Anger and Irritation

Irritants and Indignation—Tools to Help You Cope 

We’ve all been there. You have a situation in which you’ve been wronged in some way. It might be a series of inconsiderate drivers, loud neighbors, or a company that just can’t get their billing right. You’ve been wronged, you’re the injured party, and you’re fed up. Initially you might calmly, and even patiently, try to resolve the situation. It hasn’t gotten under your skin yet, but you’ve gotten to the point where you need to take action. But when nothing changes, your righteous indignation begins to bubble up. Your eyebrows raise, and you think, now wait a minute

Letting your emotions get the best of you

In these situations, you may be interpreting the situation accurately—you know all the facts, and they all add up to a story. And you don’t like that story. But like any of your stories, you’re only seeing it from your perspective. With the information you have, it’s clear that you have cause to be angry and express that anger. 

Once you give yourself permission to be angry, you may find that your anger builds and builds. You keep retelling the story in your mind, and each time you tell it, you become angrier. At this point, it’s more likely that your reaction is out of proportion to the situation. You’re no longer in control of your emotions—instead, they are now controlling you. You’ve got a head of steam and are letting yourself be carried away. You lay into those who are, in your mind, responsible for your predicament. You may even treat them rudely or attack them personally. You say things that you normally would never say.

Burying your emotions

Another possible reaction is experiencing this rising tide of emotions and not giving any outward sign of the way you feel. Yes, you might be curt with people, but for the most part you’re burying all that energy inside yourself. Your mood is ruined, and you find yourself irritable and depressed. You go through the rest of your day with a dark cloud hanging over your head. People notice this and either ask you if anything’s wrong or avoid you, and neither makes you feel any better. 

The problem is that, eventually, all that negative energy has to be released. You may become sullen and moody. You may find yourself snapping at your family or coworkers. You may react aggressively to minor or perceived wrongs or slights. All that negative energy is slowly escaping in very unhealthy ways, or even worse, coming out in an irrational burst of anger that had nothing to do with the initial issue.

The aftermath of anger and frustration

If you’ve let your emotions get the best of you and acted on them, the aftermath can be harder than the situation. After you’ve calmed down and gained some distance, you may think back on your reaction with shame and embarrassment.
Where the hell did that come from?!
That wasn’t me!
You cringe at what you said and how you said it. You reflect on how you must have made the target of your anger feel. You look back on the event and try to figure out why you became so angry. 

The key, of course, is to not let yourself get out of control. Anger isn’t bad in and of itself. It can be a useful emotion that motivates you to right wrongs and make the world a better place—but only if you stay in control of how you react to it. 

How to keep your emotions in check

So what is the alternative to out of control anger and frustration?
There are several ways to avoid letting these feelings overwhelm you—they are simple but not necessarily easy, at least not at first. With these tools, you can become more self-aware generally, and the benefits will spill over into other aspects of your life as you develop emotional awareness and ultimately emotional intelligence. 

  1. Pause. A disruption in your thinking and emotional trajectory can interrupt a buildup of rage or any other aggressive emotion. This may be as simple as taking a deep cleansing breath, counting to ten, or leaving the room for a moment. Just a quick reboot of your emotional path can help you follow that path in a different direction.
  2. Know the whole story. In every story, each character has a point of view that may be different from yours. The rude driver may be coming home to a sick child. The loud neighbors may be celebrating something truly special. By being open to different points of view, you allow yourself to better understand why things went the way they did.
  3. Gain a broader perspective. Consider that this hiccup in your day does not make for trashing the whole day. Reflect on those in your life who really do have problems—those who have lost loved ones, have a serious illness, or are struggling to make ends meet. Is this problem really that significant in the grand scheme of things?
  4. Reflect on the positive. You have great things in your life! Everyone does. Do you have a roof over your head, food on the table, and people who love you? Go to those places in your head and in your heart. Embrace the good in your life, and the bad won’t seem so bad. 

Of course, some situations are truly tragic. Sadly, everyone will have catastrophic events in their lives, and these tools may not be helpful in certain circumstances. But hopefully, for your day-to-day headaches and heartburn, you can take a different emotional path and become good at staying in the driver’s seat.

We’ve all been there. But whether you stay there is up to you.

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