Have you ever felt like screaming at a customer, clobbering your manager, or trashing a teammate’s favorite digital device? For example, software tester Alan Page admits that he felt like punching out a higher up who vented at him and his boss about a bug found after the product had shipped.
If this sort of feeling happens infrequently and you don’t act on it (as Page didn’t), it’s no problem. Anger, after all, is a normal, usually healthy emotion. On the other hand, it’s one of the most difficult emotions to control because of its evolutionary value in protecting humans from danger. Therefore, if you experience frequent bouts of anger, it could be doing you harm.
Here’s how Judith Orloff, MD, a psychiatrist writing in Psychology Today, describes what happens when you’re angry at another person:
Your amygdala stimulates adrenaline. You get an energy rush that rallies you to fight. Blood flows to your hands, making it easier to grasp a weapon. Your heart pumps faster. You breathe harder. Pupils dilate. You sweat. In this hyperadrenalized state, aggression mounts. You may raise your voice, point accusingly, stare him down, grimace, flail your arms around, verbally intimidate, barge into his personal space.
Elizabeth Scott, a wellness coach, suggests that a starting point in controlling anger is to gain insight into it, such as by keeping an anger journal in which you note what angers you during the day. She points out that “Your anger is telling you something” and if you can start to understand what triggers it, you can take steps to avoid or minimize those triggers.
Then, there’s counting, such as to ten, one hundred, or, in extreme cases, seven million. A Huffington Post article points out that counting slowly gives your blood pressure and heart rate a chance to return to normal. Distracting yourself also helps reduce your emotions before you try to solve the problem or interact with the person who ticked you off.
In a two-minute video clip, no less an authority than the Dalai Lama advocates calmness as a necessary condition for objectively addressing the situation that provoked the anger:
Orloff, the psychiatrist, confirms these approaches in offering four tips for diffusing anger:
- To offset the adrenaline surge of anger, pause and slowly count to ten.
- Take an extended time out, maybe even for a few hours. Dim the lights. Listen to music. Meditate. Do some exercise. These activities will help quiet your neurotransmitters.
- Don’t address your anger when you’re feeling rushed. By waiting till you have unhurried time, you’ll be better able tap into your most compassionate response.
- Examine your anger early enough in the day so it doesn’t interfere with sleep. And make sure you’re well rested when you examine it so that you’re less prone to reacting with irritation.
Of course, some of these recommendations may be difficult to follow if (when!) someone in the workplace pushes your buttons. Dimming the lights and doing some yoga may not be the best option when your boss’s boss is chewing you out. (Though, after you escape from the boss’s clutches, it may be just the thing to do.) Still, if you can follow some of these suggestions some of the time, your health and mindset can benefit.
If you want to gauge your ability to cope with anger, try this self-assessment test.
What if you’re the recipient of someone else’s anger? That deserves a post of its own. Stay tuned.