by Chad A. Buck, clinical psychologist, Work/Life Connections-EAP
Studies have shown that people experience increased frustration and anger in the summer months. Exposure to hot summer temperatures increases your heart rate, which leads to discomfort. Being uncomfortable can affect how you express yourself and color the way others interpret your words and actions. A minor insult or a bump in a hot, crowded space may be perceived as a more serious offense if a person’s level of anxiety or discomfort is already heightened. Combine this with regular daily stresses, and the possibility of angry and aggressive reactions becomes intensified.
So how can you beat the heat and avoid getting heated? Here are eight suggestions for managing anger more effectively:
Pay attention to what your body and mouth are saying.
Ask yourself, “What do I notice first when I begin to feel angry, frustrated, irritable or grouchy?” Does your heart feel like it is speeding up? Do you feel lightheaded? Is it hard to breathe? Are your muscles tense? These are some physical signs of anger. If you notice that you are being particularly sarcastic or saying a lot of negative or critical things, you are probably feeling anger on some level, too.
Anticipate your triggers.
What typically makes you feel uncomfortable or tense? Do crowded restaurants or long lines tend to set you off? Consider avoiding a potentially heated reaction by visiting your favorite, but crowded, restaurant during a less busy hour. Do you get overwhelmed when you have spent too much time around certain people? Try building in breaks, setting a limit on the amount of time you are with those people, or make sure “safe” people are with you who can buffer the impact of people who trigger you.
Be aware of your assumptions and perceptions.
Analyze your thinking for incorrect assumptions or misperceptions. Many times we become angry because we assume something is true when it is not. These underlying assumptions warp our thinking, yet we believe we’re basing our attitudes and actions on truth. This pitfall can be particularly hard to avoid when you’re physically uncomfortable or under stress. You may find yourself “looking for trouble” where it doesn’t really exist.
Realize contributing factors.
Ask yourself questions about your physical condition and psychological state. “Am I tired? Am I hungry? Do I feel bad, physically? Am I stressed about something else or toward someone else? Am I anxious or worried about something else?” Sometimes just recognizing and addressing those factors or situations can be enough to reduce the likelihood of an aggressive reaction.
Stop, think and play it out.
Think before you speak or act. Choose words and actions carefully. It is not always an easy task, but sometimes just taking a moment to think, clear our heads and calm down is all we need to keep from overreacting. As soon as you feel anger start to build, take time to calm down, separate yourself from the situation, and consider what the consequences of blowing up could be in that moment.
Difficulty breathing can be a physical sign of anger, and it makes sense that you need to try to focus on your breathing to feel more grounded. To calm down and give yourself a chance to rationally collect your thoughts, start breathing in a very deliberate and rhythmic way. For example, inhale through your nose for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, and exhale through your mouth for a count of four. Repeat it four times. Deep breaths can slow your heart rate and help regulate your body and your mind.
Find alternative expressions for angry energy.
Anger has a great deal of energy behind it. Finding a way to express that energy in a beneficial way is an essential component of managing anger and aggression. Any kind of physical activity can be a great outlet for angry feelings. If you enjoy art, express your frustrations visually. If you love to write, put your thoughts down on paper or type them out. Just be sure not to send your writing to a person with whom you are angry unless you do some serious editing. Again—stop, think and play it out. Consider the consequences.
Know what you can and cannot control.
Realistically, you can only control your response to situations and circumstances. You can’t control the weather, the number of people at a restaurant, or especially, how other people think, feel or act. All you can do is your best to recognize, understand and control your own feelings and reactions.
If you would like additional help with managing anger and minimizing aggressive behavior, please call Work/Life Connections–EAP at 615-936-1327 to schedule an appointment to meet with one of our licensed clinicians who can help you develop a plan of action. Anger can cause physical, personal and professional problems that can be prevented with good support and guidance.