Coping with Anger For the Long Haul
Maybe you’ve seen these headlines recently:
“As the Public Simmers…”
“…Anger Boils Over”
“The Outrage Factor”
“Rage Could End Up Hurting Us”
And my personal favorite, “Anger Mismanagement” which appeared last Saturday on the New York Times Op-Ed page. Charles M. Blow wrote:
“All the tumult is couched in a jumble of jargon that is confusing and infuriating. In laymen’s terms, the financial industry gambled and lost. This damaged the economy. And if we don’t save Wall Street, the world will implode.
Meanwhile, the worlds of many Americans are already imploding… It’s a mess.
Then came…the A.I.G. bonus imbroglio. Employees [at A.I.G. who] caused much of the problem were paid $165 million in bonuses. This I fully understand. And me no likey.
…my simmering anger finally has a target. I’m unapologetically, deliriously, cathartically belligerent about it.”
Stand in line, friend!
Righteous anger is not a bad thing. Personally I feel better when public figures like Andrew Cuomo gets seething mad. He gets mad so I don’t have to. It works. The opposite happens when public figures dither around explaining why they can’t do anything about a specific outrage or worse, why I shouldn’t be mad (the point of Mr. Blow’s article).
Anger about the economy can spill over to our everyday lives in such a way that it poisons our peace of mind and the very relationships we depend on to shore us up in times of trouble. According to all the signs it’s time to batten down the hatches, trim sails and settle in for a long bumpy ride. To prevent chronic anger from eroding your well-being, try the following:
Build an Ego Cushion. Caring for our bodies is the foundation on which all our behavior depends. If we neglect ourselves physically, our ego cushion is thin. Then the primitive impulses of our limbic system easily break through and we are prone to act out in destructive ways.
➢ Eat & Drink. When our mood is off we tend to either not eat enough or eat too much of the wrong stuff. Go for your comfort foods, the kind of stuff you eat when you’re sick, but watch portions. Make the Oreos an occasional treat and keep chewy dried fruit or crunchy low fat pretzels in the pantry. Reduce sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
➢ Sleep. If you aren’t sleeping well try the techniques described in Sleep and Your Sanity. Also, melatonin and valerian are two natural over-the-counter sleep aids used by ER doctors on rotating shifts. You can find them in your supermarket. If you still can’t sleep, talk to your doctor about the right prescription medication for you to help you get back on track.
➢ Exercise. Working up a sweat in a kick boxing class, a good run or smacking a ball around is a good way to sublimate* anger. Make breaking and keeping a sweat for about fifteen minutes a day a prescribed habit, like brushing your teeth, not a luxurious indulgence.
Tired or Hungry? If you feel like one more demand on your attention is going make you explode ask yourself, “Am I tired or hungry or both?” Just the other day, after one long day of a long week, I was home five minutes when my husband asked me about an outstanding bill. In a split second the emotional steam built from my toes right out my ears. At least I knew I was very tired and very hungry so I literally closed my eyes, took a deep breath and announced I needed half an hour before any financial discussions could take place. It was a close call. I’m glad to say my husband is still alive.
Talk the Talk: Practice Good Communication Every Day. Be direct and non-defensive when something is bothering you. Many damaging arguments are averted because I try to let my loved ones know specifically what I’m angry or frustrated about as soon as possible. At times that’s quite a challenge when we’re afraid of the other person’s reaction but the risk is worth it. The Power of Two, by Susan Heitler and Taking the War Out of Our Words, by Sharon Ellison, are good guides to powerful non-defensive communication for home and at the office too.
Reasonable vs. Unreasonable Thinking. Keep your frontal lobes engaged by asking yourself:
Is it reasonable for me to be furious because I lost my job while an incompetent boss gets a bonus? Yes.
Is it reasonable for me to yell at the kids because I lost my job? No.
When our thinking is reasonable and marked as reasonable we feel verified and that helps process the negative emotion. If we decide our thinking is unreasonable it gives us a chance to stop, and find the real source of our unhappiness. Do this effectively by using this dialog box exercise(Tip #3).
Avoid ‘absolute’ words. Like ‘never’, ‘always’, ‘can’t’. Absolute words are traps. Anger and anxiety feed off absolute thinking, aggravating an already tense situation. Life is more complicated than black and white and therefore more kind. Instead of “I’ll never find a job in this economy” try, “Finding a job in this economy is horrible but I’m smart, creative and I’ve got a willing partner. We’ll make a plan and find a way.”
*Sublimate: verb. To divert or modify an instinctual impulse into a culturally higher or socially more acceptable activity. Sublimate your anger; channel it. Write a letter to the editor or to your representative in Congress; join a team training for a charity marathon event; yell at the TV during the March Madness games. It’s all good.