Turning Down the Kettle (On working with anger).

These posts are based on my experience as someone trained in the field of psychology, my personal experiences, and working with clients, friends and family. I write posts based on what I’ve seen in the last week or two, and think might be helpful to reflect on. Take what fits, and leave what doesn’t.

Turning down the Kettle
Ever have difficulties getting your day back on track when something frustrating happens and your anger is just boiling? Let me tell you, that is a normal reaction and feeling. Some people might be able to get back on track quicker, and others take longer. The main part of it is the adrenaline rushing through your body, and the thoughts rushing through your head.

Anger is an emotional response to a real, felt, or imagined grievance or to a frustrating situation, typically related to a perceived threat. The adrenaline rushing through your body will make your heart rate increase, your muscles will tense ready to move and pounce, your breathing will increase. These are all normal reactions. The best thing to remember is to try to stay cool, calm collected and be professional- but my guess is you’ve heard others say this and get annoyed by it all the time because you ask yourself, how?
So in the moment your anger is 10 out of 10, or pretty close. In these instances, there is nothing wrong with taking your frustration out on s-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g. Not someone. It is normal to want to throw a temper tantrum; the only thing is to mediate where it goes. Scream into a pillow, punch the bed, rip apart pieces of paper. Take it out on things that you won’t feel guilty about after, don’t take it out on people, breakable objects, etc. We often see this as wrong or socially inappropriate, but trying to shut our anger out or turn it inwards without allowing ourselves to express it in a healthy way can be more damaging than screaming into a pillow. Imagine, events keep happening that make you angry the whole week, bordering on 8+ out of 10, but you never express it. The end of the week comes by, and someone says a small thing to you and you SNAP. The person gets the brunt of a built up week of anger, and your guilt comes right afterward. This is the scenario you want to avoid. When we burst out at others, or are irate, we often feel depressed afterward because this outburst is atypical of how we wish to view ourselves.

What do you do when your anger is a 10 out of 10, or close, and you’re in public and can’t scream into a pillow? As hard as it is, if the option presents itself I would say walk away and come back in five minutes. If you’re getting poor service and want to voice your concern, that person will be there five minutes later to hear it and you might get a better outcome because that person won’t feel as attacked. If you can present yourself as cool and professional, even if you’re boiling inside, you might get a better reaction from the person you’re dealing with. If you’re in a situation where you can’t leave, count down from ten or five and take deep breaths. I know this sounds “Typical” or some might even say “stupid” but the fact is for a lot of people this works- and it passes by really quickly so you don’t have to worry about the other person thinking anything is wrong with you. For some people it is even helpful to rub an object, their hands or their pants to ground themselves in the present moment. The next step is to be ready for compromise, and to listen. The other person might not be ready to be flexible, which means they are most likely not good at confrontation themselves. If they are being completely unreasonable, you are probably best off walking away and cutting your loses as you may not make much headway. Often though if you are able to slow yourself down, the other persons adrenaline may also slow and they won’t feel they have to be on the defensive.

So, that’s the 10 out of 10. What about after? If you’re like me and many others, it’s actually the agitated feeling that lingers for hours or the whole day that gets to you and drive’s you insane. You feel on edge, frustrated and annoyed, like the world isn’t fair or might be thinking “why can’t anything go right/be simple/etc.” At this point the adrenaline is taking its sweet time to leave your body, and you might even start to feel exhausted. So, remember that post about self-care? This is a perfect time to initiate it. Even if it’s only five minutes, you need to do something that helps create emotions opposite to anger. You’re not suppressing your feelings, if you’ve expressed yourself already in a healthy way now you just need to slow down. If you have pets, cuddle them. If you like pets watch a movie about them- youtube cat and dog videos are great for this. If you have any activities that are normally pleasing for you, initiate them, again even if it’s only for five minutes. Go for a short walk, take some deep breaths, and then once you’ve done this it’s time to look at your thoughts.

Constantly thinking the world is against you, or things are just unfair, is not going to help. These thoughts might or might not be valid, we don’t actually know. What I do know is continually repeating them to yourself when you’re trying to slow down is really annoying and keeps you at that 6-8 out of 10 range. The fact is these thoughts won’t just go away; we often have them because they used to be helpful. If you imagine that you are a cave man living in a small village, having these thoughts might have kept you alive, might serve to protect you, might make you not go out of the village and endanger yourself, etc. Though these messages still happen, in our modern world they aren’t really helpful. So, getting “rid of them” might be really hard, and often times make it worse. If I tell you “don’t think about a pink elephant for the next minute, you can think about anything else” what happens? You think about a pink elephant. So, instead of trying to get rid of the thoughts, lets turn down the volume on them. Try to imagine saying the same thoughts in a funny voice, like Alvin and the chipmunks, or any other funny voice that comes to mind. Say it a few times and see what happens. You might notice that it gives yourself a bit of distance from the thoughts, just enough to allow yourself to drop from a 6-8 out of 10 to a 3-4 out of ten. If you can get below 5, typically as you go about your day it will align itself back to wherever you normally are on that scale (assuming you aren’t typically above a 5).

Then, go do something else. Now is the time to stop ruminating and focus on the here and now. For example, go write a blog about how to deal with frustration, you’ll find it probably helps decrease your anger. Write about the solutions, not the problem. By going about and doing the rest of your day, you may find this helps make the event seem less important, as it lost the power to be all consuming in ruining the day. It might have put you back a few hours, but that’s not as bad as sitting there thinking about it until it’s time to go to bed.