Monthly Archives: February 2014

Managing your Anger

At times it can feel impossible to deal with anger without ranting and raving. If we use our anger to frighten and intimidate others, we are in danger of both pushing them away and potentially damaging those relationships. If we want to change our behaviour, we need to understand what lies behind it. Here are some ways that can help you manage your anger:

Becoming Aware of Anger. The first thing to do is to learn to identify where and when you feel angry. Write it down. Is there a pattern? Are there consistent triggers? Can you begin to identify why you are so angry? Is anger masking other feelings such as embarrassment, hurt or shame? If you don’t know why you are getting angry, it’s very hard to learn to control your anger.

Learning to Relax. Notice what anger feels like: do you get a knot in your stomach, a headache or tense shoulders? Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery can help with the physical symptoms of anger. Practicing these techniques when you are not feeling upset will help you to be able to use them in the heat of the moment.

Become Aware of your Thinking. When you start to feel yourself getting upset about something, take a moment to ask yourself, ‘Is getting angry or upset going to help?’ Or ‘Is this worth ruining my day over?’ If you can recognize when you’re not thinking logically about a situation, you can replace these thoughts with more rational ones.

Problem Solve. Sometimes our anger and frustration are caused by very real and inescapable problems in our lives. In these cases, use anger to find out ‘What is so wrong in my life that I feel furious, and what do I need to do to change the situation?’ By focusing on problem-solving during frustrating situations you can use anger constructively as motivation for positive change. However, it is important to recognize situations you can’t control or change. In those situations you may need to work on changing your perspective on the situation.

Communicate Effectively. The key to effective communication is good listening. Try listening to what is behind the anger or source of frustration. For example, if your partner is criticizing you for coming home late from a stressful day at work, instead of responding defensively try to understand the underlying message or hurt. Perhaps your partner is feeling neglected or unloved. If you can keep cool you can prevent the situation from escalating. When we are angry we tend to jump to conclusions, often the wrong ones. Slow down and think through your response.

Take a Break. If your anger seems to be building, remove yourself from the situation for a few minutes and do something else – take a brisk walk, listen to some music or try your relaxation techniques. Your chances of resolving the situation in a productive manner greatly increase when you can approach it without feeling full of rage.

 

What if…?

When we begin to explore the thoughts that accompany feelings of anxiety we find the prevalence of the dreaded ‘What if…?’ If a thought begins with ‘What if’ then it can usually be identified as a purely anxious thought. Dwelling on such thoughts gives us the illusion of being practical by preparing for all possible outcomes, but none of us know what will happen in the future and ‘What if’ thoughts never seem to involve a good outcome! The reality of ‘What if’ thoughts is that they are rarely productive and often mentally draining. If you think about it, the phrase ‘What if’ implies a problem that doesn’t yet exist: how can we solve a problem that doesn’t even exist?

So, why do we automatically (or what feels like automatically) focus on these ‘What if’ thoughts? Because it is part of our human nature to gravitate toward the negative: it’s a survival mechanism. When our brains find a threat, we focus our energy on getting rid of that threat, and if we are feeling anxious, this tendency to focus on ‘What if’ increase. Our brains misinterpret ‘threats’ or exaggerates the magnitude of actual threats. This exaggeration of stress behavior increases the body’s anxiety levels.

Becoming aware of ‘What if’ thoughts allows us to begin to reduce their impact on anxiety levels. A good way to do this is to set aside a number of 10-minute worry sessions throughout the day where you can write down all your ‘What if’ thoughts. Writing can be a good release and it helps to see the ‘What if’ thoughts on paper; illuminating their irrational and disorganized nature. This helps us identify these thoughts for what they are, fears, not reality.

Holding onto the Hope and Help from Others

I watched two video blogs this week about young men suffering from severe depression who almost took their own lives. In both cases it was the intervention of someone else (a stranger, a friend) and their ability to offer acceptance and hope for the future that made them chose not die. One of the young men spoke about how he felt at the time: his feeling of being overwhelmed by a complete sense of failure, of shame; of ‘what we think we should be’ seeming so far removed from how he felt inside. It was through the acceptance and caring perseverance of his friend (who just kept on making sure he was around and available) that he came to realise that ‘it’s ok to be this way.’ For the other young man it was a stranger’s reassurance that ‘you’ll get through this, it’ll get better’ that made him reconsider. I was struck by what bravery they all demonstrated in the face of acute emotional turmoil.