Even meditating overwhelms me with fear and rage.
November 7, 2013 8:54 AM   Subscribe

I have anxiety and depression, and I'm starting to realise that underneath that is a bubbling fount of rage. I need some suggestions for coping with and dismantling the anger I'm feeling. I didn't realise it before, but I'm angry pretty much all the time, except when I'm with my boyfriend, scared, or distracting myself via escapism. And even then, it's still there. I'm looking in to going back to therapy, and I'm currently on antidepressants. I've tried meditating, but it just stresses me out or gives me panic attacks- to be honest, I hate it. What are some suggestions for coping with this?
posted by windykites to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Exhaustive physical exercise at least four times a week.
posted by dobie at 9:05 AM on November 7, 2013 [15 favorites]

What kind of meditating are you doing? There are all kinds. I used to do sitting meditation but just can't do it anymore, too much bubbling there, like you. But hiking in the woods, ahhhhhhh now that works for me. Focusing on my breath, my muscles moving, the change from mud to leaf debris to sand to rock underfoot as I ascend... gratitude comes naturally then.

I try to apply that to everything. Red-light meditation, grocery-shopping meditation, 3-deep-breaths-between-work-tasks meditation, etc.

Guided meditation is also very good but requires planning & commitment and I'm kind of lazy about it. Loving-kindness meditation works for a lot of people.
posted by headnsouth at 9:07 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Violet Oaklander is an amazing therapist who very much believes in finding safe physical means of expressing anger. This PDF list of Things To Do To Express Anger Safely is pretty comprehensive.
posted by jaguar at 9:07 AM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

posted by killdevil at 9:15 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Have you been to the doctor to rule out other causes? Anecdotally, this sounds very much like the onset of Graves Disease/thyrotoxicity for some people. Totally treatable, but if you have it, you want to know.

Therapy is an excellent choice.

I also agree with physical activity (assuming your doctor approves it). Yoga is one place to start (and has clinically demonstrated benefits for anxiety specifically) but if even that is too much, try running sprints.
posted by pie ninja at 9:21 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your medication is not working. Go see your doctor. Therapy is also a reasonable choice, but I personally have not found a cost-effective method of therapy with lasting effects.

Exercise to exhaustion is excellent if you can manage it.

Look at diet, caffeine, alcohol, drug intake and see if there is an adjustment to be made here. Sleep hygiene, also important.

I would also look at restorative yoga. Here are some free full-length videos, filter for restorative. (Yin yoga, while a mindful practice, I find can induce panic by staying in an uncomfortable position).

Hating meditating is actually pretty normal. It's a tough practice. However it does have clinically demonstrated benefits for depression, so it might be worth messing around with the practice to see if there is something that works for you.

3 minute breathing space might be enough for you. Audio is here. Start with the regular version, then you can try the other version.

Guided meditations are hit and miss. If you like the speaker and it resonates, it will help. Sometimes I enjoy Jon Kabat-Zinn, but I found his book and program anger inducing. It's not good to do the program while actively depressed.

Another alternative is talks followed by meditation, there are many at http://www.dharmaseed.org/talks/. Search by keyword, the ones that you want would probably be anger, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, self-kindness, self-compassion. The nice thing is that if you don't like one talk you can switch to another, there is plenty of content. If I connect with the speaker, I find the ideas and teachings interesting and useful.

Pema Chodron is a fantastic resource and has a lot of guidance about working with anger.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:42 AM on November 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

I half-kid with my friends that I am literally fueled by rage, because nothing else could cut through my suffocating depression enough to drag me through the day. Anger is the most prominent feeling in my life and always has been.

However, I am also one of the most bleeding-heart vegan pacifist Buddhist meditator yogis you'll ever meet, so it brings me special pleasure to be able to recommend that if your anger stems from something that has happened to you, especially if it's because of something someone did to you? You need to get out there and punch and kick the everloving shit out of an unfeeling inanimate object ASAP. A punching bag will be your best friend here. The tower/stationary bags mounted on a stand that spring back at you (as opposed to the training bags that hang from the ceiling) are the best. Your shoulders will ache, your pectoral muscles will scream, your arms will go limp and noodly, and your anger will be dissolved because you will be too exhausted to let it keep racing through you.

Alternately, find a sparring partner you can train with, someone who can bob and weave and make you chase their hand-pads with your fists. I took a BJJ class once, and while I did not attend another class because I was sore for almost two straight weeks after the first one, I (100-pound 5-foot tall lady) was almost immediately taught how to expediently choke out a 300-pound dude using a rather terrifyingly simple arm triangle. Having that knowledge in my back pocket makes me feel strong and, to be honest, less angry -- more capable, more able to defend myself, even though I wouldn't ever actually hurt another human being even if you put a gun to my head. Honestly, absolutely nothing has served to ease my relentless rage more than exhausting myself by wreaking some athletic violence.

If you don't feel like this would work for you, you might check out this recent Ask, which I found very relevant and helpful. I also had a lot of trouble staying on the cushion when I first started meditating due to a host of super-overwhelming emotions, so try not to worry about that too much.

Good luck, I know how much this feeling can wear on you!
posted by divined by radio at 9:50 AM on November 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

Walking in nature, a park, somewhere beautiful. Doing it every day. Walking energetically up hills while cussing loudly (as long as there's nobody around) at the source of your anger. Try to get an hour of challenging physical exercise a day. Also sunshine if possible; if not, take a vitamin D supplement.
posted by mareli at 9:52 AM on November 7, 2013

Free weight, heavy weightlifting. Every other day, cardio on your off days.
posted by unixrat at 9:52 AM on November 7, 2013

i think first you need to really figure out where the anger comes from. bullied as a kid? parents didn't love you enough? just a general rage at the stupidity of the human race? for me most of my anger stemmed from being bullied and treated poorly growing up. a LOT of anger surrounding that. the anger informed every aspect of my life, even though i didn't make that connection.

if you can figure out WHAT is making you so angry, you can work on making the anger go away, or at least lessen.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:00 AM on November 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

A non-violent martial art such as Aikido might help.
posted by Tom-B at 10:06 AM on November 7, 2013

Seconding crazycanuck on checking up on your medication. I respond very differently to different SSRI/SNRIs, and the one that helps the most calm down the "ragey" aspect of my anxiety is Lexapro. Other drugs aren't totally ineffective, but they're markedly less helpful and on the Lexapro I can stay at a lower dose with fewer side effects. If you go to your doctor and lay out what you've said in your question, s/he should be able to work with you in adjusting dosages or trying something different.

Personally, I haven't found therapy to help much with this specific aspect of my mood (of course YMMV) - my former therapist was invaluable in getting me through a very lonely and depressed time in my life, and my current therapist is helpful in figuring out "organizing my life" type strategies, but I find that my rage-moods, when they're bad, come on too strong and fast for me to really use any kind of mindfulness technique effectively. For me the key is finding ways to not let them happen at all, which in my case means relying primarily on medication.

Exercise is a fantastic help on top of medication, and one of my goals right now is to get back into a better exercise routine. Last year I started working through Couch to 5K, and it took me about four months to get to the point where I could do a 20-min run with no breaks. I have to say, if I was at all pissed off when I first started my run, it really felt amazing to just push myself and kind of get all that frustrated energy out in a very physical way. It's a feeling I've never gotten from any other activity than running, and I'm absolutely more calm afterwards for at least the rest of the day, if not into the next day.
posted by augustimagination at 10:06 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Following up to misanthropicsarah: I agree with you that if there is the sort of cause you can suss out, it seems like it'd be greatly helpful in dealing with anger and rage-y moods. I don't know that it's always possible, though.

In my case, I can look back on my childhood and there are some vivid memories of both of my parents (who I love dearly) being in scary rage-moods which are almost exactly like the ones I have now, as an adult. For my mom, I know now that hormonal issues were a major part of the problem for her, and my dad has a similar on-edge anxiety-prone personality to mine. I think my own issues are, at least in part, genetic and brain-chemistry related more than they are a reaction to any real trauma or life experiences. Knowing that about myself has helped me come to terms with the fact that it's okay to be on medication - I'm not trying to "medicate away" some event or emotion I need to work through, because that doesn't exist. I'm just helping my brain have more useful reactions to everyday stresses, and that is okay.
posted by augustimagination at 10:23 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can relate, having dealt with similar depression and feeling really angry, toward myself, toward everything. Its something I told my therapist during our very first meetings. I never really let it out though, and I still have never let it out. People close to me would have been surprised if they knew I felt really angry inside. In fact, people told me I was one of the calmest people they knew, but I had a lot of anger inside.

What helped tame it was getting back on my antidepressants, which gradually make my moods feel more even and calm and "not angry". I think for me at least, the anger felt justified when I was in the pits of depression, but as the depression lifted, I was able to let go of the thoughts that circulated in my brain that made me feel anger (if that makes sense). I would second checking your antidepressant dose.

All of the other recommendations were given to me as well, specifically meditating, intense exercising, but it did not help as much, and sometimes made me feel angrier ("I'm trying all this hard stuff and it still doesn't help" was the tantrum my mind would throw). I used to use anger to get work done as well, which helped sometimes because I could get going in spite of the depression, but oh, it was hell.

Antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds helped me get started with feeling more even and they (I guess) toned down the negative angry moods in my mind, after which I could do the exercising thing to let off steam. I still can't meditate though, because it upsets me. One step at a time, I guess.

posted by greta_01 at 10:51 AM on November 7, 2013

I was you.

Exercise is good, absolutely. Medication can help. But if the source of your anger comes from the way you are currently being treated, or the ways that you have been treated in the past and that you haven't processed yet, the anger will return until you do work through it. If the anger stems from a current situation, you will need to learn to set the boundaries to protect yourself.

If you are a reader, I can recommend to you the two books that helped me a lot that are specifically related to anger: Harriet Goldhor Lerner's The Dance of Anger and Carol Tavris's Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion.

Lerner says that anger is a signal that we must pay attention to. I have found that to be hugely helpful in my life--and I have also found it to be always true.

You might also give Melody Beattie's Codependent No More a read. Even if not all of it is applicable, the parts that are can be very helpful.

Another thing I recommend here are the morning pages recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way. This book is not just for artists, and the morning pages, if you do them regularly, truly can provide insights that will change your life.

For myself, a dream journal was also helpful. Somewhere I have read that dreams speak the language of the dreamer, so I wouldn't bother going to buy a book of dream symbolism or anything. In my case, I just found that if I was having angry dreams and someone was featured in them, that was a clue to the source of my anger. YMMV.

Best wishes--you can come through this. Someone told me the other day I was one of the calmest people he knew and clearly had very little anger. I was startled to realise it was true . . . now. Before I started my self-work, anger was my default emotion, I felt it all the time.

If I can do it, you can too.
posted by purplesludge at 10:52 AM on November 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

Given some of your earlier questions, I'm guessing this anger comes from not being acknowledged. It's the rage of having your true self buried. Being repeatedly negated would make anyone angry.

If meditation is "hurting" e.g. causing a constriction in your chest or angry emotions to come out, then this is the truth of what's inside you. Can you feel the anger without thinking the thoughts? Like feel the heat, the hurt, the injustice without thinking the tickertape of "damn my parents, damn that guy at work, damn the world..." Just gently allow yourself to feel this anger. It's probably too overwhelming for you now, but just dip in and around it and slowly acclimatize to the physical feeling of anger. And then validate yourself. Well yeah I was angry because that person totally didn't acknowledge me or give me what I want, these are common causes of anger and any normal person would feel angry about this. Don't let it tip over into revenge fantasies or whatnot (that is giving into the anger, which only causes it to grow) but just acknowledge and understand and validate your perceptions which then caused the anger.

This will take the edge off. It could take weeks.

Then you can actually start meditating (I recommend Tibetan Buddhist "taking and giving" meditation, or "equalizing and exchanging self with other" meditation) which will heal this anger even further. Good luck.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:20 AM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just a small thing, but something that was helpful for me was when a therapist described anger as "frustration + disappointment." That seems right to me, and the reason it is helpful is because it gives a very specific locus from which to address the problem. Anger sometimes seems mysterious and like it floats in and out of our lives at inappropriate times, and we don't always know why. Being able to ask in the moment, "What is frustrating me, and what am I feeling disappointed by?" allows for a deeper analysis and level of problem solving than simply trying to manage the symptoms through various external means. The latter is important, but I've found that I've been much happier in life when I can mitigate frustration and disappointment specifically, rather than simply trying to get rid of anger in an abstract way.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:44 AM on November 7, 2013 [9 favorites]

There's an amount of time that you can meditate right now, even with all that's going on. It might be one minute, half a minute, 5 seconds, or possibly even 5 minutes. Do a short session once or twice a day, and within a couple of weeks that small amount will be helpful (keep doing it regularly. occasionally try an extra session. occasionally try a session that's a little bit longer.) It's just building up a muscle, and it will grow quickly how long you can do it, and I think it will start to help you soon.

Also, I think you might like the book How to Train A Wild Elephant. It's about filling in the rest of the spaces in your non-sitting life, and it complements a sitting practice very well. I don't think the suggestions in that book will cause you the kinds of difficulty you're talking about, and they'll make you a better meditator. (My favorite book for the sitting practice itself is Mindfulness in Plain English.)
posted by spbmp at 11:57 AM on November 7, 2013

Every meditation resource I've looked at so far makes me want to gag, EXCEPT Pema Chodron... When Things Fall Apart has numerous short chapters that make it very easy to read one a day for about a month, and could be done as a meditation practice. You might try Tara Branch too...she has guided meditations on her website that aren't too bad.

I agree about exhausting yourself... it does wonders when you're mad. Even Zumba could work...have you seen Brett's angry dance on Flight of the Conchords?
posted by jrobin276 at 12:26 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would suggest starting where you are with whatever of these suggestions that you have received feels right.

When you are enraged, you are in your reptilian brain. You will not be able to process higher order thinking while in this state. In order to move out of reptilian brain, do something physical. The suggestions about safe outlets for rage and exercise until physical exhaustion sound reasonable. I have found long walks in deep parks grounding. Medication and therapy are useful adjuncts when called for, so don't be afraid to use them if they are needed.

When you are out of reptilian brain, realize that whatever is bubbling up requires you to "see" it. You will have to face whatever this is eventually or it will just continue to come up. You know this - this is why you labeled your behavior escapism. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

When you are ready, start small in terms of time, even 5 seconds. And look inward for what the rage is representing or communicating. For instance, "unfairness," or "things aren't going the way I want them to," "failed expectations," "mistreatment," etc.

You can do those 5 seconds on the cushion if it feels right, or do it standing so you can feel like you can run away if it gets too much.

You will have to look that bitch in the face if you are to get peace. You are the only one who can take that tough step. We clean our own house, so to speak.

Treat yourself kindly and gently in the meantime.

Later, you can try more sustained meditation if it feels like a useful tool, or perhaps just Inquiry.
posted by derward at 1:13 PM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Exercise in general can be very helpful. Research psychologists have demonstrated that simulated violence against inanimate objects is specifically not helpful, as that actually intensifies anger.


If you're getting anxious or panicky during meditation, that could actually be very promising to work through, even though it might not seem like a particularly pleasant thing to do.


If you're angry about something that is going on right now, that you can change, then it's time to work on asserting yourself and changing the offending stimulus. If you're angry about something that you can't change (including something in the past), figuring out how to let go of your anger will be an important goal.


What desire D1 is being frustrated by whatever is making you angry? Is there a way to get that desire satisfied, or let it go? How can you change the situation to make that happen? If you cannot satisfy D1, can you "zoom out" and see whether there is a desire D2 that motivates D1 (e.g. I want a burger, but I want that because I'm hungry; I can't get a burger right now but I can eat this other thing)? Go up the chain* of desires until you can find a satisfiable desire or set of desires. Even partially satisfying D2 can make letting go of D1 easier.

*really a directed acyclic graph
posted by Jpfed at 1:18 PM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Exercise / walking meditation.

It also depends on whether the anxiety/depression is trauma related, which often manifests itself as rage. Art therapy and narrative therapy are quite geared towards specifically dismantling trauma related rage, but self expression is often good more generally for these kinds of feelings.
posted by heyjude at 1:40 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another person here saying that managing the anger is good but getting to the root of it and dealing with it is better so you can be free of chronic anger. If you like to write journaling can be a great way to process your emotions. Also you can write letters--that you do not send to whomever you are angry with--telling them exactly how you feel about what they did. I went through a period where a lot of buried anger came up and after walking around for 6 months feeling angry so often, which is totally out of character for me, I realized I had to do something to move past the anger. I find turning the anger over to my higher power helpful. Also forgiving the person who hurt me is really helpful. Sometimes we even need to forgive ourselves or our higher power if you have one.
posted by wildflower at 2:14 PM on November 7, 2013

Yeah, doing something physical is going to help with this. Working out like a mad(wo)man along with yoga puts me in the right place, mentally. Yoga is often (but not always) about putting you in this very serene mindset.

Edited to add: Yoga for me is a social, energetic thing. I wouldn't get the benefits from a video, so keep that it mind if you're trying it that way.
posted by cnc at 4:59 PM on November 7, 2013

Just a note: Yes, studies have found that for people who constantly blow up and rage at others, expressing their anger in other ways (punching pillows, etc.) is counter-productive. (Mainly, in my view, because people like that are actually using anger as a way of avoiding feeling sad or scared or vulnerable, so they need to move past the anger and into their sadness.)

For people who tend to internalize their anger, however, finding ways to express that anger safely helps you realize that it won't take you over, that you can handle it, that you can stay in control while still feeling angry. (Mainly, in my view, because people like this are generally using anxiety or sadness as a way of avoiding feeling angry, so they need to move past the sadness and into their anger.)
posted by jaguar at 5:36 PM on November 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

Here's a passage from Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart, mentioned a couple of times above, that seems apt:

"I once attended a lecture about a man's spiritual experiences in India in the 1960s. He said he was determined to get rid of his negative emotions. He struggled against anger and lust; he struggled against laziness and pride. But mostly he wanted to get rid of his fear. His meditation teacher kept telling him to stop struggling, but he took that as just another way of explaining how to overcome his obstacles.

Finally the teacher sent him off to meditate in a tiny hut in the foothills. He shut the door and settled down to practice, and when it got dark he lit three small candles. Around midnight he heard a noise in the corner of the room, and in the darkness he saw a very large snake. It looked to him like a king cobra. It was right in front of him, swaying. All night he stayed totally alert, keeping his eyes on the snake. He was so afraid that he couldn't move. There was just the snake and himself and the fear.

Just before dawn the last candle went out, and he began to cry. He cried not in despair but from tenderness. He felt the longing of all the animals and people in the world; he knew their alienation and their struggle. All his meditation had been nothing but further separation and struggle. He accepted--really accepted wholeheartedly--that he was angry and jealous, that he resisted and struggled, and that he was afraid. He accepted that he was also precious beyond measure--wise and foolish, rich and poor, and totally unfathomable. He felt so much gratitude that in the total darkness he stood up, walked toward the snake, and bowed. Then he fell sound asleep on the floor. When he awoke, the snake was gone. He never knew if it was his imagination or if it had really been there, and it didn't seem to matter. As he put it at the end of the lecture, that much intimacy with fear caused his dramas to collapse, and the world around him finally got through.

No one ever tells us to stop running away from fear. We are very rarely told to move closer, to just be there, to become familiar with fear. I once asked the Zen master Kobun Chino Roshi how he related with fear and he said, "I agree. I agree." But the advice we usually get is to sweeten it up, smooth it over, take a pill, or distract ourselves, but by all means make it go away.

We don't need that kind of encouragement, because dissociating from fear is what we do naturally. We habitually spin off and freak out when there's even the merest hint of fear. We feel it coming and we check out. It's good to know we do that--not as a way to beat ourselves up, but as a way to develop unconditional compassion. The most heartbreaking thing of all is how we cheat ourselves of the present moment.

Sometimes, however, we are cornered; everything falls apart, and we run out of options for escape. At times like that, the most profound spiritual truths seem pretty straightforward and ordinary. There's nowhere to hide. We see it as well as anyone else--better than anyone else. Sooner or later we understand that although we can't make fear look pretty, it will nevertheless introduce us to all the teaching we've ever heard or read.

So the next time you encounter fear, consider yourself lucky. This is where the courage comes in. Usually we think that brave people have no fear. The truth is that they are intimate with fear. When I was first married, my husband said I was one of the bravest people he knew. When I asked him why, he said because I was a complete coward but went ahead and did things anyhow.

The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out, even when we find out that something is not what we thought. That's what we're going to discover again and again and again. Nothing is what we thought. I can say that with great confidence. Emptiness is not what we thought. Neither is mindfulness or fear. Compassion--not what we thought. These are code words for things we don't know in our minds, but any of us could experience them. These are words that point to what life really is when we let things fall apart and let ourselves be nailed to the present moment."

This Pema essay, too, which I've mentioned in previous threads, really helped me deal with my anxiety: http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2825. The tl;dr for me is really that one line that says "The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out..." She calls that moment of stuckness "the squeeze" in that essay--I love that. She says, "We're so used to running from discomfort, and we're so predictable. If we don't like it, we strike out at someone or beat up on ourselves. We want to have security and certainty of some kind when actually we have no ground to stand on at all."

I had fallen into a pattern where the second I started to feel uncomfortable, or just generally feel something I felt I wasn't supposed to be feeling--that sounds to me a bit like it describes your feelings above--I would lash out at myself, and try to control those feelings. Their intensity would increase, and then I would start to panic.

Chodron is really just a good coach, which is exactly what she acknowledges we all sometimes need in that essay. Just a smart person there to remind you: Hey, those feelings that you're having of anger, panic, hating meditation, feeling stuck--that squeeze--that's not stupid, and it's not broken, or crazy, or out of control. It does not mean you are failing at meditation, or life, or anything else. It's just basic human suffering and not only is not not trivial or stupid, it's actually really all there is to work with in life, and we can use it as the best medicine for ourselves and humanity, however absurd that might sound. Look to her first method--no more struggle. She says, when you sit down to meditate, practice looking at whatever it is that you're feeling and seeing it for exactly what it is, without hurtling rocks, without looking away.

"It helps to remember that our practice is not about accomplishing anything—not about winning or losing—but about ceasing to struggle and relaxing as it is. "
posted by holympus at 11:15 PM on November 7, 2013 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: Your suggestions have led me to a boxing class, and I already feel less irritable. Thanks!
posted by windykites at 3:25 PM on November 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

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