By Sandra Gordon
You’re in a long line at Starbuck’s and they have only two baristas on duty; don’t they know it’s coffee rush hour! You’re being tailgated – again; don’t people know how to drive! Life’s angry situations have always been there, but lately, it seems like there are more of them and there’s not much left of our fuse.
For one thing, anger is all around us. “We see customers go ballistic, then get their upgrade or their discount. We see shock jocks on talk shows, people acting out in the workplace and celebrities acting out. These days, it’s almost like it’s fashionable to be in a bad mood,” says C. Leslie Charles, author of “Why is Everyone So Cranky?” The fact that we’re also operating what Charles calls “just-in-time” lives isn’t helping matters. “We think, ‘I’ve got just enough time to get to work,’ or ‘I’ve got just enough time to run to the store and back again,’” says Charles. We forget to factor in the possibility of obstacles creating our own stress-inducing anger, she says.
Don’t let meltdowns become your new normal
All told, unmanaged anger can destroy careers, ruin relationships and sabotage your self-respect. Studies show that chronic anger can also take a toll on your health by setting off a physiological chain of events that increase your risk of heart disease. Those at greatest risk frequently blow up and get into a rage.
“The full-blown expression of anger is associated with a rise in blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels,” says Aron Wolfe Siegman, Ph.D., a psychologist who has conducted numerous studies at Johns Hopkins University on the subject of anger and heart disease. “If that occurs frequently, there’s an increased risk of heart disease,” he says.
The antidote to anger? Learn how to manage it before it gets the best of you. The following tactics can help express this powerful emotion in healthier ways.
“If you want to die of a heart attack, let it all hang out,” says Siegman. Likewise, keep it all inside. “Repression is not as dangerous as venting, but it also puts you at increased risk for heart disease,” Siegman says. To get anger out of your system without harming your health, state your anger in measured manner. “Have a controlled discussion with a friend or with the person who is making you angry,” advises Siegman. When you’re about to explode at a sales clerk, for example, simply state “I’m angry about this. Here’s what I wanted.”
If you live with or work with a venter, set boundaries by telling the venter that such behavior is unacceptable. Amy Gerdnic, a new business manager at a virtual staffing firm is amazed at how effectively this tactic has helped in the workplace. “I’ve never had a person tell me ‘you’re wrong, then start screaming,’” says Gerdnic, but that was exactly the atmosphere she encountered after joining her male-dominated firm two years ago. “At first, my automatic reaction was to start crying,” Gerdnic says. Now, “in a very calm voice, I started saying, ‘That does not work for me,” says Gerdnic, or, ‘If this continues, I’m going to leave this company.’ It was unbelievable how well those blunt phrases worked,” she says. Counting is another anger-management strategy Gerdnic uses. “If I feel my button being pushed, I count to 20, then I speak,” says Gerdnic. “If I’m really upset, I count to 100.” Counting gives Gerdnic time to collect her thoughts, instead of just reacting.
Exercise It Off
Taking a physical “time out,” is another good way to manage anger, says Mitchell Messer, psychologist and founder of the Anger Clinic in Chicago. In the midst of a heated debate with your spouse, for example, go for a jog around the block, he advises. Although a jog won’t make the situation at hand disappear, “the exertion will help defuse your anger so you can deal with the stressful issue calmly,” Messer says.
Write It Out
You could also try releasing your anger by writing a letter or sending an e-mail to the person who is making you angry. “Pour out your grievances,” says Messer, “but don’t mail the letter or send the e-mail.” (Put your own e-mail address in the “to” section in case you push send by mistake). “By writing it out, you can express your anger without feeling embarrassed and out of control,” he says.
For check-out lines and other frustrating situations, diffuse anger by planning for those times when you’re likely to be kept waiting. “Catch up on your e-mail or carry a book with you,” says Charles. “Or take a few deep cleansing breaths,” she advises.
Do a Reality Check
When you feel the steam building, take a step back and say to yourself, “Will getting angry and slamming on the horn make traffic move any faster? Will screaming at the barista make the line at Starbucks shorter?” “Will having my own meltdown make my grandchild stop whining?” says Charles. Probably not. “Decide not to get angry,” she advises. After all, to a large extent, “We’re in charge of our own stress,” she says.