From the moment Monica stepped out of bed, her whole day went wrong. She tripped over a toy her three-year-old son Louis had left on the floor; her hairdryer was acting up so she couldn’t dry her hair properly for work; her car broke down halfway to the nursery and two clients reneged on a deal she had been working on for months.
That evening, on her way home, when a motorist pulled out in front of her with no warning, she felt like driving after him and crashing into his car!
We all have days like Monica’s, when nothing seems to go right. We may be running late for a job interview and fail to find a taxi after waiting in the sweltering heat for over half an hour, or we may feel irritated with our children for leaving dirty laundry all over their bedrooms. We may feel taken for granted when our neighbours constantly drop by to borrow sundry items, or short-changed by a hairdresser when she doesn’t give us 100 per cent attention.
Often, small irritations like someone playing their iPod too loudly or a motorist cutting in can make us incandescent with rage. Even our own habits, like overeating or cramming our diaries with appointments, can make us annoyed with ourselves.
Eventually we get angry and we each have our own way of expressing that anger. Some of us may shout, kick, scream or punch, while others will complain, blame or withdraw. To complicate matters, we may react differently to different situations – we may be aggressive with our colleagues but silently resentful with our partners.
Each reaction can be dangerous in its own way. If we’re aggressive at work, we may lose our job. If we’re quietly resentful and bottle up our rage, we risk damaging our self-esteem and we give out the message to people that their behaviour is acceptable. Anger, it seems, can get us into all sorts of trouble, often far worse than what made us angry in the first place.
Anger can be positive
But anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing, according to Tricia Woolfrey, an advanced clinical hypnotherapist, who runs courses that teach people how to keep their cool when things around them are getting tense.
“Anger is only bad if it’s expressed badly,” says Tricia, who runs the online course, Anger – The Final Frontier. “It can damage your health, your relationships and your career, but when the energy of anger is used productively, it can be a useful way of setting boundaries and sorting out issues. It can help us problem-solve and it’s there to communicate something to us – maybe that something isn’t fair, or someone has flouted our values.”
The emotions within our anger come from three directions – the past, the present and the future. When we’re running late for a job interview, we remind ourselves of all the other times we’ve been late for work appointments (the past); we’re anxious that we’re going to make a bad first impression (the future) and we’re bemoaning that our taxi isn’t on time (the present). When we eventually get to the interview, we’re ready to explode – with everyone from the taxi driver and our interviewer to the man who slammed the door on us in reception.
But by recognising the signs of anger early, we can stop ourselves from reaching explosion point. For some people the first sign of anger rising will be tense shoulders, neck, jaw or legs while others will have an increased heart rate and they will start to breathe more rapidly. Some will suffer digestive problems such as nausea and diarrhoea.
There are three types of reaction to anger, First, we might stomp around, slam doors and shout. Or, second, repress it by denying that we’re even annoyed. The third reaction – of expressing our anger calmly – is the one Tricia encourages. “If you are angry with someone, it’s important to talk to that person about why you are angry,” says Tricia. “If you are furious that you spent hours cleaning the kitchen only to find your partner has left crumbs and food and dirty spoons everywhere, there’s no advantage in kicking a pet or smashing something.
“However, you could express your anger by telling your partner that you’re angry because you tidied the kitchen earlier and it has been messed up again.
“If you explain to someone why you are unhappy, you’re on your way to reaching a harmonious outcome. Otherwise, anger can be like a pressure cooker that is constantly getting increased pressure and will explode one day. In my opinion, repressed anger is corrosive to the body. I think you can get toxicity from emotions.”
When dealing with anger, Tricia stresses the importance of standing up for ourselves and trusting our instincts, “If you are at the hairdresser’s and your stylist is taking time out from doing your hair to casually chat to other clients, it’s natural to get irritated. But you can be nice about it. You can tell your stylist you understand she wants to catch up with people, but explain that you have to get back to work and ask if she could get you finished as quickly as possible. If you are in a shop queue and assistants are standing around talking, explain that you’re on your lunch break and ask if they can serve you quickly.”
According to Tricia, we can adapt our thinking and nip our rage in the bud so we don’t reach crisis point so often.
“For example, when the car breaks down, we may overgeneralise and think: ‘Nothing goes right for me.’ Or we could tell ourselves: ‘The car broke down for the first time since I bought it and it can be easily fixed.’”
Five ways to fight your fury
1. Look after yourself. We get irritable when we’re tired, hungry, stressed, ill or overworked. If you haven’t eaten for eight hours, you’re more likely to snap when someone bumps into you in the street, or when your toddler throws their lunch all over the dining room. If you’re overworked, you’re more likely to explode when your boss gives you another report to do, with just two hours’ notice.
2. Talk positively to yourself. Tell yourself: “This won’t matter in a week’s time.” Don’t let trivial things drive you to boiling point. If someone pulls out in front of you in a queue of traffic, it doesn’t really matter, as long as they’re not putting someone in danger.
3. When someone is annoying you, think how you will feel when they are no longer around. If your husband has kept you awake all night with his snoring, remind yourself how much you love him, and how you would feel if he weren’t in your life. This often puts little niggles into perspective.
4. If people have habits that make you angry, talk them through and compromise. If your teenagers play loud music that you find annoying, suggest they use headphones. If your mother-in-law talks through your favourite television programme, record it to watch later, or ask her for 30 minutes of quiet time.
5. Don’t jump to conclusions. You may think someone is ignoring you, but they may not have seen you. If someone is offhand with you, there may be problems in their family or a health issue that you’re not aware of. Don’t always think the worst and point the finger of blame.
For situations that look likely to blow out of proportion, Tricia recommends her five-point PEACE process.
Peace stands for Pause, Exhale, Affirm, Check and Express.
Don’t react – just recognise the clues that you’re getting angry. You may say something like, “I can’t believe she is doing this,” to yourself. Your chest might be getting tighter. Take yourself out of the situation for a moment. Put the person irritating you on the phone on hold or sayyou will call them back, or go for a walk.
Take some deep breaths to a count of eight to release tension before you look at what just happened.
Ask yourself if your reaction was based on fact or emotion and how someone else would view the situation. Often we see things differently when we look through someone else’s eyes.
Is your anger about what’s happening now, or what happened in the past?
5. Evaluate and express
Work out what outcome you want. What would happen so you get out of there and feel good? Express your feelings in a friendly tone, don’t accuse, and be loving where appropriate.