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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante    

Ease the tension and manage your anger

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

I was chatting with a group of friends the other day and a few have noticed that people around them seem to be more “on edge” than normal. Lately there just seems to be less patience, more irritability or even anger in the air. This can be due to a number of factors, which include the adjustment to the fall season, return to school and being back in the office for some, and perhaps the anticipation of the fourth wave of this ongoing pandemic. Dealing with uncertainty and having to adjust to change can be pretty stressful.

We only have to look to the news to see that this overall tension isn’t just a local thing. Disputes over mask mandates and vaccinations are happening in many cities all over the world. Frontline workers, healthcare professionals and school officials and teachers are experiencing hostility in their places of work.

Managing intense emotions such as anger and fear is something that many people struggle with. When people feel that they cannot transform these emotions and quiet them internally, they may lash out verbally or physically in order to transfer that energy out towards someone else. This is never the best solution because, on an individual level, anger outbursts can lead to heart problems, an increased likelihood of having a stroke, and it weakens the immune system. Lashing out can lead to increased depression and anxiety, and will result in strained relationships.

Everybody gets angry. Anger is a healthy and natural emotion. In our society, most people think that anger is “bad,” that it is negative. For some, becoming angry equates to being out of control. But on the contrary, anger can be a good, positive force that leads to action– if handled effectively.

Most people deal with their anger in three ways. One way is to “stuff” your anger; where you do not admit that you are angry to yourself or to other people. You tend to “sweep things under the rug” because you feel it is not nice to be mad at someone; that you might hurt someone’s feelings, that you will damage a relationship if you show anger. But avoiding confrontation can end up damaging a relationship anyway because others may take advantage of you. Your silence may be viewed as uncaring, leaving the door open for misunderstanding. Internalizing your emotions can affect your physical and mental health.

Second, some people allow their anger to escalate and explode. Your tendency is to blame other people and make them feel ashamed. You want to demonstrate power and appear strong because the last thing you want is to be viewed as weak. Reacting in this way means that you don’t address underlying feelings such as fear or embarrassment. You may get what you want for the short term, but your relationships with other people are damaged. You are also prone to physical and mental health difficulties.

And last, there is managing anger in an effective way. This is the healthiest way to deal with anger, and results in stronger relationships, more confidence, a higher energy level, better physical and mental health, and an overall sense of happiness. If you are not used to managing your anger in this way, it can be a challenge at first. But if you value yourself and others around you, it is worth the effort. Some ways to change the way you handle anger are:

  • Take a deep breath and speak with an even and calm tone. If people hear a loud and angry person, they are rarely listening to what is being said because they are on guard.
  • Only consider the here and now. Don’t bring up past events to support your argument.
  • Avoid name-calling and labels. Focus on the behaviour. For example, avoid saying, “You are so selfish!” but instead, “You didn’t ask me what my opinion is. That makes me feel like I don’t matter. I’d like to tell you what I think.”
  • Ask yourself if you are a controller. Do you think things like, “They should just do it my way,” or “That is absolutely the worst thing to do”? If you are a controller, think about the effect that you have on others around you.
  • Beware of irrational thoughts that feed the angry story in your head. For example, “They’re doing this to me on purpose” or “I never get what I deserve” are often not accurate and end up increasing anger.
  • Take responsibility if you lose control. No one has the power to make you act in a certain way. You choose to behave that way.
  • Slow your anger down. If you tend to react quickly, train yourself to take deep breaths, count to 10 before you talk, or walk away until you cool down. You could save yourself from saying or doing something you regret.
  • Stay away from other angry people.
  • When the issue is resolved, forgive the other person and ask for forgiveness yourself. You will eliminate resentment from your life.
  • Make changes little by little. Ask yourself, “what can I change this week about how I communicate?” and evaluate whether you’ve reached your goal. If not, be patient and try again.

“The more anger towards the past you carry in your heart, the less capable you are of loving in the present.” – Barbara De Angelis

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

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