Rise Above Rage
Sudden rage - it's happened to the best of us. "Not me," you say? Well, have you ever cursed at a driver who cut you off, snapped at a stranger who offered unsolicited parenting advice, or told off an airline rep after yet another flight delay? You might have different things that set you off, but the end result - losing your temper - is the same. It's never fun when that happens.
Anger jacks up your blood pressure, increases your risk of heart disease, depresses your immune system, even makes it more likely that you'll injure yourself within a day of an outburst. And it can send you into an emotional spiral that lingers long after the precipitating incident.
My tipping point came one morning when another commuter body-checked me into a wall as we exited the subway.
"Before I could say, "Hey, watch where you're going," he was already halfway up the stairs. He didn't even stop to acknowledge me! My hands shook with rage. Uh-oh, I was going to blow up in the middle of a crowded subway station."
I had faced this unpleasant side of me before and I didn't want this to set a negative tone for the rest of my day. I sat down on a bench, closed my eyes and visualized the ones I love: my girlfriend, my dogs, my mom. By the time I opened my eyes again, my anger had dissipated.
That's the key to lowering your boiling point, according to Robert Allan, Ph.D., a Cornell University psychologist who has studied anger for 30 years. "Get yourself into a more emotionally neutral state," he says. "Your anger will diminish and assume more realistic proportions."
Here are some strategies for cooling down when you feel your temper flaring.
Take a timeout. If someone gets you zooming from nice to nuclear in a nanosecond, that's a sure sign anger is clouding your vision. Don't go on the attack and escalate the situation. Losing control puts the ball in the other person's court and then "you have to deal with their rules of the road," Allan says. Walk away. Finish the discussion when you're calmer.
Repeat after me. Changing your self-talk allows you to manage your anger and change the situation to your advantage, psychologist Tony Fiore, Ph.D., of angercoach.com says. This takes practice, but if you're prone to angry outbursts, it's worth it. Try repeating phrases that put things in perspective like "I can deal with this" or "This is part of life." Soothing prayers, mantras or mental images work well too. A manager I know says to herself, "Calm blue ocean" and visualizes exactly that. Humor also defuses anger: Think of something funny.
It's not personal. Remember that most of the time the offending behavior is not an act of intentional malice. Take that man who knocked me into the subway wall. He was probably in a rush and just didn't see me.
In the mood. If you're always wearing anger goggles, then any slight encounter will set you off. "Your mood determines the perception you have of your world," Fiore says. "In a high mood you see the world one way. In a low mood, you may see the exact same thing quite differently." Regular exercise and adequate sleep help elevate your mood.
Don't get hooked. Cardiac patients who used this anger-management technique developed by Allan were 44 percent less likely to have a second heart attack. Imagine you're a fish staring up at a bunch of baited hooks. The hooks represent whatever might trigger your anger. You can take the bait, get hooked and have everything yanked out of your control. Hmm, doesn't swimming off into the calm blue ocean sound a lot better?