Are you amazed and saddened at news reports about individuals who are taking their frustration and their guns into public places such as movie theaters, shopping malls, and airports? Perhaps you are even inured to what has become routine reporting of the way some have chosen to act on their feelings of rage or distress.
It’s time to consider the real impact of anger itself, whether legitimate or imagined, and how it traps people. There is a lot of evidence that many of us walk around with unresolved feelings of frustration and resentment. We may be aware of the emotion but unaware of the cumulative toll it takes on us, our relationships, and our careers.
It is disappointing to be told something only to learn that the information was inaccurate. It is irritating when you have a boss who has high expectations that you never seem to measure up to or are often criticized by a micromanaging boss. It’s aggravating when a colleague is doing the same job you are, but getting paid more. It’s frustrating when you know more than your boss.
Your personal life can be very stressful as well. Finances, health challenges, or issues with parents or children can weigh on you. You may be good at decompartmentalizing, but those feelings still have a way of coming with you to work. When you have deadlines and expectations to meet, you can opt to stuff those feelings down deep. However, they don’t go away. Buried feelings return like zombies. What might have started out as an annoyance can grow in its intensity and develop into full blown fury.
Our well developed ‘fight-or-flight’ response to stress and danger has kept us alive over the centuries. As children, we were well advised to not bite or hit others in reaction to that stress response. As adults, we do not ‘fight’ because we continue to think that it’s unacceptable and inappropriate to be angry. We may choose to hide these negative emotions or blurt them out. Both strategies have negative consequences.
Skills are needed to manage stress, conflict, and anger. The good news: these skills can be learned. Even if you think you are too old or set in your ways to learn new things, studies show that simply isn’t true.
Triggers and Tips
If you have a knot in your stomach and find yourself yelling when someone is late, the emotional response has moved beyond what the situation reasonably calls for. It’s possible that you have been carrying feelings of resentment around for awhile. They may be the trigger, but you are the powder keg.
Being able to predict situations that make you angry lets you examine what they are and determine if you can remove or reduce them from your life. Knowing those people who produce feelings of discomfort or tension can let you explore alternative ways to respond and react regardless of how you are feeling inside. Interpersonal discipline is called for and that requires awareness, an alternative plan, and practice.
Aim for fewer situations that create anger for you.
Give yourself a constructive physical outlet for the energy that accompanies anger. Exercise, sleep, and avoiding alcohol all lead to a healthier you. There is a physical component to stress management and the better shape you are in – the better able you are to respond well to people and situations.
Figure out what you do have control over and work on letting go of things beyond your power. Not only are you not in charge of the economy, the political landscape, and other people’s behaviors, you will not be able to manipulate stock prices, traffic or what others think and say. If you are not in a position to resolve the issue, learning to let it go is important.
If you are unable to let things go, it may be useful to talk to someone. A trained professional may be able to help (your organization may have an Employee Assistance Program) or you may find support though a colleague, boss, or friend. You don’t have to feel isolated and deal with resentment, anger, rage or bitterness alone.
Breathe! People who hold in their emotions often are also holding in their breath! I often tell my clients to S. A. (Suck Air) because inhaling makes it almost impossible to talk. It’s the professional version of counting to 10.
Focus or meditate. Concentrating on a key word (like calm or relax) can help stop emotions from escalating. Daily meditation can also create a relaxing space to decompress. While these habits take practice before they become part of your routine, they can have a huge payoff.
Change your clothes as soon as you get home from work. You are literally shedding work and this simple act can change your frame of mind.
Rather than stating your case, a personal attack (“You’re a twit!”) or hyperbole (“This is the worst thing that could possibly happen!”), ask questions. Instead of solving or shutting down a problem immediately, explore it. It may be that more information is exactly what you need to resolve the issue successfully.
Rather than looking for blame, explore what role you both (or all) had in the situation. What did you do, or not do, that contributed to the situation? With shared ownership comes empowerment. What can you do differently?
Choose your battles. Not every irritant needs your attention. “You’ve given me a lot to think about” (a personal favorite of mine) provides you the option of not fully engaging in an argument or heated discussion at that moment. You can think about how and if you want to respond.
The ability to deal effectively with challenging feelings requires a certain level of maturity and discipline.
We acquire discipline through a strong desire for a positive outcome and plenty of practice toward achieving the goal. A person who handles stress, unhappiness, and frustration well has honed those skills over time. It isn’t any easier for them than anyone else but they probably have practiced a lot.
As for maturity, I’m not talking about chronological age, though there is something to having the perspective of multiple experiences. Sensible people are levelheaded folks who work at being reasonable even when their emotions are triggered. They have developed the ability to become aware of what is going on as it is happening.
The impact of being unable or unwilling to deal with strong negative emotions is multifaceted and there is no one solution. However, most of us know from watching Zombie movies and TV that if we don’t get a handle on things early, there will definitely be bigger problems down the road.