Breathing Through Anger Better than Exercising

Many believe the best way to deal with negative emotions is to funnel the energy into exercise. However, a review of 154 studies shows that physical activity isn’t the best way to blow off steam.

While jogging, biking and even hitting a punching bag are often suggested as ways to manage anger, studies show it can make the problem worse. Anger and other negative emotions can cause “physiological arousal.” That’s a physical state wherein you have a higher heart rate, faster breathing and sweat more. Exercise can cause the same physical symptoms, causing a physical feedback loop. That means exercise actually makes many people angrier.

Activities like yoga, deep breathing and meditation help people feel less angry because they soothe the body. It physically brings people out of the state of arousal and helps them mentally reset.

I think it’s really important to bust the myth that if you’re angry you should blow off steam – get it off your chest,” said senior author Brad Bushman, professor of communication at Ohio State Univ. “Venting anger might sound like a good idea, but there’s not a shred of scientific evidence to support catharsis theory. To reduce anger, it is better to engage in activities that decrease arousal levels. Despite what popular wisdom may suggest, even going for a run is not an effective strategy because it increases arousal levels and ends up being counterproductive.”

The myth that you can “blow off steam” persists. Going to a rage room where you smash things with a baseball bat may make you feel better because it’s a fun group activity. Group activities and exercise like relaxing walks may be beneficial. But violent acts or things where you’re alone and getting your pulse up can feed into your negative emotions.

Studies have found that the best exercises to feel better are deep breathing, relaxation, mindfulness, meditation, slow flow yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, diaphragm breathing and taking a time out. The researchers suggested finding YouTube videos to help you breathe if you need guidance.

These methods help people deal with all heightened emotions, not simply anger. “In today’s society, we’re all dealing with a lot of stress, and we need ways of coping with that, too,” said Sophie Kjærvik, the study’s co-author. “Showing that the same strategies that work for stress actually also work for anger is beneficial.”

Having the right tools to handle your emotions is essential to better health. Exercise is a vital component of staying healthy. However, exercising your anger away is a myth. Take some calming breaths instead, and you’ll feel better faster!

Banner image: Yan Krukau via Pexels

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