You feel it. It sneaks up on you without warning. First, your heart rate speeds up. Your hands may become clammy, your brow – sweaty. Your jaws are clenched, and you may feel jumpy or nervous. And sometimes you actually feel it welling inside you, to the point of boiling over!
Sometimes its builds up slow and festers, and other times, it happens so fast, you just explode. You could be anywhere, anytime – and the worst part? No one can hide from it. Everyone is at risk. It is the hidden monster inside us all – that little thing called anger.
“Anger” is defined as: violent, vindictive passion: sudden and strong displeasure, as a result of injury, opposition or mistreatment. Whereas “rage” is defined as: violent anger; wrath; fury; extreme eagerness or emotion; to speak, act or move with unrestrained anger; fell or show violent anger (1). Anger and rage send your body in “emergency mode” – where your body releases stress hormones and sends a heavy jolt through your nervous system. This can cause you to do things you may regret later.
Come on, I know you know the feeling. You are running late for work and someone cuts you off, your spouse is late for dinner and the kids are bickering endlessly – all common causes for anger, especially after a frustrating day. We’ve all been there at one time or another.
In today’s fast-paced world, with the juggling act between family and work, and the ever-constant struggle between responsibility and desires, anger is a normal part of our lives. The problem lies in individual’s threshold, which can change day-by-day, even minute-by-minute.
But, don’t despair. Anger is normal. The trick is to get a gripe before it causes more damage. Anger has been linked to digestive problems, headaches, even visual disturbances, not to mention high blood pressure, heart problems, even some types of cancer, especially when anger is allowed to well up inside you.
Releasing stress and pent-up anger is essential to your emotional well-being. And, there are actually some things you can try to control your anger without letting it go awry:
1.Focus on your breathing. Inhale through your nose, filling your lungs and your abdomen, and then exhale through your mouth. Concentrate on slowing the rate of breathing – and, try the tried and true method of counting to ten before reacting. Focusing on your breathing allows you time to think of the consequences of your actions.
2.Exercise – regularly. Take a walk or a bike ride. Why not curb stress and manage your weight at the same time? Regular exercise has a positive, calming influence on your body. No time to exercise? Try a few stretches during your day, right at your desk – it increases your circulation and helps you feel calmer. Put on your favorite song and dance – who can stay mad while belting out their favorite lyrics and moving to the beat?
3.Change the scenery. Walk away from the stressing situation for a few minutes or try something new. Go pick wild flowers or go on a nature hike. Go have a water balloon fight – anything out of the ordinary where you can blow off a little steam.
4.Let it out. Have a good laugh, or cry, and yes, even a scream! Laughing and crying stem from the same part of your brain and are a good way to release tension and stress. These demonstrations of emotions decrease your blood pressure and boost your immunity. But, beware of others – you can’t go screeching in the middle of an office meeting, or double over with laugher at a somber occasion, but, you could start a joke-of-the-day club to spread some cheer.
5.Learn to meditate. I’m not suggesting curl up in a position you haven’t been able to get into since your teenage years and chant. In truth, anyone who has gotten mesmerized while watching a fire is well on their way to knowing the art of meditation. Find a comfortable spot and imagine your spine being held up by a string. Then breathe deeply. Focus on something neutral, or something that gives you pleasure – even inspiration, like a word or phrase. Regular meditation can lead to increased mental clarity and overall well-being. Having trouble with the basics? Try a meditation or yoga class, or buy a tape.
6.Beware of the body signals, or warning signs – a clenched jaw, flexing fists, increase in your heart rate, sweaty palms, a feeling of heat in your face – and make a conscious effort to change them. Fatigue plays a huge role in anger management. Try to maintain a regular sleep pattern, and avoid over-sleeping (such as sleeping till noon on the weekends, when five days a week, you rise at 5:00 am).
7.Seek human interaction. Sounds strange, especially since, in all likelihood, there is a person involved in your anger. But isolation destroys health. Seek a reassuring hug from a loved one, or treat yourself to a massage. The more compassion you put in your life, the less violent you will feel.
8.Know your needs and limitations. Being truthful to yourself and realizing when a situation is too much for you can stop anger. Know when to delegate or seek assistance.
9.Visualize a plan and believe in yourself. Consider the stumbling blocks, especially those that typically cause anger, and figure out how to disarm anger before it occurs again. When that car cuts you off, instead of cursing and raging, try a deep breath and a smile. Sounds ridiculous, but it just may work. See slips in effort as learning experiences. There’s not a single person who never experiences some type of anger or rage. But, try to learn from it – why did it get you so mad? Was it the guy who tapped your bumper or the co-worker who insulted you before you even got in the car? More often than not, it is not one thing that causes such anger, but a combination of situations you experience during your day. Most importantly, believe in yourself. If you think you are worthless, chances are even the most trivial situation can cause you to doubt yourself and take your frustrations out on some unsuspecting fellow.
10.Watch your diet. Don’t skip meals, and eat sensibly. If your idea of curbing hunger is to grab a candy bar as you’re rushing out the door – re-think! Sure, processed sugar gives you an almost immediate rush of energy, but then your blood sugar plummets, causing minor irritations to feel like huge mounds of anger or rage. Caffeine and alcohol are also likely culprits of changing attitudes. Caffeine can make you feel jumpy and jittery, often causing headaches with excessive intake. Or, headaches can come on when your body is withdrawing from caffeine. Headaches cause shorter fuses and quicker anger. Then there’s alcohol – we’ve all reached for a cocktail after a particularly stressing day. And taken in moderation, alcohol does have a calming effect, after all alcohol is a depressant. But, excessive alcohol intake can cause irrational behavior, particularly rage! And let us not forget medications. Some prescription medications need to be weaned from your system, so seek medical advise when trying to stop. Avoid overuse of over-the-counter medications, and especially, the use of illegal substances that cause only temporary relief from every day stresses. Medications and drugs can also cause irrational behavior or a distorted image of the overall situation, which is a recipe for disaster.
And finally, realize when you need to seek help. If raging out of control is a frequent occurrence, perhaps you need to seek professional assistance. There is no shame in realizing you need help! Consult with your physician, or enroll in an anger management class. Learning how to cope with the anger and rage you feel is the first step to a healthier, happier you.
(1)Funk & Wagner; New Comprehensive International Dictionary of the English Language; 1982