ANGER: SOOTHING THE SAVAGE BEAST
Do you often find yourself becoming angry at the least little thing? Maybe your toddler interrupts your newspaper reading by climbing on your lap, and you become irritated. Perhaps your wife asks you to take her shopping, and you get angry because you were planning to go golfing. Your boss might ask you to do yet another “little thing” while you’re already backed up to next week.
Learning some basic anger management techniques to direct your internal and external responses to situations like these can restore your sense of self-control. Many people who were raised in families where expressing emotions was prohibited tend to suppress their anger. The problem is that what you suppress ultimately expands. Or it may be a situation such as described above in which you have become angry at your boss and cannot act out. What often happens is that anger finally bursts out at the specific person, others or yourself.
Even if you hold in your anger, it may not hurt others, unless they sense our withdrawal or unspoken irritation, but it will hurt you. Studies show that people who let anger build up inside tend to suffer more health problems than those who have less anger or manage it in productive ways. Many anger management techniques are easy to learn and practice, so give them a try before losing your temper unnecessarily again.
Drain the Brain
When your temper begins to flare, one of the best anger management techniques is to mentally challenge yourself before taking out your anger on others. Ask yourself questions about the source of your irritation, the degree of your anger, and pay attention to any negative automatic thoughts about yourself that you may be having. You may interpret your boss always giving you petty assignments as indicating he does not think you can do more advanced work. This could feed into your telling yourself: “He doesn’t think much of me. I’m not doing a good job. I’m a failure.” These thoughts could definitely trigger anger, in this case, perhaps at yourself (which can turn to depression) which you project onto your boss.
Become more aware of your negative mental chatter. This is a fairly continuous process in our heads. Work on awareness of it first and then on challenging it with rational, more positive thinking. If you keep practicing, your internal talk will become much less negative and thus trigger far fewer angry outbursts.
Always consider the other person’s actual role in the situation. Turn circumstances around to see how you would want to be treated if the other person felt as you do. These mental gymnastics can help you regain control over runaway emotions before they escape and cause external damage.
Take a Break
You also can try traditional anger management techniques to soothe your flare-ups. For example, count to twenty, not ten, before saying anything. Leave the room for several minutes, or hours, if necessary, before discussing sensitive issues that may provoke your anger. Write out a response to a problem before tackling it orally or in debate. This will give you time to think about the best approach to a problem rather than responding with random anger.
Walk it Off
In those moments when you feel the familiar rage start to rumble, excuse yourself if others are present and take a quick walk down the hall or outdoors, depending on whether you are at home or at work. Even a five- or ten-minute stroll, especially one that is fast-paced, will help to cool your irritation. It will carry out the fight-or-flight response which is the natural consequence of negative stress or anger. Your body will emulate the “fleeing” from the anger-provoking situation. After a brisk walk, just as neurochemicals, hormones, breathing, heart rate and the like return to normal with the contribution of the parasympathetic nervous system after an anger arousal response, this will occur now as well. This is a very helpful anger management technique.
Other Useful Tips
Other valuable anger management techniques include keeping a diary and writing about negative emotions to get them out of your system. Read what you’ve written, think about it and see if there is actually anything you can learn from the situation that you can apply in the future. You also may want to keep a pet, since studies show that petting a dog or cat, for example, helps to reduce blood pressure levels and harmful substances in your system that can damage blood vessels if left unchecked. Talking over situations with a trusted friend and venting to a coach or therapist are two more anger management techniques used by thousands.
As you become aware of your anger triggers and work to change those which are internal (negative self-talk) or external, you will gain a sense of greater control over yourself, greater serenity, improved self-esteem and, most definitely, improved relationships at work and home.
Simone Ravicz, ph.d, m.b.a.