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"A Trigger (cause), the Thoughts and Feelings, and then an Action."

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This article is part of a series of collaborations between HeadsUpGuys and Mantle: Men’s Health

Why we need circuit-breakers

For many of us, there have been times when we’ve become angry and then, later, regretted it. Perhaps we made a nasty, snide comment to our partner or kids, or even ‘snapped’ and shouted at them, and then found that they had scurried away to leave us alone for the rest of the night. Perhaps the situation had turned into a full- blown fight. Maybe we lost it at work and found ourselves apologising after someone called us out on our behaviour. More commonly, we’ve probably shouted at the driver of the car that seemed to be going too slow in the fast lane or who cut us off. Maybe we’ve even wound down the window and gave them a piece of our mind – carrying on like a pork chop, giving all manner of hand signals, including the middle finger. 

Mostly, we regret what we have done once we have calmed down. 

The thing about anger, like a lot of emotions, is that it seems to happen suddenly – zero to one hundred instantly, but there is a sequence of events that can help us understand and control it.

The sequence is: A Trigger (cause), the Thoughts and Feelings, and then an Action. When anger occurs, this sequence happens in a blur.

As an example, a bloke cuts in front of you at the bar (a Trigger); you think to yourself, “wait your turn, mate” and start to feel pissed off/ angry (Thoughts and Feelings); and then you decide to aggressively shove him out of the way (the Action).

Think of it like an electric circuit. It starts at the supply and ends with a bright light or sound -depending on the appliance. Nothing to get in the way of the electric charge – unless we install a circuit-breaker (a switch). Then we can control it. So, the action (shoving someone) stemming from the trigger and the subsequent thoughts and feeling is prevented.

How to insert a circuit-breaker


One of the keys to the circuit-breaker is slowing down your breathing (it lowers our heart rate, which helps us calm down). This was discussed in the last article, but so important to mention again because, if practiced regularly, it works! [1]

Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose (if you can’t breathe through your nose, then breathe through your mouth). Use the following sequence: IN 1,2 PAUSE, OUT 3,4,5, PAUSE. Each cycle takes about 8 seconds if you want to time yourself.

This process will feel really slow.

It is even better to breathe with your diaphragm/belly if you can. Try the following to learn how:

Go somewhere quiet (bedroom) and lie down. Place your hand, phone, or watch on your belly. Close your eyes and practice pushing the object up in the air with your tummy as you breathe in. This promotes diaphragmatic breathing. Don’t breathe with your chest muscles – keep them still.

  • The key to circuit-breakers is monitoring yourself. That is, being aware of how you are feeling and/or thinking at any one time.
  • Start to identify the negative thought or feeling immediately.
  • Grab the thought or feeling and recognise you do not need to respond to it. Tell yourself that it is a part of the old script and is no longer wanted as it tends to get you into trouble or lead you to do regretful things.
  • Then breathe as instructed above. BREATHE IN 1,2, PAUSE, OUT 3,4,5, PAUSE.
  • Use the diaphragmatic/ belly breathing when you have some time to yourself or when you feel comfortable using this technique.  

You can also use the breathing method whenever you feel anxious or stressed, just to calm your body. It’s a simple and very effective strategy – so practice it!

Angry Thoughts

Another way of controlling anger, and other feelings, is by understanding the nature of thoughts and learning how to respond to your thoughts instead of reacting to them. We will discuss how you can do this in the next article. 

Guest Authors:

Mantle provides specialist, confidential virtual Mental Health services for Men. We know that a lot of Men are notoriously time poor and how busy work and family lives can be. We also know that the stigma surrounding Mental Health creates a barrier to Men seeking out and engaging with support. Whether it is lifestyle, relationship, or emotional challenges that are impacting your performance, or more therapeutic services as part of a broader mental health plan are needed, we have a range of options to suit and support you.

The Mantle team are qualified, award winning, registered Psychologists. We specialise in working directly with Men, and draw on the latest evidence-based, academic research and techniques.


  1. Zaccaro Andrea, Piarulli Andrea, Laurino Marco, Garbella Erika, et al. (2018). How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Vol 12.

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