When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred. ~ Thomas Jefferson
Yesterday I lost my patience, got all high and mighty, and today I have an emotional hangover. I had a bad attack of rage. I haven’t acted like this in a long, long, time. It reminded me of my days on hepatitis C treatment with peginterferon and ribavirin.
The circumstances for my temporary insanity are unimportant. However, it helped me to look at how I got myself into this situation. I was tired, stressed, and hadn’t taken care of the business of taking care of myself. I discovered a huge problem with some travel arrangements because the agency screwed up. The agency was wrong and I was right. However, the way I went about telling them they were wrong was embarrassingly infantile. I was so frustrated and angry, I was churning inside.
Rage can be very destructive. In his bestseller, Anger Kills, Redford Williams describes the physiological damage that occurs as the direct result of anger. Anger can affect every system in the body. For those who have a medical condition such as hepatitis C, it is even more important to protect the body’s limited resources. Since rage is controllable, then learning how to manage it can be valuable.
There is a risk assessment for hostility level in Williams’ book. Some areas to consider are the following: How do you feel if someone is following your car too closely? What is your response to someone’s rudeness? How do you feel about homeless people? What is your response to waiting in slow-moving lines? What are your feelings about dealing with “incompetent people”? How do you cope with being stuck in traffic? Are you argumentative? How do you express your anger?
All of us are angry from time to time. The questions are: 1) how often 2) for how long and 3) how do you express it? Using the example of someone following too closely, do you find yourself noticing a lot of tailgating and are you mad often? Are you still angry even when the tailgater has moved on? Do you find yourself yelling and making a fist or are you merely annoyed? The more extreme your response the more harm you may be doing to yourself.
I am not suggesting that people “stuff” their anger. Unacknowledged feelings can create a whole other set of problems. The key here is learning the difference between healthy and unhealthy anger.
There are a number of tools available for coping with anger. If you feel you have a major problem with rage, consider working with a therapist. Reading Anger Kills may also be beneficial. Here are a few other tips:
- Observe your responses. If you find yourself angry, try not to make things worse by chastising yourself.
- Learn stress reduction techniques. Meditation can be very helpful. If you find yourself becoming angry, focus on your breathing. Try to calm yourself with slow, controlled abdominal breathing.
- If you feel argumentative, try to focus on listening to the other person. Often our anger impedes the communication process. Even if we do not agree with someone else, the quality of our responses can be improved if we are good listeners. Try counting to ten or breathing three slow breaths before responding to anyone when you feel annoyed in any way.
- Learn to laugh at things that make you angry. Once I was very upset because the wind was blowing around my just raked leaves before I had a chance to contain them. When I realized that I was angry at the wind, my reaction seemed so pompous to me. Who was I to go head to head with one of the strongest elements in our atmosphere! It seemed so ridiculous I had to laugh at myself.
- Create tricks to distract you from anger. I have a driving rule that works well for me. I allow five people every day to make mistakes before I get angry. Five people can cut me off or tailgate and I will overlook it. Fortunately, I have never exceeded five.
- Allow extra time to get from one place to another. One of the reasons we become upset about delays is because it causes us to be late. Adding a little cushion of time can remedy this.
- Expect delays. Since I expect delays, I show up prepared to relish the time. Carry a magazine or book to appointments. Make lists when standing in line. Stretch (safely) when stuck in traffic.
- Cultivate compassion. Yesterday I forgot my motto, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a difficult battle.” (Source unknown) If someone angers you, try wishing for good fortune to fall upon them.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Save your anger for something important. Your health is more valuable than being angry.
- It is all small stuff.
Some of these suggestions may sound a bit unrealistic or simplistic. They are only guidelines. Try to develop your own set of anger-management tools. The only thing you have to lose is your anger. And if like me, you lose your temper despite your best efforts, try to get back on track.