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Sound strategies for controlling anger.

Anger is like a brushfire. In the early stages, it is relatively easy to restrain. Allow it to escalate, however, and it may burn out of control.

Permitting mismanaged anger to build to rage leads people to say or to things they later regret. Such embarrassment can be avoided by reducing tension as soon as it begins to flare. The techniques described in this article are designed to help you manage your thoughts about anger-provoking situations, to change the ways you discussothers, and to take constructive actions that will rechannel your negative emotions (Figure I).

For instance, when you are stuck at the back of a long line that isn't moving at the supermarket, do you allow yourself to get aggravated? If so, you are giving strangers the power to control your emotions. Stop yourself from thinking the cashier is inefficient and from making sarcastic comments to others on line. Instead, use the time to relax your mind or to read lurid headlines on tabloids at the checkout stand and be glad none of those things have happened to you.

* Thoughts. When we are angry, concentrating on negative feelings wastes time and energy. Rehashing an upsetting incident over and over and dwelling on things that we should have said or done only seem to justify our anger and thus to intensify it.

You can do many things to control your thoughts when someone or something makes you mad. Make a conscious effort to change your typical internal dialog. Seek different interpretations of the situation that has upset up. Use thought-stopping techniques. For example, visualize pleasurable things or repeat a word such as "cancel" to yourself until you have had time to calm down. Look at a problem from a different time perspective. Ask yourself: "Will i remember this incident six months from now? If I do, will it still matter to me?" A situation that has triggered anger may seem trivial and petty a few days later.

Using these techniques can help prevent needless frustration. Here is one example. A memo was criculated to all managers and department heads in a large laboratory. One chief technologist took the memo to be a direct attack on her competence. She immediately tried to contact the person who had written the memo and found he was out of town for several days. Her boss was away as well. Unable to pursue the situation further, she found herself consumed by anger.

When he boss returned, he said, "Perhaps the memo contains a typo. "She checked it out and learned that this indeed was the case. Had the technologist manaed her thoughts effectively, she would have changed her self-talk to "Wait until you get the right information. There must be another interpretation." Instead, she chose to dwell on the memo.

Altering your expectations is another way to control angry feelings. Don't assume that people will always behave in a manner of which you approve. Expect the reverse and plan for it. The technologist with the abrasive personality will not suddenly become mild-mannered for your sake. How might she be an asset to the laboratory? Consider sending her to the purchasing department to ask why your supplies haven't arrived. She might get better results than your polite approach.

* Words. A second way to manage angry thoughts is to control what you say. You'll need to know when to refrain from an emotional explosion, even if it means forfeiting momentary relief. Whining to anyone who will listen, particularly those who are uninvolved or who lack the power to change the situation, is a waste of time.

Another kind of fruitless talk to avoid is playing the martyr, justifying your angry behavior to others. Research shows that talking about an anger-provoking situation incessantly does nothing to help resolve the underlying grievance. (1)

Those who dwell on the past are destined to live a life of frustration. Let go of "I should have" and "You should have." When upset, avoid using words such as "should," "ought," and "must"; doing so will only generate stress and provoke hostile, defensive responses from others. Talk about solutions, not problems. Tell people who have made you angry what they can do to make the situation better.

Try to put off your anger until you've obtained all the facts. Ask questions and listen to the answers attentively. A technologist was appalled when his supervisor exploded at him. Instead of screaming back, the laboratorian asked, "Is something wrong? There must be or you wouldn't act this way." Sure enough, his boss had just learned that his son had a fatal illness. Fortunately, the technologist had held his tongue; otherwise he might have doubted his own abilities and lost respect for his supervisor. Even worse, he could have lashed out at his boss and suffered negative repercussions.

* Actions. We have all mismanaged our anger at times: plotting revenge on someone or taking out our fury on an innocent bystander. Other common outlets include excessive behavior such as driving recklessly or overeating. While we may feel like attacking the world after a negative encounter, this is rarely possible or appropriate in the lab.

We can find many ways to churn angry energy constructively. First, choose a way to handle a situation, determining the appropriate person, place, and time. Next, decide whether you can live with the consequences by imagining the best and worst possible results. If the latter seem dangerous, rethink your plans.

Anger and stress usually go hand in hand. A stressful situation offers two choices: fight or flight. Flight--temporarily walking away from a problem--provides time to cool down, analyze the situation rationally, weigh options, and select a constructive action. Those who are fortunate enough to work for an organization with a physical fitness facility should consider heading for a strenuous workout to release stress and anger at the first reasonable opportunity. Other activities helpful in working out anger include walking, running, swimming, and playing racquetball.

If you can't remove yourself from a problem physically, remove yourself mentally. Visualize yourself in a favorite vacation spot, perhaps on a tropical island hearing the ocean waves and smelling the salt water. If comedy soothes your nerves, imagine the head of a cartoon character on the person provoking your anger.

When a professional speaker was given an hour to speak on a topic that she usually takes six hours to cover, she told herself that the group must have heard she could walk on water. She was then able to view the assignment as a challenge to condense the material.

One technologist controls angry feelings toward her supervisor by imagining him dressed in diapers. Another designs lapel buttons that communicate her various moods. On a bad day the button might read, "Caution: Explosive." A third deals with her manager, who frequently speaks to her discourteously, by picturing him tipping over backward and falling out the window onto the parking lot below.

Research indicates that people with high self-esteem are more able than others to manage their anger before it gets out of control. (2) Holding morale-boosting sessions at work can easily accomplish this goal. By reliving recent or past accomplishments with the group, employees can feel good about themselves.

* Our own choice. No one else has the right to decide whether we should feel peaceful or warlike, happy or sad. (3) We must take responsibility for our own anger.

Think twice before becoming angry over trivial matters. It only adds fuel to the fire.

(1) Tavris, C. "Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion," pp. 131-135. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1984.

(2) Novaco, R. Stress inoculation: A cognitive therapy for anger. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 45(4): 600-608, 1977.

(3) Jampolsky, G. "Love Is Letting Go of Fear," p. 80. New York, Bantam Books, 1981.
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Title Annotation:Managing Anger, part 2
Author:Harmon, Shirley
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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