In a previous post we looked at the ways in which we can cope with feelings of anger in a society that is increasingly prone to focus on the negative; stereotyping and reporting on issues that can make our blood boil. We looked at how we can focus on those issues that we can influence, and how certain coping strategies can increase our chances of remaining calm and ensuring relationships are not damaged by unexpressed, or hastily expressed, anger.
We mentioned at the end of the last post that this time we would examine who is responsible for our personal response to anger. Of course, the answer is ourselves. We can choose whether to act hastily or with a more measured tone. But we acknowledge that in some situations this is difficult, or impossible. So why do we get angry?
There are obvious causes: a threat to ourselves or the ones we love, being actually assaulted – verbally or physically, losing money, finding our property has been damaged. Then there are less obvious ones: hearing someone has acted against a principle we hold dear, being interrupted when something is important to us, feeling undermined or humiliated among our peers. If it seems we have been hurt deliberately it can make matters worse.
If we are in imminent danger, the anger can be productive and protective, but if the causes are less obvious, then our responses can affect the outcome for our health, and for our relationships. If we are living in a state of constant tension we might snap, regretting it later when we find we have over-reacted and must build bridges. Or we might repress our anger, only for it to surface days, weeks, months or years later.
Some anger can drive change for the better, lead us to campaign for what we believe to be right. But repressed anger, or long-term anger that is not expressed in a constructive way can lead to depression, anxiety and self-harm, alongside physical ill-health, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and gastric problems.
The Mental Health Foundation offers some great advice for those of us faced with a situation where we sense our blood is up. Where in our last post we offered some general advice, here are some specific exercises to adopt:
Count to ten before you act.
Drop your shoulders and breathe deeply to help you relax – your instincts may be telling your body to get ready to fight, but your rational self can reverse this message by telling your body to chill out.
If you feel the urge to throw something or hit out, remove yourself from the situation and try taking it out on something soft like a cushion that you won’t damage and which won’t hurt you.
Try screaming if it won’t disturb people near you or scream into a pillow to release your tension.
Talk yourself down – imagine what your calmest friend would say to you and give yourself the same advice
Imagine yourself in a relaxing scene.
Distract yourself or take yourself out of the situation that made you angry – read a magazine, do a crossword, listen to soothing music, go for a walk.
Pour out how you feel in writing or redirect your energy into another creative activity.
Offload to a friend who will help you get perspective on the situation.
We know it is not easy to deal with anger, but most of us can learn to respond in a healthy way. Next time we will look at triggers; if we know in advance what ‘sets us off’ it can make us better able to cope with a situation before that moment of no return…..
The Terrace is hosting a ‘Shaping Anger’ workshop on 25th and 26th October. For more details go to What’s On.