Anger Energy – Managing anger…before it manages you
The guy driving in front of you suddenly changes lanes in heavy traffic without signaling; you lose out on the promotion you have worked so hard for; your computer hard-drive crashes the day before an important project is due. The more complicated life gets, the greater the likelihood of incidents that irritate, annoy, provoke, incense, infuriate and enrage you. Anger and all its relatives have established residence in your emotional household.
Throughout my years of practice, I have consistently noticed two constants regarding the human condition: first, we like to be “right,” sometimes at any cost, and second, we like others to agree with us. But when either or both of these don’t happen, many of us will push even harder to prove our rightness. I routinely tell clients with anger problems that anger always seeks a place to go. Some people stuff it and direct it towards themselves. This is referred to as anger turned inward, and is often a precursor to clinical depression. Others displace it onto family, friends, co-workers and even their pets. And in its worst case, some folks literally explode, leading to full-blown conflict, destructive relationships, and even aggressive or violent acts.
But is anger always a big, bad, ugly, potentially destructive emotion? Absolutely not. When used constructively and productively, anger can be a very positive motivating force in your life. It can provide a basis to make positive changes or accomplish personal goals. Anger provides energy, which can be directed towards achievement in work, school, sports or other areas. When dealt with directly and maturely, anger felt towards another person can lead to improved communication and understanding in the relationship.
So how does anger work? Well, the simplest answer is that anger involves complex feelings. Our response to anger involves our bodies, our behaviors and our thought processes. The situations that produce angry feelings have no emotional value in and of themselves ¬– it is the way we interpret these events that causes a shift in our physiological arousal. Acknowledging that you create your own anger leads to the possibility of dealing with it in less self-defeating ways.
Here are a few coping techniques to help you handle anger more effectively:
Learn to recognize and label anger
Anger can have a very swift onset. There is no more effective way to control anger escalation than to nip it in the bud before it gets out of control. Find out what your anger signs are. What happens to your body when you become angry? Do you develop a hollow feeling at the pit of your stomach? Do your palms begin to sweat? Early recognition is the key to learning how to step back and re-evaluate a volatile situation more rationally.
Simply put, this means changing the way you think. When you’re angry, your thinking can be overly exaggerated and dramatic, making it easier for you to narrow your focus on what you perceive as injustice. So try replacing “awfulizing” thoughts with more rational ones. For instance, instead of telling yourself, “Oh, this is just horrible; everything’s ruined,” say “this is disappointing and I’m upset about it, but getting angry won’t solve a thing.”
Rarely are situations as catastrophic as we make them out to be in the heat of the moment. So what if the driver in the red Corvette abruptly changed lanes without signaling? Will it make any difference an hour later? How about ten minutes later? Will you vow to never drive again because of this?
Redirect your anger energy
Anger is a high-arousal state accompanied by an adrenaline rush. So one of the most helpful things you can do is to engage in an activity that lowers your heart rate – such as yoga, deep breathing, visualization or meditation. Creative media such as painting, drawing and gardening may also be helpful. Running, walking and other types of aerobic exercise, especially if done on a regular basis, help you work off anger and leave you feeling more relaxed.
Keep an “anger log”
Record your feelings of anger together with the situations in which they occur in an “anger log.” Your log should include who or what was involved, your thoughts related to your feelings, how you coped, the results of your coping strategies, and how you could have handled the situation better. Reviewing each situation can help you determine if there are any patterns to your anger.
If your anger is really out of control, if it is adversely impacting your relationships or other important areas of your life, you might consider counseling to learn how to handle it better. A licensed mental health professional can work with you in developing an array of strategies to help you manage anger more effectively.
Remember, you will never be able to rid yourself of anger completely. And that’s a good thing, because doing so would rob you of often-needed energy. Life will continue to be filled with disappointment, hurt, pain, loss and the undesirable actions of others. You can’t change any of that, but you can change the way these issues affect you. Practice your anger management skills regularly, and keep in mind that change takes time, effort and patience – especially at first.
Joe Wegmann is a licensed clinical social worker and a clinical pharmacist with over 30 years of experience in counseling and medication treatment of depression and anxiety. Joe’s new book, Psychopharmacology: Straight Talk on Mental Health Medications is available at www.pesi.com. Learn more about Joe’s programs or to contribute a question for Joe to answer in a future article, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.