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Tips on Anger Management

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A face distorted with rage

It's virtually impossible to remain calm and sedate all the time — even Yoda1 had his off-days. Emotions bubble and frustrations build until sometimes there's no other action but to let rip and explode.

Of course, it's best if these moments don't happen in front of anyone who's either fragile or important to your future...

In this Collaborative Entry, h2g2 Researchers share their tips for how to avoid blowing up when you feel the red mist descending upon you.

Patience is a Virtue

Sometimes saying nothing is far better than arguing — with anyone. I do that with my Mom. When she gets me nuts, instead of getting all bent out of shape I just say to myself, 'Have patience... She's old... And senile...'

A good way to keep your cool when the fire is hot is simply to have patience. Training in the martial arts can be a good way of acquiring mental discipline.

I've found martial arts are a great help in anger management. I'm trained in kempo and now practise tai-chi. Most towns have a couple of schools or classes you can attend. As well as teaching how to physically fight, and providing a wonderful excuse to spend time punching or kicking into a punchpad, kempo taught how to have mental self-control — you cannot fight well if you are angry. Tai-chi helps with the background stress.

As well as dealing with anger when it happens, studying a martial art may also help you to avoid situations in which you may become angry.

I'm not too aggressive, moody or volatile, but have felt in the past that I could be. To such end I adopted a principle, a maxim if you will — in the last 20 years I have never struck another unless they have gone for me first. The exception to that has only been when sparring or competing. I have studied karate all this time and now have no wish to fight or to get myself into any troublesome situations. It works.

Of course, it doesn't have to be a specific martial art. Any exercise can be a great stress reliever. A good workout to expel all that pent up energy.

I have started to take up boxing. It's great fun and really makes you sweat! After that, who wants to argue?

Location-specific Anger

Road Rage

People change when they sit behind a steering wheel. The meekest, mildest individual becomes a hissing, spitting ball of rage, pounding on the horn, swerving from lane to lane, mouthing obscenities and making rude gestures. Everyone but you is a terrible driver. So, when you're cut up on the dual carriageway, or someone pulls out in front of you and then slams on the brakes, or you spot that bloke driving down the middle lane of the motorway for no apparent reason, what should you do?

I just take a deep breath and drive on. I also try to avoid listening to aggressive music (or music with an aggressive beat) as that tends to make my temper worse, for some reason. And if it's something I can't change, like a traffic jam, I just put a comedy tape in — like The Goons, or Dead Ringers — and concentrate on that.

That said, sometimes a really good swear helps, too! Best to make sure your windows are closed, though.

That's it! Release that pent-up rage in a controlled way, otherwise you could find yourself spending a night in the cells or worse!

Office Stress Management

The other place where people can regularly drive you up the wall, across the ceiling and back down the other side is in the office or other workplace.

Last year, I was extremely stressed at work. I felt as if everything depended upon me — from keeping track of the work in the room to getting the hot jobs out on time, everything seemed to be my job. What made things worse was that my supervisor didn't know what the problem was. Worse yet, she didn't seem to care. Unfortunately, the problem turned out to be the supervisor and her behaviour. Now that I have a much more competent supervisor, my job has become much less stressful. If I had said something to my department lead, I might have found a solution to my stress sooner, instead of having to wait until my supervisor was replaced.

Fortunately, there are some simple ways to help ease your path through the working day, such as this Researcher's soothing relaxation technique...

It works best when someone at your work is annoying you, and a little quiet reflective time is needed. First, close your eyes, and breathe in and out. Now think of a place where you’re all alone. A place with trees, and soft grass to sit on. The only sounds are the quiet tittering of birds and the lazily flowing water in a cool calm stream flowing through the area. The sun is warm on your back, and the stream is crystal clear. So clear in fact that you can see the face of the person you’re holding under the water.

And if that sounds a little too violent for your tastes, perhaps these tips will be more up your street.

  • Be nice to others, whether you mean it or not. It'll make the office environment so much more pleasant.

  • If you have a problem with your job, go to your supervisor. If the problem is with your supervisor, go to their boss. Try not to sound too whiny, but make it clear that your situation has become untenable and that you're going to go crazy under the current working conditions. They'll be able at least to give you advice on how to deal with the stress, even if they can't remove the source.

  • Realise that almost everybody is trying to do the best job they can. Whether they work faster or slower than you, they're proud of their work and they care about what they do.

  • Find a release from stress. Talking about it with your friends or spouse can help a lot. Exercise is also wonderful way to blow off steam.

And always remember, it's just a job. It doesn't have to be your life.

Retailer Stress Management

You will at times have customers who, no matter how hard you try, wind you up the wrong way. Even Job would have difficulties working in a modern retail environment.

Fortunately, most retail outlets have the ideal location already built into the premises to allow you to vent a little of that built up aggression that brews behind your calm exterior. It is the stock room.

Having worked in a busy jewellers, I know that the expletives that went on behind the window in its sound proofed environment were something fierce and not something to tell your gran about. But the net result was that the assistant would always return to the floor smiling once more to the most obnoxious of customers and hopefully would not need another trip before closing the sale.

Know Your Trigger Points

Let's face it, there are some people who know our trigger points and how to press them. Little children are masters of this! Recognising what causes us to snap should help to control it. Not at first, but you become better at recognising when it's about to happen.

There are many, may things that can set off anger. Sometimes, these are the 'big things' that affect many people: prejudice, unfairness, repression, lack of free speech or right to reply. Then there are the small things that differ from person to person. Is it when the cap is left off the toothpaste? Is it when the toilet seat is left up? Is it when salt is left on top of the refrigerator? None of these are earth-shattering, but they can be the cause of some thoroughly unpleasant shouting matches.

If something happens regularly, then look behind and see what is causing the fuss and upset. Deciding to react in a different way can help. For instance, laughing. Being prepared is a great way of dealing with something.

Knowing what triggers you off is definitely a great help. Realising that others around you will learn your triggers and use them against you helps too, as when you are aware you can watch others press your buttons and, miraculously, those buttons tend to switch off and you find you are in the position to press theirs instead. I haven't got any further than that yet, but it means I remain calmer for longer.

Know Your Enemy

OK, so you know your own triggers and how to avoid them, but what about those around you? Maybe they have their own buttons, and maybe you keep pushing them. Is it you who leaves the cap off the toothpaste? If we learn to observe others and empathise with them, then anger would not need to erupt in the first place.

Some Strategies

Count to Ten

Count to ten before reacting: a well known simple thing to do. By waiting for ten seconds you have a chance to calm yourself down and act with composure and self control. Simple, yet effective.

Try the Pause

So... you're steaming. They're steaming. You're both right, and any minute now, a brilliant-but-deadly expletive is going to be uttered, reason abandoned, and a fist will fly. After the police visit, you're possibly going to have a record that will affect your job, or will have stupidly goaded a much bigger opponent into bashing you senseless. So, before it gets that far...

...use the pause.

Often people don't know what to do with the pause. A common misconception is that if you stop talking you lose the power — and the other person may go on til the cows come home. However, the chances are they will eventually begin to feel a little unnerved at your enigmatic silence, falter and stop.

A pause will allow you to gather your thoughts. What do you want from this argument? Can you sum it up? Is it really an issue, a situation, you feel strongly about rather than straight dislike or a desire to insult the red-faced, het-up pile of anger you see before you?

Use the pause and tell it like it is. As soon as they start yapping, use the pause. Give them your attention2.

You'll have the advantage of listening to them and having time to prepare a succinct response. Cut through the nonsense. Talking over someone will only make them madder. At the point people start shouting they've usually stopped listening. Plus, it will be seen as you letting them have their say, which, if fuelled 90% by anger and 10% by reason, may begin to thin out after a couple of well-timed pauses, making them face up to the realities of the situation.

I tried it on my neighbour. She's twice my size, evil lookin' (although I haven't told her that — and therefore still own all my own teeth), and thought it was OK if her four kids played their stereo all day long, so loud we couldn't use the telephone.

She was most unhappy to get a letter from the Environmental Health department threatening court action. Apparently there are people up the road who own record decks who play their music just as loud and their neighbours don't complain about them. And that's what she did when she was younger. And they're just kids anyway. And it's the daytime. And I should be at work in the daytime. It's not her problem if I'm disabled and only work part time.
they're just kids! (Like kids are angels, right?)

I know all this because I let her rant. Then she ran out of steam. I'd thought of the only five words that needed to be said during my pause — 'Tell it to the court'. Suddenly it dawned on her those things said in anger might not hold up in court... Not only did I make my point, she heard me make my point, because she had stopped shouting, caught by the pause.

I suppose I could have yelled at her instead, given as good as I got, until, goaded by the fact we weren't getting anywhere, she'd grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and punched my lights out.

I do regret not getting to shower her with well-deserved abuse, but did find the pause technique strangely satisfying. Most people don't see it coming and it hurts a lot less. (Maybe you're sitting there saying, 'But I do want to hurt them!' Well, maybe you're a lot bigger than me.)

Think of Something Beautiful

I recently encountered a lot of trouble that was making me angry. When I almost freaked out I used a tactic I just recently discovered. I listened to Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' on my inner radio and remembered my holiday on Lanzarote. This helped me to calm down and prevented me from hitting my colleagues right in the face. I don't know if the combination of one of my favourite classic pieces and the pictures of the place I enjoyed being did the job, but I am sure it calmed me down because good memories can paint over bad moods.

Write It Down

To alleviate the stress caused by repressed anger, nothing beats releasing your fury in angry words. This doesn't mean a stream of expletive-riddled invective, although on occasions that can be a useful alternative to physical violence. It's more a serious attempt to put your feelings into carefully-chosen words in any medium you choose.

Write to your elected representative, or the local paper. Email your friends about it, although if you're complaining about your boss, you'd better make sure you're telling people you can really trust. Write a Journal Entry on h2g2, or an article for The Post, changing or omitting names to protect the guilty if needs be. If your anger is at all reasonable, you should get some sympathetic responses, which should make you feel like you're not facing the reason for your fury alone.

Turning anger into words helps you feel more in control of the situation. It helps you analyse the situation, and decide whether you really have cause to be annoyed, or if some of the fault may perhaps be your own. It's therapeutic because it turns the anger into something on paper — something outside yourself.

Then file it away for at least a day. But know in your heart that you have dealt with the problem. The chances are when you re-read it the next day your anger will have gone and you will not want to send it. Re-file it and keep it. Either you can use the contents if you have the same problem again or you can re-read it and have a really good laugh to brighten up another day.

And if you're artistically inclined, you might be able to do something really creative with your anger.

I've just got a whole short play out of a five-minute encounter with an 'employment advisor' who told me to go and get a job sweeping the streets!

Sit Down and Take Stock

I find that a lot of people get angry over nothing, especially my mum. The smallest thing can set her whirling into a fit of shouting and slamming doors, and it annoys me because that never solves anything, it just annoys everyone around you as well.

So when you feel that monster inside you rearing up, sit back and look at what it is you're getting angry about in an objective way: is it something that is worth the energy? Will it be solved or just made worse by getting angry? Is it so important that you can't just turn the other cheek?

Usually, being decisive and objective works far better than getting angry, unless it's a physical situation, such as being attacked, in which case anger can work alongside adrenaline to possibly save your life.

Most other situations do not benefit from outright anger, so rather than storming round the house, slamming doors, turning green and ripping your shirt, sit back, take stock of the situation and think about it rationally.

Walk Away

Often, when working with or coming into contact with someone who really annoys you, the best plan is just to walk away and leave them talking to themselves. You have no idea just how silly they look standing there raving away at... nothing!

As one superintendent who was a class one 'numpty' said to me as I walked away from him, 'Are you trying to make a ***** out of me?' I replied, 'No I just let nature take its course.' This got a loud cheer from my squad of welders who were watching from high up in the scaffolding!

Drink a Glass of Water

Go ahead, it works. Make sure it's really cool, and then feel the comforting cold when it runs down your throat. Take a deep breath and focus yourself. You stand a much better chance of winning the argument if you are (seemingly) calm and in control of yourself.

Mow 'Em Down

I find mowing the lawn to be great therapy — seriously.

I've got a big lawn and it takes me 2-3 hours to mow it all. Pushing the mower for all that time is really quite like entering a meditative state for me. I'm able to think about things that are bothering me, consider alternatives to these situations and generally just let my mind wander.

By the time I'm finished I find that the lawn looks great and my outlook is generally much improved.

So, for my money, making tall grass short is a great stress release/anger management technique.

Talk With Someone About It

Simply being able to sit down with a third party and 'vent' can be very helpful. The understanding listener allows you to express all your emotion, scream and shout, swear if you want to, until you've allowed all the pent-up energy to be spent. Prayer can be done this way since sometimes the only third party people have to turn to is God.

But once you vent and have regained your composure, and your blood pressure has returned to normal, it is time to talk and talk and talk. Very often there is no way to change the person who is causing our anger, but we can change our own inner attitude which will allow us either to let the incident go by without confronting the person, or will give us the grace to approach that person in a calm way and talk about something that made you angry.

Have a Good Laugh

Although you may not have the presence of mind to think of seeing something humorous while you're furious, another person can provide you with it. You can either instruct another person to make you laugh when you're angry or you can manage another person's anger this way.

When you're angry and you laugh, it makes it hard to stay angry. You can't put on a gruff exterior after chuckling because you're already shattered your image as angry. It's simply hard to recover your anger when you've laughed.

The longer the laugh, the less angry you get. It's almost impossible to stay mad after a great joke, a silly movie or an episode of Seinfeld.

Appropriate Anger as Appropriate Response

I'm an urban bus driver, encountering cool people daily as well as substance abusers, scammers, thieves, people old enough to know better and outright hostile folk intending on-board trouble. As angering situations are unavoidable, my advice isn't so much on anger management as on behaving well when angry in a tense encounter or environment. Perhaps masters of spiritual development avoid anger entirely, but I don't qualify.
  • Rule 1 — bite thy tongue until cranial flare temperature has declined a few degrees. This will gain a bit of inadvertent respect from an adversary and improve the quality of your response.

  • Rule 2 — anger in the face of provocation is a legitimate response. Don't self-control yourself into a sulk — it will eat you up. There is nothing wrong with healthy anger expressed healthfully! A simple guideline taught in one training program is matching an adversary's verbal intensity, but not escalating it. Expressed with appropriate force and articulation, matching intensity tells adversaries you can't be walked over. This realisation helps avoid further trouble — important if your exposure to troublemakers is ongoing, as on a long bus ride.

The word 'emphatic' appears in my reports frequently, as it describes forceful communication with no taint of hasty Hollywood-style physical response. Response is always appropriate in a conflict — appropriate response. Tempting as it is, responding well does not mean road-raging some idiot who cut off your vehicle, but responding in your own best interest and not endangering anybody else while trying to satisfy a desire for petty vengeance.
  • Rule 3 — respond early and effectively when someone whose good behaviour you rely on acts up. Many individuals and groups test the waters to see whether effective response will come. An early, clear and communicative response often keeps things cool and goodwill recoverable. It's in your interest to be perceived as one who doesn't let things go too far. This doesn't generally require rudeness, but will require assertiveness when someone you deal with is out of line.

To sum up: anger can't be avoided, so be at peace with your need to be angry sometimes. Leaven its expression with good timing and appropriate intensity. An agitated response to an inadvertent bump on a crowded sidewalk is as inappropriate as a mild response to a major threat.

Anger Management

Seems to me that anger management is exactly that, managerial power exertion over your inner disquiet. Techniques are fine but when the red mist appears often rational thought processes are out the window with the chair, stapler and office fan.

Important steps in anger management include:

  • Recognising how your anger builds up, the sign(s) that first points to the path if you will.

  • A retrospective analysis of the road leading up to the point at which the room went all squiffy.

  • The process of getting over the anger.

  • Realising the consequences of your actions, both positive (eg, all staff do exactly as told for next day and a half) and negative (the judge imprisons you with bigger people who are less tolerant of angry outbursts).

This may help to clarify firstly if you have a problem, and also any methods to avoid it.

So, number one, avoid identifiable triggers. However, suppose one gets you and you are now on that road. Don't panic! This does not have to be like all those other times. Take total time out, there and then without thinking about it, then... think 'consequences', think 'last time this happened'. Take yourself physically out of the situation3 and breathe. Seriously. Yes, it sounds annoying, but breathe for ten, count for ten — breathe and concentrate on that breath. It's the most mundane ordinary activity, but we all do it, so follow your breath in and out until you can feel a de-escalation.

Then talk to yourself and consider what can be done to get you out of this situation. Let's face it, anger is a natural emotion but it is rarely productive. Many power-hungry people out there are probably tutting right now and disagreeing, and probably stating how so and so needed that shouting/telling off, but we are generalising here.

Lastly, one must consider root causes, perhaps the key to the whole issue. There is undoubtedly a genetic/premorbid persona aspect to this. If your dad's a peace-hating fascist dictator of an imperialist empire, you probably will carry some unlikeable traits. However, the nurture and life incident/parent factor cannot be undermined. Terrible social traumas, unresolved feelings of worthlessness, abuse, discordant families, poor role models, etc can all re-manifest as anger management issues in later life. These need empathic resolution and not violent confrontation. A listening ear, understanding, forgiveness, self-forgiveness and facing those past problems at times of quiet can often be a way forward to nullifying the whole process.

OK, that said, does anyone know what Hollywood agent thought Jack Nicholson would be good in an Adam Sandler film, or vice versa? Now there's something to get upset about

Taking Stick

I seem to get a lot of practice at soaking up a telling off. Can't think why...

There are techniques both for defusing and for absorbing aggressive criticism. The key to the former is to know the deliverer, and to be clear in your own mind whether you want to wind them up or calm them down.

The best wind-up tactic is to maintain steady eye contact and at the same time complete emotional passivity. This creates an ambiguous mixture of defiance and deference, and it will rile pretty well anyone who's trying to be dominant. Many people who want to boss you will humiliate themselves quite beautifully if they lose their cool completely.

Smirking isn't as good, but it's better than looking intimidated.

With people I've no real reason to be afraid of, I freely use the well-tried tactics of imagining them naked or on the toilet. Never fails.

Calming them down is done best by making them wonder if they've gone too far. A good one, if you can act, is to swallow, make momentary eye-contact, then immediately look down and shudder, just once. Every movement must be very brief, so they have to stop and think about whether they saw it or not. Unless you do it too often, this can stop the angriest bawler-outer in their tracks. Doing something slightly strange, but obviously submissive can have a similar effect. Putting your hands up, for instance, provided you can keep a straight face.

One advanced technique needs an alert and sympathetic colleague to sidle away and make a phone call to your mobile. This can screw the other guy up completely. If you're cool enough, answer and say, 'I'll get him to call you back' in a hesitating voice. The poor sod now assumes that the call was for him. If he asks you who it was, then he's lost the initiative. Alternatively just let it ring, while remaining respectfully attentive, and watch him struggle to concentrate.

Absorbing a fierce dressing-down without after-pain is harder. It pays to be honest with yourself about whether you deserve it. If you know you deserve it, the best way is to tell yourself off, better and sharper than that other guy just did, and then forgive yourself. If you don't deserve it, invest a little time in plotting revenge. Whether you actually enact it or not, thinking it through will make you feel a lot better. And of course, like the old maxim says, don't get mad, get even.

William Blake Speaks

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I watered it in fears
Night and morning with my tears,
And I sunned it with my smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright,
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine
And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning, glad, I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Further Reading

  • A very practical how-to book is The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner4.

  • For the especially tough verbal abuse there is an excellent, small, practical guide: The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans.

Last Word

This works for me... unless it's that time of the month, when I can get angry about... well, anything.
1The wise and serene Jedi Master from the Star Wars films.2Not a dirty look, OK?3Assumption made you are not flying a 747.4It's written as a guide for women, but the help is universal.

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