Fighting Your Way Out of Anger

This week’s blog is inspired by the news in Dallas.

In my social media stream this morning I saw a video from the Dallas NBC affiliate covering a local librarian who “works with 400 children each day” because she goes to a business in Dallas to smash things to “blow off steam”.

She dons safety gear and enters a room where she smashes furniture, TVs, and even a manikin or human like shape on a stand. The owners of the business, who you can pay for your chance to destroy things to “cope” with your stressors, tell NBC that this is no different than boxing or jogging.

I disagree, based on the research that we have to apply to this situation. More than a decade ago researchers determined that expressing aggression as a response to anger only contributes to linking that feeling (anger) to that behavior (aggression). Over time, this means that you naturally become aggressive as a response to anger. (Remember Pavlov’s dogs?)

Clients who come to me for help with anger are often already aggressive in their behaviors. Our immediate work is on tolerance of distressing emotions (like anger) through healthy and research supported coping skills, like mindfulness.

Telling someone with frustration, anger, or stress issues to smash things up as a means of coping is irresponsible and unsafe.

The underlying problem here is that people want a quick fix. Often we want to deny that it takes us years or decades to learn a behavior or way of thinking that doesn’t serve us well and then insist that it take just a few moments to “feel better”.

There’s no doubt in my mind that smashing things when angry feels good in the moment or even immediately after it. There’s no doubt that it cultivates a sense of power or confidence like the woman in the news video describes. I don’t doubt that those are powerful and positive sensations.

It’s just that they are not long term solutions – they are poor coping skills that contribute to problems with anger or frustration.

While it seems like it makes sense to let anger out as aggression, like it would somehow help it, it doesn’t. Aggression is more like adding dynamite to the situation in the long term and if you’re struggling with anger, frustration, or stress, that won’t be a pleasant experience to add to one that is already difficult.

If you are having problems with frustration, anger, or stress try out these helpful and health tips and talk to your friendly neighborhood counselor for more help!

RELAX

Breathe deeply through your nose using your belly (diaphragm muscles) to a count of 4 seconds in, holding for 4, releasing for 4, and then holding for 4. Repeat.
Repeat a calming word or mantra to yourself.
Recall a pleasant and relaxing experience from your memory and focus on it intently.
Try slow moving yoga like hatha yoga or restorative yoga. (Google for poses!)

EXERCISE

Just 20 minutes of (non-aggression based) exercise each day is enough to help your body create more “feel good chemicals” that combat anger, help you cope better with stress, and even help with depression/anxiety.

RETHINK

How you talk about problems contributes to how you think of them and vice versa. Avoid using the words “never” and “always” while thinking or talking about situations that are upsetting.
Focus on your goals.
Make like Spock and be logical! Examine things from all perspectives as best you can before reacting.

PROBLEM SOLVE

Identify the problem. Make a list of options. Make a list of pros and cons for each option. Make a plan based on your information and then create a goal. Work your plan step by step toward your goal.

REMEMBER

What is behind your anger? Usually its fear or painful rejection based feelings. Try to communicate those feelings as opposed to the anger that is often on top of them.

LAUGH

The saying goes that laughter cures, and it’s true. Our facial expressions are directly linked to our emotions. If you can find a way to smile or laugh, your angry mood is bound to shift. Pandora has a ton of comedy stations that are my go to for this effort.

TAKE A BREAK

If possible, leave the situation that is stoking anger or stress for a short while.
As always, if you’re having difficulty managing anger, find a counselor near you. If you’re in Texas, I’d be happy to talk with you about what we can accomplish in counseling to help with frustration and stress.

Whitney

For my favorite study on this topic check out:
Busman, B., Baumeister, R., & Stack, A. (1999). Catharsis, Aggression and Persuasive Influence: Self-Fulfilling or Self-Defeating Prophecies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 76, No. 3, pp 367-376.

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