Cold water in the face, squats, sucking a hot candy: there are many everyday tips for dimming acute anger. A very simple solution may help some: write down your anger on paper and then throw it away – according to a Japanese study, this works.

If you write down your own emotional state and then put the sheet in a shredder or trash can, the anger disappears almost completely, the researchers report in the journal “Scientific Reports.”

“We expected that our method would suppress anger to some extent,” said lead researcher Nobuyuki Kawai. “However, we were amazed that the anger was almost completely eliminated.”

Asian culture: you don’t show anger

Eva Möhler from the University Hospital in Homburg points out that suppressing feelings such as anger and rage is given far more importance in Asian cultures than in Western countries. “In my opinion, we can tell you much more directly what is bothering you,” explained the director of the Clinic for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy, who was not involved in the study. For a Japanese person, on the other hand, just writing down their emotional state might be a big step. “Therefore, the study results may only be applicable to our culture to a limited extent.”

Nobuyuki Kawai and Yuta Kanaya from Nagoya University asked around a hundred students to write short statements on social issues such as a ban on smoking in public. These were supposedly given to an expert for evaluation. In fact, all participants received the same poor rating, and a derogatory comment was also handwritten: “I can’t believe an educated person thinks like that. I hope this person learns something while they’re at university.”

All subjects then felt anger. They were asked to write down their thoughts for feedback. One group should then dispose of the piece of paper in a trash can or shredder, and a second group should keep it in a box or folder on the desk.

Anger goes in the trash

Questionnaires were used to record the emotional well-being of the men and women before and immediately after the evaluation as well as after throwing away or keeping the paper. According to the results, those who threw their paper in the trash or shredded their anger decreased to their initial emotional state. The researchers report that anger decreased to a lesser extent among those who kept the note.

Writing and destroying something when you’re angry appears to have a similar effect to how a teddy bear can act as a comfort or when you’re afraid, the researchers said. Throwing away an object that is associated with negative emotions such as anger can help get rid of them. “Anyone with a pen and a piece of paper can use this method.” It is still unclear whether the concept can also be implemented digitally – i.e. whether it also helps to write down your anger on your smartphone or laptop and then delete the text.

Memo im Meeting

Kawai sees a practical benefit as a quick, simple measure for business people, for example: in stressful situations, they could write down the reason for their momentary anger and then throw the memo away. The result is also interesting with regard to a Japanese cultural tradition that is practiced at the Hiyoshi Shrine in Kiyosu under the name Hakidashisara. At the annual festival, small windows that represent angry things are broken. Participants reported a feeling of relief, according to the researchers.

Remaining angry all the time is unhealthy – studies show that, among other things, it puts a strain on the cardiovascular system. In the event of an acute tantrum, intensive exercise can help you bring yourself down again, explained Möhler: running up and down the stairs, using a punching bag or – if you’re stuck in a meeting – tensing all your muscles very tightly. Some people are also helped by cold stimuli such as cold water on the face or arms, the flick of a rubber band on the wrist or a strong taste stimulus, such as a hot candy. Unhealthy anger management strategies included smoking and drinking alcohol.

Anger often comes from childhood

According to Möhler, the fact that some people get angry easily is by no means solely due to inherited temperament. The cause often lies in childhood, due to experiences with violence, abuse, neglect or growing up with drug-addicted or mentally ill parents. “The more such stress you experience in childhood, the more prone you are to, among other things, tantrums.” This connection will remain visible for decades, probably even for a lifetime.

Against this background, it is worrying that psychological problems have doubled among children and young people in the wake of the corona pandemic. “There are more difficult feelings and more often unhealthy ways of expressing them.” According to studies, this negative pandemic effect has surprisingly not disappeared so far.