Listen to some music that you really like.

Distracting yourself can be difficult to master when feeling intense emotions, but with practice, it will become easier to do.

Using thought-stopping and then immersing yourself in a distraction can be especially effective.