This Japanese tradition could help with anger management, study says

Shot of a young businessman experiencing stress during late night at work
Feelings of anger and frustration can sometimes be hard to manage. (Getty Images)

When breathing techniques and mantras don’t work, the best way to quell your anger may be to write it down on paper and, quite literally, let it go.

A new study by researchers in Japan suggests that this tactic, which is inspired by a Japanese tradition called ‘hakidashisara’, can help erase feelings of anger and frustration almost completely.

The researchers carried out their study by annoying volunteers on purpose. They asked volunteers to submit their opinions about social issues, which would be evaluated.

When the volunteers received their evalutions, no matter what they wrote, they were deliberately scored poorly on intelligence, interest, friendliness, logic, and rationality. They also all received an insulting comment, which read: “I cannot believe an educated person would think like this. I hope this person learns something while at university.”

All the participants reported higher levels of anger after receiving the feedback, a response that the researchers expected. They then asked the volunteers to write down their negative feelings, before one group of volunteers were told to destroy the paper and the other group told to keep it.

To the surprise of the researchers, the volunteers who shredded or threw the paper with the negative feelings written on it away experienced their anger disappear compared to those who didn’t.

Nobuyuki Kawai, lead researcher of the study at Nagoya University, said: “We expected that our method would suppress anger to some extent. However, we were amazed that anger was eliminated almost entirely.”

Destroying a piece of paper on which you've written the things that make you angry can be a useful way of quelling your frustration. (Getty Images)
Destroying a piece of paper on which you've written the things that make you angry can be a useful way of quelling your frustration. (Getty Images)

The study, which was published in Scientific Reports on the Nature journal, found that the anger levels of the volunteers who shredded or discarded the paper with their negative feelings decreased so significantly that they returned to their initial state.

Meanwhile, those who wrote down their negative feelings but kept the paper experienced only a small decrease in their anger levels.

Kawai believes this technique could be especially useful for people working in business and corporate environments, where stress levels can run high.

“This technique could be applied in the moment by writing down the source of anger as if taking a memo, and then throwing it away when one feels angry in a business situation,” he explained.

The Japanese cultural tradition ‘hakidashisara’ that echoes this research usually takes place during an annual festival at the Hiyoshi shrine in Kiyosu, Aichi Prefecture, just outside of Nagoya.

The word is a portmanteau of ‘hakidashi’, which refers to the purging or spitting out of something, and ‘sara’, which means dish or plate.

During the festival, people smash small discs that represent the things that make them angry. Afterwards, participants report feelings of relief once they leave the festival, which could explain the feeling that the study’s volunteers had after destroying the paper with negative feelings written down.

How anger affects your mental and physical health

Anger is a normal emotion that everyone feels at times, but it can sometimes spin out of control. If it's not dealt with in a healthy way, feeling overly angry or full of rage for long periods of time can become a problem for both you and the people around you.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, long-term and intense anger has been linked to mental health issues like depression, anxiety and self-harm.

It has also been linked to worse physical health, including conditions like high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and stroke. In some people, anger can also lead to aggression and violence towards themselves or others.

"There's lots of evidence to suggest that managing your anger in a healthy way can help people look after their mental and physical health, feel more positive about themselves, achieve their goals, solve problems and enjoy relationships with the people around them," the organisation adds.

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