You know the feeling. You wake up angry at the world for no apparent reason. You haven’t even opened your eyes yet, and already you’re annoyed by everything around you. Life seems generally unpleasant, and you’re pretty sure everything about this day is going to suck.
This is what I mean by “waking up on the wrong side of the bed.” It happens to everyone. It happened to me just the other day!
I like to think I live a fairly healthy lifestyle. I eat well, sleep well, exercise regularly, and make sure to drink plenty of water. I meditate now and then, journal daily, and read personal growth books.
And you know what? Some days, I still wake up cranky as can be for no good reason.
Rather than fight it, I’ve come to accept that waking up irritable and irrationally angry seems to be an occasional fact of life. It’s just going to happen sometimes, whether we like it or not.
Since accepting this, I’ve come to learn how to manage these mornings and feelings of irrational anger with some semblance of grace.
Here’s what I humbly suggest you do when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed.
Look Anger in the Eye
The first step to working with irrational anger is to admit it’s there! For many people, myself included, anger can be difficult to accept.
Sometimes, fear is a factor. Perhaps you grew up with parents who became intensely angry whenever you expressed anger yourself. Or maybe you hurt someone in the past with your anger. Whatever the reason, you may have come to associate anger with danger. And so it would make sense that you’d be afraid of acknowledging your anger.
Self-judgment is another reason for avoiding anger. Often, I try to stuff my anger away, telling myself that I have nothing to be angry about or that I have no right to be angry when I live a life of such privilege. Maybe you have a judgment about “angry people,” and you want to avoid seeing yourself as one of those people.
Whatever your reason for avoiding your anger, your best bet is to look it dead in the eye. Don’t pretend it’s not there and that you’re fine. Don’t try to explain it away or change it just yet.
It doesn’t matter if you just woke up. Sometimes, emotions bubble to the surface for no apparent reason. Avoid them or stuff them back down and they’ll only return later, usually with a vengeance!
Get in your body, feel what you’re feeling, and acknowledge it.
Go ahead, try it!
When I’m having trouble clarifying what I’m feeling, I find that explaining it out loud is helpful. Speaking your emotions gets you out of your head, objectifies your emotions, and helps you detach from them.
This is key, because when you’re detached from your feelings, you’re no longer identified with them, and when you’re no longer identified with your emotions, you’re no longer controlled by your emotions.
Also, try stating what you’re feeling, not what you are. The difference between saying “I am angry” or “I am irritated” and “I feel angry” or “I feel irritated” is subtle but powerful.
In the former, you’re identifying yourself as the emotion, and so you’re a victim to that emotion. In the latter, you’re empowered— a solid witness to emotions that come and go, passing through you. The less entangled your identity is with what you’re feeling, the less you’ll unconsciously act out your feelings.
Connect to Your Body
The next step is to connect with your physical body.
For a few moments, let go of your emotions. If you notice any stories in your head loudly proclaiming why you’re right to be so angry, let go of those for now as well.
This time, your job is to clarify what you feel physically.
Is your belly clenched? Are your shoulders hunched and tense? Is there a twisting sensation in your gut, and if so, in which direction is it moving? Is your head heavy or your jaw tight?
Again, speaking your feelings and sensations out loud will help you clarify and detach from them.
Once you’re clear on what you’re feeling physically, you can take steps to alleviate those sensations. If your heart is racing, take some deep breaths to slow it down. If your neck is tight, stretch it out. If your jaw is clenched, loosen it up.
Optional: Make Some Changes
Once you’ve connected with and clarified what you’re feeling emotionally and physically, there’s an optional third step.
This step is optional because sometimes, the very process itself of clarifying what you’re feeling will calm you down and dissipate whatever anger or irritation you were feeling. In this case, you’re good to go about your day!
Occasionally, however, further processing is required.
If, after clarifying what you’re feeling in your body, you’re still angry, your job now is to figure out why.
Now, if you’re honest with yourself, every so often you’ll come to realize that the anger you’re feeling is truly irrational. Sometimes emotions just bubble up for no apparent reason. If you’re anything like me, your mind will come up with all sorts of stories as to why you’re angry.
It’s up to you to realize and admit when these stories are BS, and all you really need to do is take responsibility for your experience and calm yourself down.
That said, sometimes the anger or irritation you feel is totally rational, even appropriate!
At its root, anger is simply a deep, strong caring. If you’re feeling anger, this could be a healthy signal from your unconscious that something you care about is being threatened.
In these scenarios, healthily managing your anger means taking care of yourself and your needs.
Is your roommate coming home drunk at 4am and waking you up? Sleep is precious! Consider having a chat with them and setting a boundary.
Did you stay home all weekend eating ice cream and watching Rick and Morty? Maybe your body is annoyed with you for not taking care of it!
Do you have to get up early for a 90-minute commute to a job you hate? Life is short, and wasting it in traffic or at a dead-end job is a nightmare I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Maybe it’s time to switch things up. Even small changes, like cooking something new for breakfast, can be powerful.
Just make sure you connect with your body first, before taking steps to address whatever you feel is making you angry. If you skip the first two steps outlined above and stay up in your head, you’re much more likely to act out your anger harmfully.
Connecting with your body first brings you into the present moment. When you’re embodied and present, you’re much more likely to address and communicate your anger in a healthy, helpful way.
Finally, a word of advice if you go through all these steps and find you just can’t let go of your anger:
Primal health enthusiast Mark Sisson suggests you may simply be craving some adventure! After all, modern life is much more subdued than the life of our tribal ancestors. Some people are fine with this, while others (perhaps you?) are silently going crazy from the boredom and monotony.
If you regularly wake up bored, irritated, and/or downright angry, try doing something adventurous! Doing so will stimulate the same area of your brain as when anger shifts into catharsis.
Go rock climbing, try out Brazilian jiu jitsu, or get up early for some dancing. Introduce some risk back into your life and experience the powerful health benefits of what Mark calls Intermittent Euphoria.
Everyone wakes up on the wrong side of the bed sometimes.
The good news is that this doesn’t make you a bad person! Emotions are complex, and in my experience, they usually come and go as they please.
While you’re not in control of what emotions arise in you, this doesn’t mean you’re a complete victim to them. You are in control of how you manage your emotions. Acting out your anger is always a choice.
So, next time you wake up grumpier than Grumpy Cat, follow the guidelines above and make a better choice.
Connect with your body and acknowledge what you’re feeling. Take responsibility for your experience and decide what you need. Sometimes it’s just a few breaths and some calming down. Other times you might need to make some changes in your life.
Master these steps and you’ll be well equipped to manage your emotions in a healthy, mature, and productive way.