“5–3–2” – Processing Anger in Three Steps


  • Anxiety is an unpleasant sensation generated by your body’s physiological response to real or perceived danger.
  • It compels you to take action to resolve the threat and live another day.
  • If you cannot escape or solve the threat, your body’s stress response intensifies and you become angry.
  • Anger is irrational, powerful, destructive, and not subject to control. 5–3–2 is an approach to minimize the damage.



“Genealogy” of Anger

The perception of threat of any kind creates a neurochemical inflammatory stress reaction that is experienced as anxiety.

The sensation of anxiety creates a compelling need to resolve the threat.

When you are trapped (loss control), your body increases the stress response in an effort to regain control.

You are now angry (hyperactivated threat reaction).

Anger = turbocharged anxiety.

Neither anxiety nor anger is subject to being controlled. They are powerful automatic reactions. Your choice is how you react to them.

5–3–2: A sequence that allows your brain to be back online

The biggest problem with anger is that, since it is your last-ditch effort to survive, your brain activity shifts from the neocortex (rational thinking area) to your midbrain (reflex survival center). When you are angry, you have lost awareness of others’ needs, it is all about you, and it’s destructive by design. It’s physiologically impossible to think clearly and while you are in this state; you must just stop—somehow. Taking any action while you are angry rarely improves your life or relationships and is usually damaging.

Here is a sequence of steps you can use to minimize its impact. 5-3-2 is the number of words in each step.

  • No action in a reaction
  • Flip the switch
  • Move on

5—No action in a reaction. First, recognize that you are upset. There are many ways anger is disguised. Then you must acknowledge that any action, physical or verbal, is not going to be helpful in the long run. It may feel like you are thinking clearly, but you have to intellectually understand that you cannot. Your brain really is offline. Finally, don’t take any action while you are upset. Say nothing. Leave the room. Take a walk. The anger may lessen quickly or last for a while. Much of it depends how skilled you are at processing anger, and everyone is different.

3—Flip the switch. Anger is so powerful that you will never be able to give it up nor will you want to. Flipping the switch means that you let your anger drop enough that you are able to think more rationally. Then you make a decisive choice to come out of the victim mode. However, it is important not to flip the switch until you think you can actually do it. You may drop right back into anger, and you just keep making the choice to change direction.



2—Move on. Once you have returned to a rational state of mind, you’ll be able to address the upsetting situation more clearly and constructively. What is interesting is that often what seemed so important and intense just disappears. Since anger is a trigger within you, and the situation or a person is what set it off, the “problem” often ceases to exist. It is critical to keep moving forward into the life that you want or the solution you desire. If you spend your time trying to keep solving what makes you upset, the list is endless, it isn’t that enjoyable, and you’ll drag yourself back into The Abyss.

There are many facets to anger and ways to process it to minimize its impact on your life. This little 5-3-2 strategy will get you started, and you’ll find it useful many times a day. Don’t let anger run your life—starting today.


Anger is destructive and it is supposed to be. It is a last-ditch survival mechanism will compel you to do whatever it takes to physically and mentally survive. It is a physiological state and the additional problem is that the activity in your brain shifts from the neocortex (thinking center) to your limbic region (survival region). It is not possible to think clearly or creatively. So, the first step is recognising that you are angry (there are many disguises) and understand any actions, physically or verbally, are going to inflict damage. This a simple decision because you won’t benevolent in this state.

Second, after you have allowed yourself to calm down, then “flip the switch.” This is also another simple and definitive decision because anger is addictive and irrational. You will never want to give it up. You make a decision, “I am not going to remain in a victim mode.” Why do you want to give up your peace of mind to someone you dislike or a situation that is intolerable. You may have to do this multiple times a day as there is no end to life’s challenges.

Finally, just move on. Get on with your day. Take a break. Pursue your projects. As you spend more time engaging in activities you enjoy, your brain will evolve in that direction. It is remarkable how effective the “5-3-2” strategy works.

Questions and considerations

  1. One of the most challenging aspects of dealing with anger is recognising it. Maybe it has become normalised. There are many disguises and it is important to recognise them.
  2. You must allow yourself to deeply feel your anger while at the same time, not acting on it. Suppressing it creates even more havoc.
  3. Have you considered how much time you spend being angry? If you think you are rarely angry, think again. It is basic to your survival and there is no getting rid of it.
  4. Taking no action in reaction is difficult and requires discipline and repetition. It is a powerful and overwhelming emotion.
  5. If you can learn and use this sequence, you will quickly notice an improvement in your relationships. Think about how you feel when you are around someone who is upset. Think how you might appear to others when you are angry. Anger is not attractive.