Posted on 29/08/2017 by
How to keep your cool when tempers reach boiling point
In a recent report by the Mental Health Foundation, more than one in 10 people polled claimed that they had trouble controlling their temper, while 38 per cent of UK motorists confessed they regularly felt angry when driving.
Yet, getting angry isn’t necessarily a bad thing, say experts. “Anger is actually a normal and even healthy emotion – if it’s dealt with in a positive way,” says Mike Fisher, founder of The British Association of Anger Management (angermanage.co.uk). For instance, it can bring about change and tackle injustice.
But when anger is out of control – when it occurs frequently and intensely, and interferes with thinking, feeling, behaviour and relationships – it can have a detrimental effect on the mind and body.
A Canadian study found that getting very angry more than doubles the risk of having a heart attack within an hour. Uncontrolled anger has also been linked to digestive problems, skin complaints, headaches, infections, colds, flu, exhaustion, high blood pressure and early death.
Here’s how to work out your “anger style” and learn to keep a lid on that temper…
Can’t express anger.
Is this you? You hate making a scene, find it hard to say no and are usually the first to say sorry. Your behaviour stems from a lack of confidence and you’re afraid to verbalise your anger in case you offend others.
“Imploders are terrified of being rejected so they shelve their anger,” explains Mike. “But you can only do this for so long – it’s like a cola bottle. If you shake it up enough, it’s eventually going to explode.”
Many women have been taught that being angry is unacceptable and that to lose your temper meant you were a bad person or a bad parent, explains parenting expert Sue Atkins (sueatkinsparentingcoach.com/). “So, they have learnt to swallow their anger rather than express it healthily.”
But if you don’t express your anger, it can lead to frustration, resentment, bitterness, a sense of hopelessness and depression, none of which are healthy for you or your family long-term, warns Sue.
There can also be physical aspects to suppressed anger. Skin ailments, headaches and obsessive compulsive disorders.
Deal with your anger:
l Practise saying no. Start with pushy cold callers and build up to the ungrateful colleague. You’ll realise that people don’t bite and you’ll earn respect.
l Don’t fantasise. As tempting as it is, don’t imagine throttling whoever is annoying you. It just reinforces a negative state of mind.
l Use humour to release tensions. Lightening up can help diffuse tension. Don’t use sarcasm as it can make things worse.
l “Your goal is to be more assertive – without being aggressive,” says Mike. “It’s important to be able to say, ‘This is what I want. This is how I feel. This is what I think.’”
Can’t communicate anger.
Is this you? You tend to sulk, criticise others and hold grudges. You may not scream and shout, but probably slam doors and snap, “I’m fine!” through gritted teeth.
“Being passive-aggressive – or ‘indirectly aggressive’ is aggressive behaviour that’s veiled in passive terms so isn’t directed at the individual/situation the person is really angry with,” explains Gladeana McMahon, cognitive behavioural therapist and author of No More Anger! (Karnac, £14.99). “These are the colleagues or friends who make nasty, sarcastic comments, then say they’re only joking.” Or, adds Mike, “They vent their feelings on social media or cry off work early.”
Constantly using sarcasm, threats, labelling or criticism when speaking to your family will upset and provoke in the short-term and may cause a damaging erosion of their self-esteem. “Your child learns by imitation and will copy you when it comes to expressing their own anger,” warns Sue. And allowing one resentment to build on top of another increases stress levels.
Deal with your anger:
l Next time you find yourself sulking or making snide comments over something trivial, identify what you’re really angry about. Is it being passed over for promotion? Or that your partner missed your birthday? Facing up to the true source of rage will stop you venting it at the wrong people. It’s the first step to a solution.
l Put yourself in charge. Saying, “I am choosing not to get angry about this” can be empowering.
l Use “I” statements when describing the problem. This will help you to avoid criticising or placing blame, which can make the other person angry or resentful and increase tension. For instance, say, “I’m upset you didn’t help this evening,” instead of, “You should have helped this evening.”
l Adopt a more flexible philosophy of life. Things won’t always go your way. Accidents happen. The world is an imperfect place. Know when to just let it go.
l Pinch yourself every time you hear yourself using the words “never” and “always”. This kind of thinking leads to a black or white mentality, which only shortens your fuse further. Acknowledge that there are shades of grey.
l Remember, that irritating colleague, “bolshie” call centre manager and “smug” mum are just people struggling to lead happy lives in a difficult world – just like you. With this in mind, you’ll find forgiveness far easier.
Can’t control anger.
Is this you? You lash out verbally in arguments, have little patience and, if someone is annoying you, you’ll let them know. You have such a short fuse; the slightest thing sets you off. Exploders drop their “hand grenades” wherever they go – and everyone else suffers.
It affects your kids: Reacting to children in anger often leads to rash decisions and aggressive responses such as shouting, smacking or hastily imposing extreme discipline, says Sue. “The result is that you’re left feeling guilty and your child upset and anxious.”
Studies have shown parents who express a lot of anger in front of their kids end up with less empathetic children, says psychologist Matthew McKay, co-author of When Anger Hurts Your Kids (out of print).
“These kids are more aggressive and more depressed than peers from calmer families and they perform worse in school.”
And it can affect your work, too: Women who get in a temper are seen as less competent by their colleagues, according to a Yale University study. And this anger style has the most health implications.
Deal with your anger:
l Pay attention to when your body is moving into threat mode. Early warning signs of anger may be feeling stressed across the shoulders, an uncomfortable stomach, foot- or chair-tapping.
To help identify if you need to take some time out, pay attention to the present moment and notice your body and surroundings, not what’sin your head.
l When the body is getting ready to go into action, you breathe in more than out. Making your out breath slightly longer than your in breath can be instantly relaxing.
l Take in the bigger picture, and ask yourself if it really matters. If the answer’s no, let it go.
l When all else fails, do something different: discharge your anger by turning it into something positive and enjoyable, like going for a run or digging the garden. Don’t do something that encourages you to think about how angry you are – like thumping a punch bag. It needs to be something that makes you switch from “I’m angry” to “I’m angry but I’m using the energy in a different way.”
l Practise relaxation skills. Learning ways to relax and de-stress can also help control your temper. Practise deep-breathing exercises, visualise a relaxing scene or repeat a calming word or phrase to yourself, such as “take it easy”. Other proven ways to ease anger include listening to music, writing in a journal and doing yoga. Or try the meditation exercises in Mike Fisher’s book, Mindfulness & The Art Of Managing Anger (£7.99 – new edition out in February, 2018).
l Bear in mind that whoever loses it, loses. You’ll just look like the bad guy to everyone else, no matter who is really at fault.
For books, see Bookshop at expressbookshop.co.uk.
Instant calming tips
l Breathe deeply: count to seven on the in breath and 11 out.
l Remind yourself to keep your cool.
l Count backwards from 20 to one.
l Go for a walk – ideally in a park or open space.
l Visualise a calm tranquil place (eg the sea or the mountains).
l Remember life is unfair.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (talking therapy to help manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave), anger management courses and meditation can be beneficial.
For courses in anger management, visit the British Association of Anger Management’s website angermanage.co.uk.