Bluffs Advocate

Living Well

Dealing with Anger

Identify issues and perspective

By Tom Steers

            It's been said that anger is like a hot coal; it usually damages the one holding it.

Anger is a natural human emotion, but if allowed to get out of control it can take a toll on our health and our relationships.

There are ways to deal positively with angry feelings, and to experience intense anger less often. Here are a few tips:

Get to know your anger triggers

It could be a situation, criticism, or feeling a lack of consideration from a loved one. Whether it's being cut off by another car while driving or having to tell your spouse yet again to throw out the empty milk carton in the fridge, there are things that routinely get us going. Be aware and prepared for them.

The fellow that cuts you off on the road doesn't know you, and so it's not personal. Being conscious of the situations which cause us anger flashes allows us to be ready to defuse them.

Put things in perspective and remember that this too shall pass

Anger makes us see things out of proportion, like looking through a telescope from the wrong end. We jump to extremes and think that all is ruined, or say words that can hurt, escalate the situation, and be hard to take back. Things are rarely as dramatic or dire as we make them out to be when our better judgment is eclipsed by rage.

Take a few deep breaths

The old adage of taking a few deep breaths and counting to ten is sage advice. Anger isn't just in our heads, it raises blood pressure and even releases natural steroids into the bloodstream. When you see red, remind yourself that you're going to take control of your own reaction and try this breathing technique. Breathe in to the count of four, then relax and breathe out to the count of five. Do this a number of times and, while you do, imagine a situation that takes you out of the moment.

Go to a happy place and draw on strengths

Remember and visualize a time and place when you were relaxed and happy. It could be a memory from childhood, a time at the beach or forest, or even a good memory with the person you're now locking horns with. Then visualize that this temporary moment of anger will soon pass and allow you either to deal with the problem calmly or perhaps forget it. Take a break and do something that normally calms you or gives you emotional strength. This could be exercise, reading, or prayer.

Avoid escalating the situation

Bringing a problem out in the open is sometimes necessary. The other person may not see that they're contributing to the issue, and even if they do, by identifying their contribution to it, you give them the opportunity to say they're sorry.

It's important, however, not to escalate already emotionally charged situations. Avoid the words "always" and "never" as in, "you never clean up after yourself." One, it's probably not true and two, it only encourages whoever you're aiming the barb at to fire back and one-up you. Instead, step back both physically and emotionally when things get heated. Tell yourself that this is difficult, but it's not the end of the world. If tempers really begin to boil, go for a walk.

Use "I" statements, and even humour, but watch your timing

Avoid criticisms and placing blame. Use "I" statements to describe the problem you're identifying. For example, say, "When you don't help around the house I feel unloved and unappreciated" instead of "you never do anything around here."

Using humour can deflate anger in several ways. It helps put things in perspective and allows you and the other person a light-hearted break to share. Be careful, however, not to be sarcastic, which is just a witty form of aggression.

The timing of a difficult conversation can help prevent the discussion from going south. Most couples argue later at night after work when they're both tired. Instead, choose a time when you're both well rested and there are no distractions. If you find yourself being verbally used as a bull's-eye, allow the other person's words to just wash over you and pass by. Don't engage someone in an anger fit. Tell them you'd like to reschedule the talk for a time when you're both calm.

Problem solving

Take a team problem-solving approach if possible. Identify the real issue and discuss options for solving it. Ask the other person what they think of your ideas and if they have solutions that might work. Keep in mind that if the relationship with the person you're having the disagreement with is a close one, it's the relationship that matters much more than being right.

Rev Tom Steers is Pastor of Christ the Saviour Lutheran Church, 930 Bellamy Road North, Scarborough, Tel.: 647-762-8067. Sunday worship is at 11:30 a.m.

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