Author: Michelle Mamerto
Many, many years ago, during a time my daughter likes to call “the late 1900s” (we can all cringe now), my parents received a call from the elementary school office. On that rainy walk home from school, a 12-year-old bully decided to pick on me, a first grader. He yelled obscenities at me, took my umbrella from my hands, and ran off with it. My 5-year-old brother, in a blind and protective rage, grabbed the bully by his coat pocket and held on for dear life, while the boy ran, dragging my brother with him until the coat ripped, stitch by stitch. The bully gave back what he had taken from me, afraid of his parents’ wrath when they saw his poor coat. My brother was lucky that no one was hurt. The anger from both boys had caused one of them to pick on small kids, and to use vocabulary reserved for our dad - and only during the most frustrating of traffic jams. For my brother, anger led him to stand up to someone much larger than he was, in an unfair match.
Why is anger so difficult to manage? Anger is an emotion that sometimes gets the best of us before we even know what’s happening. Failing to manage anger can cause us to say things that are hurtful, waste time, or hurt relationships, and can even lead to health concerns. When anger goes unchecked or suppressed, it can become problematic and lead to aggressive or violent behavior. The emotions that play a role in our body’s natural defenses can end up hurting more than helping. In my brother’s case, it resulted in damage to property and an afterschool sentence.
Some strategies for managing anger are:
1) Talk to someone. Whether it’s a good friend to whom you can vent, or a therapist, who can help you sort out your anger and help you change how you deal with it, it’s important that you have someone to speak with.
2) Know your triggers. If you are able to identify the causes of your anger, it will be much easier to walk away from situations that fuel your emotions, or to disengage from conversations that you know will set off a fuse.
3) Work out. Regular exercise helps you decompress and helps to clear one’s mind. Aerobic activity relieves stress. Moreover, exercise is good for your mental and physical health!
4) Focus on the facts. Instead of letting emotions get the best of you and allowing your anger to escalate, focus on what is truly happening. Rather than thinking about how a train delay will mess up your entire day, recalibrate your thinking: “This train picks up thousands of people every single day. Of course there will be delays from time to time.”
5) Distract yourself with an activity. There is a long-running TV show about doctors in Seattle, and one of them would “stress bake” whenever she was angry or feeling overwhelmed. Going over a horrible situation over and over again in your head (ruminating) keeps your mood in a state of anger. Do an activity that requires your attention and distracts your thinking. Examples of activities include: playing with pets, cooking, gardening, and yes, baking.
6) Breathe. Breathing exercises help you relax, and you can do them wherever you are. Breathing exercises sometimes take time to learn, so be patient. They work!
On that rainy day, so many years ago, when my parents got called into the principal’s office, my brother and I saw the anger in their faces as they walked into the school- angry that they had to leave work early to deal with a disciplinary issue, angry that they had to leave work early to deal with a disciplinary issue, angry that my brother got into a 'fight', angry that there was a child bullying their kids, and angry as they asked the principal why the older boy and his family weren't called into the office like we had been. As my parents heard our side of the story, that anger turned into relief that no one was hurt, and then it turned into pride that their kids worked as a team- one to confront a bully, and the other to scream for help because we were in a dangerous situation. It was that instance that taught us that it was okay to be angry, but not to stay that way for too long, to manage anger before we got ourselves and possibly others into trouble, and to reframe our thinking to look for the good in situations. I don’t know whatever happened to our bully, but we never saw him again.
If you are experiencing anger, and it is causing issues in your life, please speak to a doctor or mental health professional.