DEALING WITH ANGER – TECHNIQUES THAT HAVE HELPED MY MENTAL HEALTH
Modern life has most of us exhausted, constantly multi-tasking to keep up with the daily grind. From commuting, parenting, cooking, working out, connecting with friends and taking care of our mental health, holding it all together can sometimes feel like trying to fashion a motorized vehicle from a piece of string and chewing gum (I bet McGyver could nail that BTW. MacGruber, however, he’s another story altogether). Whether it’s irritability, frustration, bitterness or sometimes even rage, it’s time to press the reset button on how we’ve been dealing with anger and cultivate a healthier relationship with that dreaded feeling we all loathe to experience and admit to. As someone who has attended many therapies down through the years from psychotherapy to cognitive, dialectical and analytical behavioural therapy, I’ve learned several productive strategies for dealing with anger that actually work. Here’s my top tips to get you through the rage.
Dealing with Anger – Acceptance is Key
Dealing with anger doesn’t mean suppressing it. It also doesn’t mean having a shouting match or physically hurting someone (might seem obvious but I do like to cater for all my readers, K?). Lots of us like to avoid conflict at all costs but refusing to acknowledge feelings of anger can often cause those feelings to intensify. We snap. Our partner hasn’t done the dishes for the hundredth time, our kids are bickering with each other on a long car journey, we are not being respected by a work colleague or we’re being treated badly by someone. We snap. And sometimes, not at the right person.
Anger is an energy
Those famous words made immortal by Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols hold more weight than initially meets the eye. Because what exactly is anger but an energy fueled by feeling? Just this year, I began meditating with the Headspace app. There is a specific pack dedicated to anger which notes that anger is simply just an energy until it is engaged with. If we connect with that energy and give it weight, our thoughts begin fanning the flames of anger and we tend to project that energy outwards, often blaming whoever is in the direct firing line. I used to think that I needed to switch off from anger but it simply laid dormant, ready to rear its ugly head again at a later stage.
It’s alright not to feel OK
I love, love, love this song by Heathers. I’ve mentioned it before on another post about cultivating calm but the message is so powerful, it has to re-iterated. Anger is a perfectly natural feeling and often is the most appropriate response to injustice and difficult circumstances that crop up. People, places and things can all be triggers and it’s so important to recognise your limits. If you know that spending time with a certain person will make you feel awful about yourself, don’t do it. However, it’s impossible to avoid all difficult situations. We tend to feel bad about feeling angry. But instead of scolding yourself for having what is a perfectly normal feeling, if we acknowledge that that’s all it is – a feeling – then we can learn to let it go. Ultimately, noting when you’re feeling angry and letting yourself experience it can help an awful lot. It’s stops the negative spiral of self-talk we all do right in its tracks.
Dealing with Anger – Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
I’m not going to lie, anger is a feeling I often experience. I compare myself to others, feel frustrated with my own circumstances and ultimately dejected and annoyed that my life hasn’t worked out the way I had imagined. I feel irritable from lack of sleep when I get an intense bout of work that requires me to work 16 hour day. I feel envious of others who I perceive to be more successful than me. I struggle at the gym to keep up with the others in my circuits class. I feel hard done by. I feel lonely and annoyed that my previous relationships haven’t worked out. Sometimes I’m angry because all people take my Mi Wadi, my energy, my voice, my dignity, my job, my women, my chalices……..oh, no wait, those last ones were the Vikings. Sometimes life throws us a bone and sometimes it throws us a curveball and things are just not great.
Guess what? That’s OK
Those things will pass. And sometimes I feel great. I feel listened to, I have amazing opportunities, a supportive and loving family and true friends who unconditionally accept me for who I am. I have talents and abilities and skills and I know I am a good person. But recognising that people, places and things will have an effect on our mood can go a long way towards accepting the way things are. The phrase H.A.L.T. is an oldie. Noticing hunger, anger, loneliness and tiredness and dealing with them can go a long way towards feeling better.
Dealing with Anger – Notice Endings with Focused Attention
The breath works as an excellent barometer for judging how we’re feeling at any given time. Shallow breaths signify stress and a short-out breaths can exacerbate negative feelings. Noticing the flow of your breath is a great way to slow down the mind and re-train how we think about anger. By re-framing anger in your mind as simply an energy, it’s easy not to give it as much weight as we normally do. Anger passes. As do all emotions and feelings. By spending ten minutes every morning following the out-breath, this actually helps throughout the day to notice when things end. When inhaling, try not to force the out-breath. Perhaps pause at the end of the in breath and notice the start of the exhale. More importantly, notice when the exhale ends. Continue with this idea throughout the day – this really helps to turn your attention to the significance of endings.
Focused attention anchors thought
Our minds often feel so busy with lots of conflicting ideas and thoughts. Mindfulness is a much lauded technique but it can sometimes feel a bit difficult to begin with. Start by spending five minutes in the morning or the night focusing a soft attention on an object that has no particular significance to you; a pebble, or a pen, the clouds or a phrase. If the mind drifts off, simply bring it back to that object. Throughout the day, revisit this object if you can, even if it’s just for 30 seconds or less. This can help to harness anger as it is experienced as it’s another way of training the mind. We often hear the phrase, breath out for ten but that can seem difficult if you have no experience of re-directing your focus. Focused attention sends a signal to your brain that it’s attention is needed elsewhere.
Dealing with Anger – Just Do It
Want a prescription for happiness? It doesn’t exist. Life isn’t like that. You really have to work at it. And though there are some people that seem to breeze through life, it isn’t the case. Dealing with anger is something that we all have to face. But realising that anger is simply an energy until we engage with it helps an awful lot to re-frame what is often perceived as a negative emotion. Unexpressed, anger is neither good nor bad. If we know how to work with it we can use it as a way of transforming and training the mind.
What mental health strategies do you use to deal with negative feelings? Can you imagine yourself practicing any of these three steps?
If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read my post on cultivating calm in your life.