Smell the Roses, Relieve the Rage

Anger is an emotion that is experienced by everyone and one important aspect of anger is rumination, or dwelling on the negative events that have happened to us. In a recent article published in Aggressive Behavior, a team of researchers discussed one technique that may help decrease rumination: mindfulness. Dr. Ashley Borders, one of the authors of the article, describes mindfulness as, “paying attention to whatever is present right now (whether it be sounds, sights, feelings, and/or thoughts), ideally without judgment or reactive responses.”

But, does mindfulness actually decrease rumination? In order to examine this question, Dr. Borders and her team carried out two studies. In the first study, the researchers worked with a group of undergraduate students who were asked to fill out a number of self-report questionnaires designed to measure mindfulness, rumination, and anger/aggression. The study was then replicated with a group of participants recruited from the general population. The researchers did indeed find that mindfulness decreased anger by reducing the amount of time a person spends ruminating. Additionally, it was found that increased mindfulness was associated with decreased aggression. Dr. Borders suggested several reasons for why this may be. First, actively engaging in mindful behavior is the opposite of ruminating, and thus allows us to take our minds off of past events. Second, mindfulness allows an individual to be more “cognitively flexible,” or more able to shift attention away from negative thoughts. Last, she noted that, “mindful people are less likely to view negative feelings and unpleasant events as scary or unacceptable, whereas people who ruminate tend to fear and avoid negative emotions.”

Whether the reason is one or all of those listed above, Dr. Borders notes that the findings carry implications for both research and clinical practice. Specifically, since the study shows support for the use of mindfulness in decreasing anger, researchers may want to see how it affects other negative emotions. Clinicians may also want to make use of mindfulness training as a supplement to current interventions used in anger management training. In either case, it seems that mindfulness may have a future in helping individuals decrease anger and negativity.

In the mean time, Dr. Borders offers up a piece of advice for those looking to use mindfulness as tool to decrease negative thinking: “One way to feel less angry is to pay attention to what is happening around you right now…pay attention to the sound of cars going by your window or the feeling of your clothes on your skin, or how your stomach rises and falls as you breathe in and out. “ Be patient though, as learning to be mindful takes practice: “It’s like weight-lifting: you need to give your mind time to practice and build up the muscles needed for attentional control.”

Additional information on mindfulness can be found at http://www.mindfulexperience.org/.

By Matthew Machnik
Matthew Machnik is a senior Psychology major at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He has a minor in Human Development and plans on attending graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.

5 comments

  1. Ruminating, what we normally call dwelling, has just been accepted as part of experiences and learning from them. I can see though how they can lead to, for example, being afraid to partake in an event because it reminds you of that bad experience. It will be interesting to see how this can be applied to only to anger management but with dealing with depression or anxiety and helping others enjoy the world for what it is.

  2. You are right, Tom, that there is nothing inherently wrong with ruminating. It’s good for us to think about our emotions, behaviors, etc. to a point. Hopefully, we can learn from them. Some people, though, have a tough time letting go and just continue to think and think and think about bad situations, people who have wronged them, etc. For them (and likely for people who are depressed and anxious), mindfulness appears to be a very good thing.

  3. Ryan,although you may believe that ruminating is an inherent part of dealing with bad experiences, that doesn’t mean it should be accepted. If there is such a thing as a solution to ‘holding lifelong grudges’ then it should become the norm, the inherent reaction. If mindfulness can replace ruminating or at least minimize it, then it should be practiced and taught by parents, teachers, and everyone quite frankly.

    1. There is certainly something to be said for the importance of forgiveness, Tom. I’ll probably include an article on that for All the Rage sometime soon.

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