The Wall Street Journal, www.wsj.com
Most anger-management programs use techniques borrowed from cognitive-behavioral therapy to help people deal with anger. Here are some strategies to help keep negative emotions in check.
• Reframe the situation. Instead of seeing every inconvenience or frustration as a personal affront, imagine a benign explanation.
• Find a constructive solution to the issue at hand. “Ask yourself: what do I need to be okay right now?,” suggests Rich Pfeiffer, a psychologist and board president of the National Anger Management Association, a group of about 300 practitioners. “That shifts the focus from how the other person needs to be punished to how I need to respond in a healthy way.”
• Keep an “anger log” to monitor what makes you angry. Learn to identify and avoid your triggers.
• Be aware that anger tends to rise in increments. Learn to evaluate yours from 1 (frustration) to 10 (rage). If you can catch yourself at 3 or 4, you can think more rationally about the situation.
• If you feel a blowup coming on, give yourself a time-out before acting on it. “Wait 15 minutes before you say something, or an hour before you send an email. Keep your options open,” says Pauline Wallin, a psychologist in Camp Hill, Pa., and author of “Taming Your Inner Brat.” “If it’s not going to be important in an hour, then let it go. It’s not worth getting angry about.”
• Get a health checkup. Medical problems such as diabetes, chronic pain, low testosterone and low estrogen, can make people very irritable. Anger, either repressed or unleashed, can cause medical problems too. Some 30,000 heart attacks each year are triggered by momentary anger, according to a 2004 Harvard study.
• Be aware of how you talk to yourself. “If you keep saying how awful this is and making yourself feel alike a victim, you will get more angry,” says Dr. Wallin.
• Don’t ruminate on past affronts or injustices.
• Recognize patterns. “So often, people will say, ‘I’m just like my father—my father got angry’,” says Dr. Pfeiffer. “You don’t have to go back into their childhoods and deal with that. You just have to work on how to respond effectively now.”
• Calculate what your anger is costing you. Many people with anger problems think anger gives them an edge, and establishes superiority. “Instead, you just look like an idiot,” says Leon Ingram, founder of Chicago-based angermgmt.com.
• Don’t use alcohol to “calm” yourself. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions so you are more likely to do or say something you’ll regret later.
• Get physical, without fists. When your primitive brain senses a threat, it sets off the “fight or flight” cascade of hormones. Opt for flight instead of fight and burn off the extra adrenaline and cortisol with exercise. Even a brisk walk will help calm you down.
• The ultimate lesson: Pay more attention to the important things in life and recognize that most frustrations, inconveniences and indignities are trivial and temporary.
Read article by Melinda Beck, When Anger is an Illness
Take Quiz: What’s Your Irritability Quotient?