Channel Anger Constructively

Anger is probably the most self-destructive of our emotions and causes severe stress. An angry person with high blood pressure is like a toddler with a hammer—something bad is certain to happen. Preventing and controlling anger is more than important; it is absolutely essential. People who can’t control anger almost always have high blood pressure; worse, it often leads to early heart attacks. Controlling anger is a learned behavior just like any other skill; you must teach yourself to respond differently to upsetting situations. Just as it takes time for a person to learn to become a hothead, it can take years to become skillful at dealing with anger. Although no one method works for everyone, experts offer these tips for keeping frustration from turning into rage.

• Acknowledge you have a problem. Sure, someone else may have set you off, but that doesn’t excuse your bad behavior. Next, make an effort to witness your behavior. When you’re driving, for example, observe how closely you follow other cars. What do you do that might be angering other people? Finally, work on modifying your behavior. If driving is what brings out your worst side, work on avoiding tailgating and other aggressive maneuvers.

• Learn new responses to behaviors that previously would have provoked you. Rather than yelling or making obscene gestures at a driver who has cut you off, say, “be my guest,” sing, or even make goofy animal noises. This alters your breathing pattern and slows the rush of adrenaline coursing through your body. Then start talking to yourself; say “It’s not worth getting worked up over,” or “Don’t do anything drastic.”

• Distract yourself from the frustration. By changing your mental focus, you can temporarily reduce your anger level and possibly keep from doing or saying things you’ll regret. Anger management is essential to life in the modern world. It doesn’t mean you need to back down; management means you assert yourself, diffuse the anger, and settle on what is right.

CONTROL NEGATIVE THOUGHTS

People looking for jobs will tell you the heaviest thing in the world is the telephone when you must use it to call potential employers. It is heavy because a job seeker usually projects negative thoughts onto the person she’s about to call. Negative thoughts lay the groundwork for anger if the person shows even the slightest tendency to fulfill your negative projection. A better approach is to prepare for the worst. Write it down if it helps. For instance, “What must I do if . . .”

• He won’t take my call.

• She says they have no openings now.

• He says I’m overqualified (or underqualified).

• She says, “Send me a résumé.”

If you are prepared, you cannot get angry; you can only say, “I did my best; I’ll do better next time,” or better still, you will have found an avenue to an opportunity.

HANDLING ACCUSATIONS

Being blamed or accused can be like a boxing match—someone unexpectedly jabs at you and your first impulse is to jab back. However, in the boxing ring the boxers are getting paid to knock each other senseless. When you are accused in the workplace or personal situations, however, you’ll be on the employment line, or in jail, or both rather quickly if you start throwing punches. On the other hand, you still need to assert yourself, while creating a win-win situation.

Suppose you were accused (even jokingly) out loud at a party of hitting your spouse. Some people will always be ready to believe the worst. For the sake of your relationships and reputation, you’ve got to find a way to convince as many people as possible that you don’t hit your loved ones.

If you slug your accuser or shout, “It’s a lie,” these actions won’t convince many people; in fact, observers will be more likely to believe the accusation. Instead, you might try putting one of these questions to your accuser: Why would you joke about something so serious? Whoever told you that? Should I dignify that insult, or will

you admit you’re joking? Who put you up to saying that? Never bring a third party into the situation; in this example, your wife. Your responses should be built around your own confidence that the truth is with you. You are not defensive, nor are you directly accusing your adversary of lying. And by implying it is a joke, you are

offering him a way out of the dilemma he has created for himself.

DAMAGE-LIMITING OPERATIONS

Suppose you’re cut off while driving. The best thing to do is to pull to the side of the road or just slow down, collect your thoughts, give the lousy driver a chance to get far away, and resolve to drive more defensively. Examine your relationship with the offending party, and question the amount of power you want them to have over your emotions. Do you really want him to influence your immediate happiness? If so, it’s like putting a sign on your car saying, “I’ll let any one of you turn me into a raving idiot.” Most anger-producing situations, however, are not so obvious and short-lived as being cut off. Suppose you’ve been sold a defective product or have been cheated. Your objective is to recover what you can, move on, and avoid similar losses in the future. The tech-

niques you use are called damage-limiting operations, because you’ve already lost something, and you want to prevent future losses, or limit the damage that’s been done. Anger is positive in such cases. Thank your body for alerting you to the seriousness of the problem and get back in control of the situation by focusing on the future and limiting the damage. And if things don’t go your way, learn to let go and get on with your life.

HANDLING ANGER DURING STRESSFUL SITUATIONS

When you are entering a stressful situation that is almost sure to cause anger, your objective is to prevent that anger.

Do say to yourself

• What do I have to do?

• How many ways are there to deal with this?

• There may not be a need to argue. I’ll take three deep breaths, collect my thoughts, and relax.

• A sense of humor will be very helpful.

Don’t say to yourself

• I have to win.

• I’m going to get angry.

• There is going to be an argument.

• I’m ready for him or them.

In seeking a fair resolution to a confrontation, make an effort to use neutral, nonaccusatory phrases, even if you feel deep inside the need to accuse your adversary.

Do say to yourself and the others

• Let’s go at this one point at a time.

• Could we both be right here?

• Could a cooperative effort work? Perhaps we’re both right.

• Arguments only lead to arguments. Let’s focus on what is right here.

• Let’s work together constructively.

• I’m not going to get angry.

Don’t say to yourself and the others

• I’m all tensed up.

• This makes me mad.

• You’ve got it all wrong.

• They are against me.

• She started this argument.

• I’ll show him.

If the situation has become very tense, make use of some damage limiting techniques.

Do say to yourself

• Anger’s a good signal; now it’s time to get in control and help myself.

• I’m starting to tense up; time to slow down, take a few deep breaths.

• What do I want to get out of this?

• I do not need to prove myself.

• I’ll try and contain this.

• What he says may not matter at all.

• There have to be some good parts to this. What are they?

Don’t say to yourself

• He can’t do that.

• I’ll get even.

• I’ll not let him get away with that.

• I’ll take it right to the top.

• He can’t say that to me.

• This will be awful.

Six Steps to Controlling Anger

1. Take deep breaths. Meditate. Practice yoga. Play computer games.

2. Watch your caffeine and alcohol intake. Caffeine promotes anxiety and irritability. Alcohol and drugs can spur you to act out aggressions.

3. Give yourself extra time when doing things; allow for things going wrong.

4. Remind yourself of the impact anger has on your health. Tirades boost blood pressure, trigger premature heart attacks, and lead to ulcers, strokes, and digestive problems. Besides, it never gets you what you want.

5. Don’t be so easily offended by another person’s actions. Where is it written you can’t be cut off on the freeway? Recognize we’re all fallible; practice forgiveness.

6. Seek out professional help. Resources include the American Psychological Association, which has an online brochure, “Controlling Anger Before It Controls You.”

If the situation doesn’t require an instant solution and anger is rising, you might propose a break. This could be the right time to take a breather and return to discuss the issues, one by one, at a later time. After the situation is resolved, no matter how it turned out, go to a quiet place and reassess what you’ve been through.

Do say to yourself

• These difficult situations take time to work out. I resolve to try and not take it personally.

• That could have been worse; or, it wasn’t as tough as I thought.

• I am definitely making progress.

Don’t say to yourself

• Stuff happens.

• He never did see my point.

• That was awful. I should have said more.

• I’ll win next time.

Dr Darius H Umrigar MD(AM)

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