Healthy Ways to Physically Express Negative Emotions
July 11, 2014 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: what are some good, healthy ways for an adult to physically express their upsetting feelings?

My friend, when she was a child, used to find pieces of slate or shale in the backyard and smash them against one another to tiny pieces when she was angry. She says it really helped. As an adult, she can't find any shale and in any case would be more than a little self-conscious about, say, smashing bottles or breaking furniture in the backyard of her apartment building. What are healthy physical expressions of negative emotions that my friend can use to satisfy her need to express her anger or other negative feelings? Ideally she's looking for ways that don't involve spending much money (for example, boxing lessons would not be a great answer for her.)

Many thanks.
posted by gauche to Human Relations (35 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Do burpees until you're too tired to be angry anymore.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 10:57 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

How about an exhausting fitness activity? It is sweet to better oneself as the rage flows through the body. I like cycling myself, but running is cheap and super accessible.
posted by mindsound at 10:58 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think for a lot of folks, running, yoga, crossfit, etc fill this void.

But if she really needs to beat on something, I've found chopping wood to be very good for this purpose and productive at the same time.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:59 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Run - flat out sprint.
posted by 26.2 at 11:00 AM on July 11, 2014

Lifting weights! Lift weights! Lift weights! (In addition to expressing anger, this will also have the bonus side effect of making you stronger over time.)
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:04 AM on July 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Interval work and fartleks.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:05 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wonder if punching lumps off clay would have the same effect as the smashing bricks thing. Pillow fights are also great for this (don't use feather pillows, though). Running up and down stairs. Making bread. Ripping newspapers into tiny bits.
posted by Solomon at 11:07 AM on July 11, 2014

Closing your curtains, putting on comfy sweats, dialing up the volume on your stereo and DANCEDANCEDANCING to an angry song! See: Bret's Angry Dance from Flight of the Conchords.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 11:11 AM on July 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Cleaning! Something nasty that needs scrubbing like a stovetop or sink or something. It's not so much expressing the anger as channeling it, but ending up with clean stuff is a plus!
posted by sunset in snow country at 11:17 AM on July 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

In a pinch, breaking a pencil in half is somewhat satisfying for relieving some angst.

Also, vehemently popping bubble wrap.
posted by fourpotatoes at 11:19 AM on July 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Perhaps a mortar and pestle and something to grind to a powder.

I find crushing pills with a steel spoon against a hard surface oddly satisfying and stress-relieving.

Bag of walnuts in the shell + a nutcracker.
posted by nacho fries at 11:24 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find that pulling out weeds is really cathartic somehow.
posted by trillian at 11:32 AM on July 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

When I was good 'n mad in high school I'd crank up my stereo, put a couple of pillows in my lap, and play "drums" along with the Phil Collins song I Don't Care Any More. Use whatever song you want, just as long as it's good 'n angry and has a lot of drumming.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:33 AM on July 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Rend your garment. Put on an old shirt you don't care about, grab it at the neck, wail out loud, and rend. Feels great.

While crying and/or yelling, kneel down on the floor and pound the floor with your fists. For best effect, combine with garment-rending.
posted by Corvid at 11:34 AM on July 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Breaking ice. Ice cubes aren't the right shape, so you'd kind of have to have some premade ice of a more satisfying shape already in the freezer (flat sheets on jelly roll trays?), but it can be done in the sink or the tub and the shattering of ice is similar to smashing shale.

Maybe throwing rocks in a pond/stream/at the ocean?
posted by carrioncomfort at 11:35 AM on July 11, 2014

THINGS TO DO TO EXPRESS ANGER SAFELY (pdf) by Violet Oaklander, PhD.
posted by jaguar at 11:48 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Running up stairs. Better yet, double steps, stadium steps, or large steps. There's an office park near me that has double/large steps for about 1.5 stories, then regular small steps going down next to it. Run up, walk down. Run up, walk down. Repeat in big bursts of power, and let your body recover on the walk down. Preferably to some cathartic music.

Rowing machine.

Long walks, if she's got the time. Really, really long walks with some headphones in.

Also, painting. Just get some inexpensive canvas from Michael's and some inexpensive paint. I have the artistic talent of a stinkbug, but something about making brushstrokes in paint is incredibly calming.
posted by raztaj at 11:48 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hit and kick a heavy bag at a boxing gym.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:49 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

If destruction and/or loud bangs are the satisfying thing for her, getting some cheap fabric to rip might be satisfying, or banging nails into a piece of scrap wood.
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:51 AM on July 11, 2014

The pulling weeds suggestion is a good one. Yardwork in general is great for burning off anger -- trimming hedges and digging holes and moving bags of compost and uprooting rocks -- if she happens to have a friend with a yard that needs maintenance.
posted by nacho fries at 11:52 AM on July 11, 2014

Clean out a room, closet, or file cabinet. Burn or shred waste paper. Throw large volumes of trash into the dumpster. The burning, shredding, and throwing can be quite satisfying.
posted by crazycanuck at 12:03 PM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it doesn't need to be "useful" work, ripping pizza boxes is cathartic, apartment-friendly and free.
posted by susanvance at 12:04 PM on July 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Punch pillows. Really wail on them. If that's not satisfying, your friend can also beat her mattress.
posted by rue72 at 12:10 PM on July 11, 2014

Crush soda/beer cans for recycling? Generally socially acceptable, and maybe also cathartic in the same destructive way she's used to. It's pretty satisfying to set them on the ground and stomp on them. Ripping apart or crushing some cardboard boxes for recycling might work too.
posted by geeky at 12:24 PM on July 11, 2014

The exercise suggestions are all great. For me pilates works best, simply because it's my favorite exercise. I also like to put headphones in, turn the music up, and head-bang/dance until I'm tired. Pillow/mattress punching is another great option.

I caution against the loud banging ones in an apartment though...if my neighbor started this one - While crying and/or yelling, kneel down on the floor and pound the floor with your fists. - I'd be incensed enough to need a new anger coping mechanism myself.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:39 PM on July 11, 2014

In terms of expressing negative emotions, these worked for me:
-heavy intense treadmill/elliptical sessions, preferably to angry rock and dance music
-lifting weights
-shadow boxing (but be careful of surroundings!)
-drawing aggressive, angry sketches

But sometimes emotions like anger has a nasty habit of building on top of itself, and sometimes you simply have to stop holding on to anger. In this case, I would suggest doing the following after having expressed the angry emotions:
-taking a slow, long walk, preferably in a pleasant place with lots of plants or near water

Hope these suggestions will help your friend.
posted by Tsukushi at 12:51 PM on July 11, 2014

I once bought a cheap, lightweight plastic bat, and spent some time pounding on padded furniture with it. It was surprisingly satisfying.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 1:50 PM on July 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding the whiffle bat. I used to work at a place that used a lot of drafting-width plotter paper and the thick empty cardboard tubes in the middle were the perfect heft and size for taking to the stairwell and bashing the shit out of the brick walls until the cardboard gave way. Swinging something just felt better than punching things.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:02 PM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Angry doodles. Hand-cramping, pencil-breaking, angry, angry doodles.
posted by Room 641-A at 3:24 PM on July 11, 2014

Oh, I can't favorite JoeZydeco enough. In fact I had my story all typed out before I saw his suggestion. My only modifications are the cardboard tubes I used were castoffs after wrapping paper was used, and I would beat the fuck out of my filing cabinet in my office with the door closed.
posted by janey47 at 4:21 PM on July 11, 2014

I dislike connecting expressing anger to ANYTHING violent. I just don't establishing that connection in my mind or actions-regardless of how victim-less or harmless it is.

Do something physically exhausting, but also provides an accomplishment, however small. Yard-work is good for this. Cleaning, really cleaning, not just straightening, is also good for this and both will improve your immediate surrounding in a way that will also lift your mood. Exercise also works or building something or repairing something (sometimes I have even done hard math problems-mental exhaustion can be just as real as physical exhaustion).

Really exhausting exercise doesn't require spending any money-like others have mention running stairs, wind sprints, lifting chunks of stone or iron (if handy), squats-especially if holding a full gallon milk jug(with water) in each hand, whatever you can come up with. Barbells and weight sets are almost always available cheap on craigslist. You won't get the immediate benefit of improving your surroundings, but you get the benefit of improving you, just deferred a little bit.

I find afterwards the feeling of anger I had usually seems pointless and trivial. If the anger remains after a hard session of whatever, maybe it is real anger at a injustice you can do something about, but the work and exhaustion leaves you in a MUCH better place to form a plan of attack on the source or cause of the anger, instead of lashing out and often causing yourself more harm than good, or at least learning to live with it. After a while I got a handle on my anger and controlling it and channeling it so I only get angry when I need to now (mostly). I even learned how to not be road ragey.

Remember-Cold anger is useful, hot anger just uses you up.
posted by bartonlong at 4:45 PM on July 11, 2014

The first time I did slamballs in a crossfit class I let go of a *lot* of anger at an ex. It only took once!
posted by pril at 5:59 PM on July 11, 2014

Primal scream into a pillow.

Art. Make lots of angry art.

Write poetry.

Dance around and shake vehemently to angry music. Best done naked.
posted by Gray Skies at 8:41 PM on July 11, 2014

Music. I will play something loud and bangy on the piano or sing some angry song at the top of my lungs. You can segue into more peaceful music to calm down afterwards.
posted by emeiji at 9:40 PM on July 11, 2014

Breadmaking is a favorite de-stressing/anger-management tool for me. Mixing and kneading it by hand absorbs a lot of semi-violent physical energy, and you can punch it repeatedly without hurting anything. But then it also gives off a soothing smell and turns into this productive useful item when you're done.
posted by shattersock at 3:32 AM on July 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

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