The power of postponing anger: what we can learn from Seneca's quote

There is no doubt that anger is a natural emotion that we all experience from time to time. But it is also true that anger often leads to hasty, destructive decisions that we later regret.

This is where the following quote from Seneca comes into play:

"The best remedy for anger is procrastination."

Lucius Anneaus Seneca

The Roman philosopher, statesman, and playwright believed that in moments of anger, we should take a step back and cool down before acting. But why exactly should this work and what can we learn from it?

Seneca recognized the destructive nature of anger and how important it was to delay expressing it. He believed that the best way to deal with anger was to take time to process our feelings and think rationally before reacting.

Seneca's own life experiences show how effective and important this approach is. As a senator and advisor to the emperor Nero, he experienced firsthand the consequences of acting impulsively in moments of anger. He recognized the potential damage that rash and hasty decisions can do, especially in positions of power.

Seneca's own struggles with anger are well documented. In his letters to his friend Lucilius, he often wrote about his own struggles with anger and the need to delay his reactions.

In Letter 18 writes Seneca, for example, about an instance when he was angry with his wife, but instead of reacting impulsively, he went for a walk and took his time to cool down before addressing the situation.

In Letter 47 he writes about the importance of delaying anger and how our first reaction is often the most destructive.

Representation: Seneca

So it's important to understand what Seneca was trying to say with this quote. Curbing anger means taking time to calm down and think before you react impulsively. By taking time between your initial emotional reaction and your actions, you can consider alternative outcomes and make more rational decisions. In other words: When you pause, you can avoid saying or doing something you might regret later.

For example, imagine you're at work and receive a critical email from a colleague. Your immediate reaction might be to fire off an angry response or vent to a colleague. But if you hold back your anger and take a deep breath, you may realize that the situation is more complicated than it first appears. Maybe your colleague had a rough day and his or her message was poorly worded. If you take time to reflect, you can respond calmly and thoughtfully, which can defuse the situation and ultimately benefit your working relationship.

In addition to avoiding regrettable actions, procrastinating anger can also benefit our mental health. When we give in to our anger, we often experience a flood of stressful emotions that can take a toll on our bodies and minds. In contrast, when we take a step back and practice mindfulness or other calming techniques, we can reduce stress and even trigger feelings of happiness and contentment.

What this quote does not mean, however, is to swallow the anger and not react at all.

On the contrary, this must be avoided. Suppressing anger can have negative consequences for the body and mind. According to a study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, suppressing anger can lead to increased blood pressure and heart rate, and that in turn can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (Source: Lutgendorf, S. K., et al. (1999). Effects of social support, anger expression, and personality on physiological reactivity in healthy adults. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 46(2), 155-167.). In addition, a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that suppression of anger can lead to increased symptoms of depression and anxiety (Source). Also, suppression of anger may result in the anger having an impact in other ways, such as passive-aggressive behavior or substance abuse (Kassinove, H., & Tafrate, R. C. (2002). The misunderstood role of anger in psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705-714.).

We need to find healthy ways to express and manage anger and rage instead of suppressing it. And this is where the quote comes in again, because it is typically bad to give in to anger instantly and react out of affect.

Instead, it's a matter of pausing for a short while to reflect on why we're angry and to assess whether we might not have gotten something wrong or are simply overreacting.

In surprisingly many cases, most of the anger already fizzles out. But if it is confirmed that we are right to be angry, it is time to find a suitable way to cool down. Typically, physical exercise is ideal for this, but at the same time often something we lack in modern everyday life.

If we have taken out our frustration while digging up the garden, at the gym or simply on our pillow, it is important to talk to the person who made us angry and explain what exactly had bothered us.

If it was not a person who was responsible for our anger, but a certain situation or thing, then it is a good idea to talk about it with a trusted person or, if that is not possible, to write down the feelings and thoughts on this topic. This is how you manage your anger instead of letting it run wild or boil.

If you want to see more quotes about anger:


In summary, we can learn a lot about the power of mindfulness and self-control from Seneca's quote, "The best remedy for anger is procrastination." When we take a step back and give ourselves time to process our feelings, we can make more rational decisions and avoid regretful actions.

Putting off anger can also benefit our mental health and allow us to find joy and gratitude in each day.

So the next time you feel anger boiling up inside you, remember Seneca's words and take a deep breath, because this insight into the destructive nature of anger and the importance of postponing its expression is as relevant today as it was in ancient Rome.

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