Anger Has Gotten a Bad Rap. It Really Has.

The following information on Anger Management is useful information.

Anger, in fact, has a helpful purpose and many benefits. How we have learned to express feelings of anger, however, may or may not help us.

The good news is that we can learn to control our thoughts and reactions when angry. Learning the skills of Anger Management will help your clients feel in better control and improve their relationships.

Anger Management

Anger has gotten a bad rap. It really has.

The media wrongfully pairs anger with aggression and we have come to link these two different experiences as one.

We fear road rage. We fear a public insult will result in physical assault or, worse yet, being shot. We link anger and aggression as the same thing.

Anger and aggression are not the same thing.

Anger is a feeling and aggression is a behavior. A person can be angry but not be aggressive. Likewise, a person can be aggressive but not be angry.

I’m sure you can think of a time when you were angry, but not aggressive. Can you think of situations in which a person is aggressive, but not angry?

Anger has a useful purpose.

Take a moment and speculate on what the purpose of anger is.

The purpose of anger is similar to the little light on your car’s dashboard that warns you when the oil pressure is too low. When you see that little warning light flash you realize something is not right with the car.

The purpose of anger is to let us know something is not right. Anger is designed to help us. How we express anger may or may not help us, but the purpose of anger is a beneficial one.

Anger has a number of positive aspects.

Again, take a minute and speculate what might be some positive aspects of anger.

The positive aspects of anger are:

  • The expression of anger can feel good. Doesn’t if feel good to “get it off your chest”?
  • Anger may be needed to survive in some dangerous situations. If you were being attacked, or a loved one was being hurt, you might become angry and decide to either flee the aggressor or fight.
  • Anger can stimulate productive action. Have we not all gotten fed up with something and decided to make changes?
  • Anger is part of the normal grieving process. Those left behind might be understandably upset they are left behind. Perhaps they are angry at the deceased for doing things that led to an early death. The family members of people who have committed suicide are often angry at their dead relative’s choice.
  • Moral anger can be used to fight for justice and fairness in the world. The civil rights movement is an example of this.
  • Expressed anger can lead toward reconciliation in a relationship. Positive solutions might be discovered when we express to another what we feel is wrong in the relationship.

Anger, therefore, has gotten a bad rap.

Anger management is not about the cessation of anger. That is not very realistic, nor likely to be helpful. Anger management is about managing our responses to situations.

People Get Angry in Exactly the Same Sequence

It doesn’t matter how old you are, what job you have, how educated you are or what zip code you live in, at the end of the day, we all get angry in the same order.

There is a three step process to getting angry. The process is:

  1. There is an internal or external event that causes discomfort. (Event)
  2. We translate, or apply meaning, to the event in a way that sets up getting angry. (Thought)
  3. We express our anger. (Behavior)

There is an internal or external event that causes discomfort. Hey, stuff happens. Internal events can be a migraine, chronic pain, broken bones, an upset stomach, etc. External events are the myriad of things that can happen. Car accidents, losing money, a parking ticket or missed promotions…the list of possibilities can be very long. The point, however, is that something causes discomfort.

We translate, or apply meaning, to the event in a way that sets up getting angry. All events are neutral. It is not until we apply a meaning to an event does the event have any relevance to us. The meaning we apply to an event determines the specific relevance the event will have to us.

To explain this we know that two people can observe the same event but one person comes unglued and the other person doesn’t.

Have you been upset only to have a friend or loved one tell you to “Relax, cool down it’s no big deal.”? This is only possible because two people can experience the same event but have two very different reactions. Therefore, the event is neutral.

The event only takes on a meaning when we assign a meaning to the event. We have the choice to translate the event in a way that makes us mad or sad or laugh or question. The possibilities are wide open and ultimately our choice. More on this later.

We express our anger. Behavior follows thinking. How we express our anger is a learned response. We may react in a way that brings productive change or we may react in a way that creates problems for ourselves.

Some folks may respond to the prompt that something is not right with a thoughtful, measured, mature, approach and some may act with aggression and destruction as a way to try and solve their problem.

As mentioned, anger management is not about the cessation of anger. Anger management is about learning to control our thinking and our behaviors.

As thinking comes before action, our first opportunity to control our expression of anger is to learn and modify or change our thinking. For some, especially those with a quick temper, learning to control thinking may be more difficult.

Our second chance to control our response is to learn to control our behaviors. This can be started by learning to control our physiologic responses. This aspect is the practical stress management part of anger management. More is written about this later.

Thinking Then Behavior

Anger management is effectively broken down into two parts. The first part is thinking the second part is behavior.

Thoughts are funny things. How long does it take to think a thought? I don’t know, but it sure seems rather fast.

We all know that by changing our minds in an instant we can change our perception which leads to changing how we interact.

And, what is a thought? Again, I don’t know, but I suppose these instant and powerful creations are vibratory firings of neurons which serve to form mental images in our minds. So, I find it fascinating that such small things, which don’t have a lot of mass and happen almost instantly, can have such a profound impact on us.

The best part of all of this is that we are in control of our thoughts. No one can do your thinking for you. We can choose angry thoughts; we can choose negative thoughts; we can choose empowering thoughts - I think you get the idea.

Learned Response

Anger is a learned response. We were shown and perhaps told how to express ourselves from those individuals who influenced us while growing up. Most likely, those individuals were our parents or elder family members. They could have also been a mentor, a teacher or a religious person. We learned how to interact with the world from how we saw others do so.

The rules around anger are not the same for everyone. For example, girls are socialized differently than boys.

Generally, it is less acceptable for girls to act out aggressively than for boys. We do find it a more shocking when we hear a news report or watch a video clip on YouTube of girls savagely beating someone up than if it were a bunch of boys acting destructively. Boys carrying weapons is bad enough, but it does seem worse when girls are discovered carrying handguns.

Further, one ethnic group may be socialized differently than people from another group. Following general stereotypes, people from Asian countries are less likely to act out in public. The Irish are, again talking generally, known for being quick tempered - the “fighting Irish” as might be said. Latinos are known, through a general stereotype, as being “hot blooded” and apt to react quickly and loudly to situations. Germans, on the other hand, are more known for a subdued response. The point of this is that we learn from our culture what is considered a socially acceptable way to react within than environment.

A true story describing this comes from my personal life. While in college I had a girlfriend of Italian decent. Her father was a first generation immigrant and spoke Italian. Their household was, by my Irish and German standards, completely chaotic. They were loud; we were quiet. They fought; we didn’t. They made up; we didn’t. Thanksgiving with her family was always a crap shoot whether the evening was going to fall apart into chaos and crying. Our Thanksgivings were rather boring. The examples can go on and on. You could imagine that she and I had rather different approaches to solving the problems of our relationship.

Anger Styles

We all have our learned style of expressing anger. Anger styles can be broken down into Subdued Anger, Quick Anger and Chronic Anger.

Subdued Anger

Subdued Anger is broken down into Anger Avoiding, Sneaky Anger and Paranoia. We all learn how to ‘do’ anger from those who taught us how to interact with the world. Some people, like me, come from families in which Subdued Anger is taught.

The overall message in Subdued Anger is that the expressing of anger is bad and should be stifled, avoided or repressed.

You will hear messages within these households such as “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” “Getting angry won’t help the situation it will only make matters worse.” and “Good girls don’t act impolitely.“

The result of this message is that anger is unwelcome, unproductive and bad.

Given that, people raised in houses teaching this predominate message have a hard time accepting and expressing angry feelings. So, one of the styles learned is that of Anger Avoiding.

Anger Avoiding is doing just as the name implies; the individual avoids feeling angry and avoids angry encounters. This type of person is usually very uncomfortable around others who might be angry because they don’t really know what to do about such strong emotions.

The flip side of this style is that because these folks suppress and avoid their anger or dealing with others anger that when they do get mad they can really blow their top. This is quickly followed with all the admonitions learned as a kid and they may feel bad about getting angry.

Another form of Subdued Anger is Sneaky Anger.

Sneaky Anger is the territory of adolescents. Sneaky Anger is the efficient action of creating a situation where the other person gets angry through one’s non-action. Sneaky Anger is what is known as being passive aggressive. Being passive aggressive is not confined to adolescents but they are the best, well-known examples of this style.

It is always a surprise to me how adept adolescents are at Sneaky Anger. Did they go to Sneaky Anger classes? Do they discuss strategies with each other? How do they get so good at it?

How many times has an adolescent said, “Oh, I thought the curfew was 1 a.m. not 11 p.m. I’m sure that is what you said. 11 p.m. Look, I was home before 1:00 a.m. Why are you so upset? You should have been more clear with me.”

Sneaky Anger is all about power and control with the message being “you can’t make me.”

Adolescents have said far and wide across this country, and through history, that their parents are making a big deal out of nothing. They may regularly forget or omit the fact that their parents have said the same things, “Pick up your room.” “Be home by curfew.” and “Get your homework done.” so many times, that it does become a big deal.

The last of the Anger Avoidance styles is Paranoia.

When I mention paranoia I don’t mean the useful vigilance of being aware of your surroundings. When walking on the street, it is a good idea to have a reasonable amount of caution. We look around for potential hazards and take reasonable precautions to keep safe. This is having “street smarts”, but is not being paranoid.

What I mean by paranoia is when people have fixed beliefs that “others” are out to do harm. The “others” are usually described as being part of a larger, organized group with the intention to harass and even harm the individual. The FBI, the CIA, and the police are some examples.

People with strong paranoid ideations are constantly on guard. They fear that at any time “those” folks following them, monitoring them and watching them could, in fact, come out of hiding and harm them. Given this way of thinking, it makes sense that they are guarded and suspicious.

If you happen to interact with a truly paranoid person you might notice an underlying sense of anger. They are on guard, worried for their safety and fed up with the intrusion of these “others”.

They are cautious, however, to express their anger for it certainly would draw attention to them and they do not want to antagonize those they believe are persecuting them. Their perceived need to avoid expressing anger is why they fall into this category.

A person who is truly paranoid suffers. It is not fun.

Quick Anger

Quick Anger is broken down into Short Fuse Anger, Defensive Anger, Intimidating Anger and Anger for Kicks.

Short Fuse Anger is when a person gets angry really fast and then cools down really fast.

Typically, after exploding, the Short Fuse Anger folks feel better, they have gotten their concern off their chest, but those around them feel worse.

The Short Fuse Anger style is reactive to situations. They “fly off the handle” at what may seem like the smallest of concerns.

Because this style goes from angry thought to aggressive response so quickly, it can initially be hard for these folks to get their thinking, then reacting, under control.

I am sure we have all been around people who were so defensive, so touchy and seem to takes things so personally that no matter how careful you are to express your concern they respond with hostility. These people seem perpetually on the ready to defend themselves against any perceived personal attack.

There is a good reason why folks who learned Defensive Anger are defensive.

Have you heard the expression “The best defense is a good offense?” Or “You better get them before they get you”?

As mentioned earlier, we learn our anger style from those adults who taught us how to operate in the world. People with this style have as their common experience growing up being criticized, put down, degraded, humiliated and emotionally attacked by the adults around them.

These folks have feelers reaching out far ahead of them warning of an oncoming assault. Can you blame them? Who wants to be degraded, insulted and made to feel worthless?

To avoid more of these internalized feelings they attack first. They become what we call “defensive” - makes perfect sense.

The problem, however, is that not everyone is out to attack them yet they react defensively with most people. It can be a real problem.

Intimidating Anger is just as the name implies. This style responds to feeling angry by intimidating others. They use intimidation as a power play.

On the schoolyard they are called bullies. They intentionally use power or force to get what they want.

The quicker and stronger the presentation of this style the more intimidating and likely they are to get what they want. Intimidating Anger uses threats and posturing to control the behaviors of others.

The last of the Quick Anger styles is what I call Anger for Kicks and I think this is the most dangerous of all the styles as it has the greatest disregard for the rights, boundaries and integrity of others.

Anger for Kicks is aggression for entertainment.

Anger can be an intense emotion. Aggression can be an enervating behavior. People that express anger for entertainment do so at the expense of others.

A few years ago there was a story of a few early twenty-somethings living in the Pacific Northwest. They were caught on video surveillance attacking a sleeping homeless person. They were shown kicking, hitting and assaulting this man all the while apparently enjoying themselves. They ended up killing him.

I think the classic example of this is the character Alex DeLarge played by Malcolm McDowell in Stanley Kubric’s A Clockwork Orange. If you haven’t seen the movie, you should as it is a great piece of film and a good clinical study in anger styles.

On a more contemporary note you have probably seen in movies or on TV carloads of gangbangers driving around terrorizing their neighbors and delighting in doing so. This expression of aggressive behavior brings enjoyment by hurting others.

Chronic Anger

Chronic Anger is broken down into Habitual Anger, Moral Anger and Ism Anger. Of all the styles Chronic Anger can be the hardest to change. As we know, all anger styles are learned responses. This means that a person can learn a different response. People can change.

The difficulty with Chronic Anger is that this style is built into the fabric of who the person is. Chronic Anger becomes the person’s world view. Elders teach this world view to their children.

You likely know someone who seems to carry a chip on their shoulder. They are always angry or upset about something. These folks complain about and criticize the boss, the kids, the spouse, the economy, the government, the phone company, the quality of produce at the supermarket, the list goes on and on. They wake up full of complaints and negativity. They spread criticism and negativity throughout the day and they go to bed negative, unhappy and complaining. They are a true drag to be around.

The presentation above describes Habitual Anger. Criticism and complaint seem built into the fabric of who they are.

Here is a true life story:

In the summer of 1990 I was dropping off my oldest daughter at a birthday party. I was on the driveway of the house where the party was taking place talking to another dad. A girl ran between us happy to join the party. Soon, her father followed behind her. As he approached us I introduced myself. He stuck out his hand saying, “Hi. I’m Trouble Maker.” Yup, swear to God this is true.

His response caught me off guard. As a therapist I have heard a lot of interesting stories from folks, but not one who introduced himself in such a way.

Right after his introduction he went on to express his disappointment with the local government…how he had been born in this town…how things have gone down hill…how no one cares…how people are idiots…etc.

It dawned on me he was responding with Chronic Anger, specifically Habitual Anger.

I, like most others, simply wanted to get away from this guy. I quickly made some excuse to leave and drove away with him still railing on about his collection of complaints to whoever was listening.

Moral Anger is another form of Chronic Anger, but this style cuts both ways.

Moral Anger as a style is best expressed with the belief that what someone else is doing to you is wrong and you are morally justified, because you have God on your side, to do what is needed to right the perceived wrong.

On the positive side we can view the Civil Rights Movement in this way. People believed they were being treated unfairly and were being denied their basic civil and human rights. They were understandably upset and decided to right this wrong. Folks were angry. Enough was enough.

Paraphrasing Albert Finney’s character in the movie Network folks were, “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”

And so the leaders of this movement set about to create a change.

We can view Gandhi’s effort to oust the British as an expression of Moral Anger. Both of these movements chose non-violence as their path. Not all efforts to create change are as wise or disciplined.

But Moral Anger cuts both ways as opposite groups can claim the moral high ground.

In a simplified form we can see the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in this way. Each group is convinced of their moral position. Each group teaches their moral position to their young. Their respective moral positions become built into the fabric of the individuals and society at large. Both sides are mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore. The conflict passes from generation to generation. In this dynamic the social anger and desire to create a change is all too often expressed violently.

The United States is trying to deal with terrorist groups that believe it is their God given right to kill Americans. Many Americans believe it is our God-given right to protect ourselves by killing terrorists.

The last of the Chronic Anger styles is what I call Ism Anger.

Ism Anger is an expression of all of the Isms. Racism. Sexism. Ageism, etc. Ism Anger is about not seeing the individual, but only focusing on the group they are a part of, and, because that particular group is seen as bad, so too is the individual.

Therefore, because any one individual is from that group, they are one of them. And we all know how they are, don’t we? They are loud, aggressive, uneducated, drug addicts, shifty, sneaky, drunkards, backwards…etc.

They suck and because you are one of them, you suck.

The result of these long winded description of Anger Styles is that we do not all express our anger the same way, the rules are different for men and women, culture makes a difference, our style is a learned response and given that we can learn a different response to feeling angry.

>strong>Therefore, how do we go about changing or managing our response to feeling angry?

There are two ways we can do this. First, we can change our thoughts or the meaning we attach to any event that creates discomfort. Second, we can change our physiologic response to feeling angry.

Learning better control in either of these areas can produce positive change. Changing our thinking or the meaning we attach to an event is offered first as thoughts come before behavior and represent the first chance to respond differently.

Angry Thoughts

We know through psychology that thoughts precede feeling which precedes actions. Angry thoughts are those thoughts that set up an angry response. Angry thoughts fall into two categories.

  • “Right and wrong” and
  • “How could you?”

Right and Wrong

“Right and wrong” thoughts are those types of thoughts that express a right and a wrong way to do things.

People who tend to get angry with “right and wrong” thoughts get upset when correct procedures are not followed, when boundaries or limits are not kept, when proper decorum is not followed, when the rules are not followed and when policies are not enforced.

Example: A person cuts you off in traffic.

Response: “What’s wrong with this person? Don’t they know they need to signal before they make a lane change? Did they get their driver’s license off a cereal box?” Or, “Don’t these types of people know they have to be able to see the front of my car in their mirror before they change lanes?” Or, “Hey, do you think it’s your birthday? Since when don you not have to follow the same rules as we do? Do you think you are special?”

How Could You?

“How could you” thinking is expressed by a person believing the other person is taking deliberate actions to make the person upset.

This type of thinking believes that others meant to get the person angry; that the other person, with intention, acted in such a way to cause upset. Expressions like “They are pulling on my last hair.” and “They left their socks on the ground just to piss me off.” are examples of this type of thinking.

Example: A person cuts you off in traffic.

Response: “Whoa, did you see that? That person just cut me off. Don’t they know I’m in a hurry to get home? Are they trying to get me mad?” Or, “These bad drivers really get on my nerves. They must know how hard they make it for everyone else.” Or, “Never fails…I always attract the knucklehead drivers who just have to get in front of me and go 10 miles an hour. They just love to ruin my entire ride home.”

Calming Thoughts

Calming thoughts are the opposite of Angry Thoughts. Calming Thoughts are those thoughts you think in place of Angry Thoughts.

A person cannot think two thoughts at the same time. Thoughts precede feelings which precede behaviors. You cannot be angry and peaceful at the same time.

Therefore, the idea is to actively replace Angry Thoughts with Calming Thoughts.

There are as many potentially Calming Thoughts as there are people to think them. Any Calming Thought that takes you away from an angry thought, feeling or behavior is moving in the right direction.

Here are some simple examples:

Situation: A person cuts you off in traffic.

Type of thought: Angry Thought, Right and Wrong type. “What’s wrong with this person? Don’t they know they need to signal before they make a lane change? Did they get their driver’s license off a cereal box? Don’t they know the correct way to change lanes?”

Calming Thought: “OK, clearly they don’t care about the rules of the road like I do. Not everyone does. I’m still safe. I’ll still make it home on time.”

Situation: A person cuts you off in traffic.

Type of thought: Angry Thought, How Could You type. “Whoa, did you see that? That person just cut me off. Don’t they know I’m in a hurry to get home? Are they trying to get me mad?”

Calming Thought: “OK, that was close. They probably didn’t see me there. They didn’t cut me off on purpose. I’m glad I’m still safe.”

What is needed when choosing a Calming Thought over an Angry Thought is for the person to slow their reaction down enough to decide how they want to respond.

This is the difference between responding and reacting. A response is usually a matter of choice and a reaction is more reflexive. We usually decide to respond, but don’t decide to react.

Therefore, the simple idea is that by changing our thought we change our reaction. And before we actually practice responding or reacting it is important that we make a preceding decision that we want to respond, rather than merely react.

It is important to know that we can take conscious control of our thinking and thereby gain control of our actions.

Alex’s story

This is a true story that happened to a former coworker of mine.

Years ago there was an advertising campaign for an electronics store that offered a free mountain bike with the purchase of a new stereo. My coworker Alex decided to take them up on the offer as he needed a new car stereo.

As Alex tells the story, he got his stereo and new bike, later deciding to take the bike out for a ride. He got on his biking clothes, put his day planner in his pack and off he went. He was living at the top of a dangerously steep hill and as he quickly gained speed he attempted to apply the brakes. The worst thing happened. The brakes did not work.

He said that what happened next was surreal. His perception of time became very slow and his concentration very focused. He knew he had to lay his bike down and he knew he was going to get hurt. “This is going to be bad.” he remembered thinking. He knew he could not make it to the bottom of the hill and even if he did his chances of making it unharmed through the cross-traffic were slim.

While still gaining speed he found a place to set his bike down. He rode alongside the curb and as he lay his bike down he reported that as he hit the ground, he bounced off his day planner and landed in some bushes. He did get banged up and bruised, but thank God there were no signs of blood or broken bones. As we know, he lived to tell the story.

So what does this story have to do with Anger Management? Alex realized the longer he waited, the worse his situation was going to get.

Therefore, the moral of the story is that it is always easier to stop the bike at the top of the hill than at the bottom. Alex knew the longer he waited the worse his situation was going to get. If he had waited until the bottom of the hill, he might not have been able to stop the bike and his safety would certainly have been in jeopardy.

In our own lives, it is often easier to stop a situation, or our anger, from escalating if we get to it as soon as possible. The longer we wait, the worse the situation, or our reaction, can get.

Our first opportunity to change our reaction is by changing our thinking. Specifically, we do this by changing our Angry Thoughts into Calming Thoughts.

Take a few minutes right now and review what has been presented so far.

  • What kind of anger style have you learned?
  • Considering your translation of events, do you think “right and wrong” or “how could you” thoughts?
  • When you do pull yourself back from being angry, what Calming Thoughts work well for you?
  • What is a current situation in which you want to start using a Calming Thought rather than an Angry Thought?
  • What Calming Thoughts will you begin to use?

Stress Management

The second half of Anger Management is learning how to control our physical reactions when angry.

As you might remember, the purpose of anger is to let us know when something is not right. When our mind perceives a threat our body becomes activated to deal with the threat. Our body will become activated whether the threat is real or not. Once our mind tells us “Uh oh!” our body gets ready to respond.

Have you ever been to the movie theatre to watch a scary movie?

Everyone in the theatre knows the movie is just make believe. We know as we eat that extra large box of overpriced popcorn that what is happening on the screen is not real.

Even though we know the movie is pretend, what happens? Before the main character opens the door where the villain is waiting our heart rate increases, our muscles become tense, we reach for the person next to us in anticipation of the grisly outcome yet to happen.

We know the threat is not real, but if our mind perceives a threat, real or not, our bodies become activated to respond to that threat. This is a good thing. (Except if you get covered in popcorn because your neighbor jumped out of his seat in fear.)

Think if it this way; Ever been at the edge of a dark alley? Can you picture the scene in your mind? You are all alone. There are broken bottles, trash and perhaps worse scattered along the edges of the alley. You stand there and think to yourself, “Do I really want to go down this alley?” You strain to see ahead of you. You’re listening for any sounds that might be out of place. Your heart is racing and warning you to be careful. Just thinking about such a scenario can raise your anxiety.

But why? You are actually sitting safely in front of the computer reading this. There is no real threat, but when your mind thinks there is, real or not, your body begins its autonomic automatic reaction.

This reaction is known as the Fight or Flight Syndrome. Our heart rates increase, blood pressure increases, blood flow is constricted in our extremities and shunted to our core and large muscle groups. Our pupils dilate, our hearing becomes more acute and our muscles tense. We are poised for action.

It is good that our bodies help us respond to the potential of harm. It is good that our bodies can help save ourselves from dangerous situations. The problem is when this protective reactivity happens when it is not needed. We can become highly reactive and stressed out.

For a more detailed description of Stress Management click on the link Management.

If we all suffer from the benefits and drawbacks of the automatic Fight or Flight Syndrome, what are we supposed to do?

As discussed earlier, the second half of Anger Management is learning how to cool off. The best way to do this is to change the thoughts that create our reactions. The second best way to do this is to change our physical reactions.

Stress Management Techniques

We all have a stress management plan. Most of us have enough things that we do to keep us out of the hospital before a stroke, heart attack or an ulcer cripples us.

Think about your stress management techniques. What do you do to relieve stress? Some likely answers are:

  • Listening to music
  • Talking to a friend
  • Walking along the beach, or in nature
  • Praying
  • Running
  • Taking a nap
  • Going on vacation
  • Reading
  • Going to the gym or yoga
  • Meditation
  • Shopping
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Watching TV

I will tell you what all these casual stress management techniques have in common, but I’d first like to compliment grandmothers.

You see, grandmothers are wise. They give us homespun advice that has survived generations. Grandmothers are apt to say things like, “The glass is half full, not half empty.” Or, “When God gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Or even, “Every cloud has a silver lining.”

But what do grandmothers and the above stress management techniques all have in common? The common denominator among all stress management techniques is that you must fist stop what you are doing and do something else and, second, you must put your mind on something else.

In other words, in order to read a book you must stop whatever else you are doing and pick up your book. You must, also, take your mind off your worries and place your focus on the story you are reading.

Another way to look at this is to consider that a crappy vacation is one in which you get yourself all packed and get out of town only to bring your worries and concerns with you. You go to a favorite location only to spend your time worrying about the problems back home. What a waste! You can stay home and worry for free. If you don’t both stop what you are doing AND put your mind on something more enjoyable, you will simply ruin what you are currently doing.

The best stress management technique

I listed a few stress management techniques, but there is one that is considered the best of them all. Any guesses?

It’s not sex, drugs or rock ‘n roll. The best stress management techniques is exercise. Yup. That’s right. Good old exercise.

Exercise is the best technique because through the actions taken the body gives the message to the brain that the threat (remember the “fight or flight response”) has been dealt with. The kinetic energy has been released.

You really can’t go too wrong with exercise as part of your stress management plan. Of course, this means exercising within the limits of your abilities and if using exercising equipment, using it properly.

Exercise can be a walk around the block, or dancing, or going to the gym, or casually riding your bike.

Exercise may be the best of the techniques, but it is not the most practical. What do you think would happen, if during a staff meeting, you decided to get up and do a few jumping jacks to burn off a little stress? Or, during a stressful conversation with your boss you decide to leave the meeting and run up and down a few flights of stairs? The outcome might not be so good. You probably would feel better, but you might be out of a job.

The most practical stress management technique

There is a technique that is both effective and practical. That technique is diaphragmatic breathing.

The diaphragm is the band of muscle that sits underneath your lungs that actually creates breathing by creating negative and positive pressure changes drawing air into your lungs or pushing out.

Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you? You were hit in the diaphragm. As you were gasping for breath your diaphragm was not working properly and you could not breathe until this band of muscle came back under your control.

We all used to breathe diaphragmatically. Yes, when you were a little rug rat you would breathe diaphragmatically. In fact, if you watch cats, dogs and babies when they sleep you will notice their stomach rising and falling as they breathe. They are breathing diaphragmatically, naturally.

What happened? If this is our natural state, how come we aren’t still breathing this way? Modern life happened.

As we feel progressively stressed out by trying to keep up with impacted schedules, multiple deadlines, competing priorities our bodies must gear up to meet these demands. One result is our breathing becomes more rapid and shallow. We effectively train ourselves out of diaphragmatic breathing.

What is diaphragmatic breathing? It is like deep breathing, but not quite.

How do we relearn diaphragmatic breathing?

Before I provide the instructions, let me provide a little more information. First, you cannot work at relaxing. Likewise, like you cannot work at falling asleep. You must simply let it happen. You can apply your attention to your breathing, but you must take the passive attitude of simply letting yourself become more relaxed.

With that said, here are a set of simple instructions that will help you relearn this valuable stress management technique.

  1. Get yourself into a comfortable position with your feet on the floor.
  2. Gently place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belt buckle or waist band. Your hands will do nothing more than go along for the ride. Your hands will give you information whether your chest or stomach are rising and falling as you breathe.
  3. Know that there is nothing else you are choosing to do right now. You are simply taking a few minutes to take a break. The earlier part of the day is over and the rest of the day is not here yet. Right now, right here, there is nothing else to be done but take a break and pay attention to your breathing.
  4. If you become distracted simply let these distractions pass you by as you bring your attention back to your breathing.
  5. Close your eyes. Picture in your mind as you breathe air in through your nose the air travels down past your lungs into your stomach. Picture in your mind and let yourself feel as though the air in your stomach causes it to gently inflate. You can picture in your mind a balloon in your stomach gently inflating as you inhale through your nose. As your stomach gently inflates, you will notice your lower hand rising ever so slightly.
  6. As you begin to exhale, picture in your mind, and let yourself feel, that your stomach gently relaxes and the air travels up past your lungs and out of your mouth.
  7. Go as slowly as needed so your breathing remains gentle and relaxed with the easy rise and fall of your stomach.
  8. Stay with this, the picture in your mind and feel from your body, of your stomach gently rising and falling as you breathe. Stay with this image and experience your breathing for the next few minutes.

That’s it! Not difficult instructions, but it can take some practice to really allow yourself to breathe diaphragmatically. Go slow. Go as slow as needed so your breathing remains relaxed and easy.

Diaphragmatic breathing can best be used…before a difficult meeting. Take a few deep breaths, get calm, focus on your game plan and proceed ahead.

Diaphragmatic breathing can best be used…during a difficult meeting. Instead of flying off the handle, take a few seconds to focus on your breathing, the rise and fall of your stomach, think of how you want to respond and then do so.

Diaphragmatic breathing can best be used…after a difficult meeting. Rather than run to your coworker to complain, take a minute, close your eyes, notice the rise and fall of your stomach, think about what response will be most helpful for you, then proceed ahead.

Putting it All Together

  • Anger is an emotion that serves a useful purpose.
  • Anger, when expressed constructively, can help solve problems.
  • We all have a learned way of expressing anger.
  • The first step in getting angry is to think about an event in a way that creates the emotion of anger. This is called an Angry Thought.
  • The second step in getting angry is how we express the emotion of anger.
  • To avoid getting angry think about an event in a way that creates something other than the emotion of anger. We do this by using a Calming Thought.
  • Responding is better than reacting.
  • The sooner we can stop the escalation of thoughts and actions toward aggression, the easier it will be to change our behaviors.
  • The second half of Anger Management is Stress Management. Namely, learning to calm the body’s reactions down.
  • We all have a stress management plan.
  • The Fight or Flight Response is designed to help deal with a real or perceived threat.
  • The basis of all stress management techniques is to stop what you are doing and put the focus of your thoughts somewhere.
  • Exercise is the best stress management technique but not the most practical.
  • We all used to breathe diaphragmatically, but as adults we must relearn how to do this.

Congratulations! You have made it through a lot of information. With your new understanding and practicing some of the ideas presented here you should be able to create some of the changes you are looking for.