Some jerk cuts you off in traffic, almost causing an accident. Your husband leaves his smelly workout clothes on the bed…again. Your grandchild hasn’t acknowledged the present you sent. Your boss blames you for other people’s mistakes. Result: steam starts shooting out of your ears. You may start yelling, complaining, or stomping around, wondering why everyone is so [annoying/stupid/thoughtless.]
“Anger is a basic emotion designed to energize us to deal with threat,” says Raymond Chip Tafrate, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and professor, at Central Connecticut State University and co-author of Anger Management for Everyone. But if you find that you are angry a lot of the time, that you can’t make good decisions, and it is having a bad effect on your relationships with others and your health, it’s time to get a grip. You won’t be able to change or banish from your life everything and everyone that ticks you off, but you can learn to respond in a better way so you can live a happier, less stressed life.
First, you need to recognize the physical signs that you are about to go postal. Emotions activate physical reactions. When people get angry—especially when they feel strong anger—they feel muscle tension, headaches, racing pulse, flushed face and gastrointestinal symptoms. Another sign is rumination—obsessively thinking about unfair treatment at the hands of others. “Everyone feels the signs differently, but the trick is to know what yours are. Take note of your signals,” says Dr. Tafrate.
When you feel Mt. Vesuvius about to blow…
1. Remove yourself from a situation, if you can. This is not a great long-term solution, because you aren’t learning to face an anger trigger. Until you do acquire the skills, this is a temporary fix to give yourself time to think your response through. Don’t trust your judgment when you are angry—give yourself time to calm down.
2. Anticipate the response to your anger. While in your “timeout,” strategize. “The intent behind anger is to change the behavior of somebody else. Think it through. If you act on this anger, is the consequence going to be that everyone gets even angrier and will you be less likely to see the change you want?” says Joseph Shrand M.D., author of Outsmarting Anger and instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
3. Let go of “should," "ought," and "must.” People don't always do what you want them to do. Ask yourself, in the larger scheme of life, how much does this really matter? “Inconsiderate drivers exist. You can get angry with them but that doesn’t change the world you live in. No one appointed you police officer of the universe. Let go of it,” says Dr. Tafrate.
4. Try to see the situation from the other person’s side. When you are angry, you are thinking about yourself and have limited capacity to understand the other person’s viewpoint. “I ask clients to imagine the perspective of the person they are angry at. How does she view the situation?,” says Dr. Tafrate. Yes, the clerk was rude. Maybe her boyfriend cheated. Maybe customers have been yelling at her all day. Everyone has an off day. Picture the other person explaining what happened to someone else. What would she say?
5. Be assertive, not aggressive. The former means negotiating mutually beneficial solutions; the latter means you are only thinking of your own goals and interests at all costs. Problem-solve together with the involved parties. When everyone feels heard, there is less chance of anger.
6. Exercise for the long-term, not the short-term. People think that punching a pillow or going for a run will help them get out their anger. Actually, studies have shown that heightened arousal when you are angry can lead to physical aggression, says Dr. Tafrate. However, exercising regularly will make you feel calmer and more balanced overall and less likely to get angry in the first place.
7. Move forward. You don’t have to accept or excuse bad behavior, but when you allow other’s actions to take up real estate in your brain, you lose. Imagine drawing a box around the event and holding it separate from yourself. Tell yourself that their behavior reflects on who they are, not who you are. Only your behavior, your reactions, define you. And with practice, that you can change and control.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.