This stage of life is hard sometimes. So much is changing, suddenly and simultaneously, internally and around us, and it’s difficult to process everything objectively. Sometimes, things happen that just make us mad.
When someone makes an inappropriate joke about an age related aspect of our appearance, when we’re overlooked for a job opportunity or promotion because of ageism, something as simple as struggling to open a tight fitting jar lid with arthritic hands can summon our anger.
We’ve been warned by every modern day, self-help guru not to allow this supposedly inappropriate emotion to rule our life. That’s sound advice. But anger is a legitimate response to some situations, and attempting to banish it from our well stocked cache of emotions is misguided and probably futile.
However, it is also wise to have a secondary response to deal with its fallout.
Anger can cause us to act irrationally, jump to conclusions, overreact and make grand statements that may do unrepairable damage to valued relationships, or just leave us looking like a fool. Exercising some constraint and knowing what to do next is crucial.
Feel the effects of the anger – rapid heart rate, flushing cheeks, and muscle tension are all physical responses to adrenaline and cortisol, produced by the body as a defense. It’s important to understand and accept that anger is a natural response.
Remember how our mothers taught us to count to 10 before responding? That was good advice. We need a few seconds to allow our minds to effectively process what’s happening and to decide on a suitable reaction. Taking a few breaths, lowering our shoulders, unclenching our jaw may help to release the tension.
We sometimes exaggerate the importance of circumstances or interactions that get our ire up. Temporary agitation might not be worth dismantling a friendship or quitting a job. Try to take a big picture view before reacting.
Before the volcano erupts, set some ground rules. I grew up with a pretty volatile personality. Once I realized it was alienating me from people I really liked, I made some changes in how I react.
I never resort to name calling, shaming, or any sort of physical demonstrations like slamming doors or driving recklessly, and I try to refrain from raising my voice or dredging up past indiscretions. Making these agreements with ourselves can help avoid escalating the situation, so it can be peacefully resolved.
I notice if I drink three cups of chai in the morning, rather than my usual two, I get very irritable about two hours later, and small frustrations become a source of unreasonable agitation. Watch out for chemical stimulants and limit intake.
The energy produced by the physical reaction to anger needs somewhere to go, some way to dissipate. I choose physical exercise. I go for a hike in the hills, take a fast paced walk, scrub the floor or do some strenuous yard work. Find whatever helps to release any residual feeling of agitation.
Sometimes, our anger is directed at someone we truly care about, when they’ve done something, or neglected to do something, that makes us angry. The goal is not only to defuse the current situation, but to work out how it can be avoided in the future.
Be honest and explain why what is happening is a problem. In most circumstances, once it’s pointed out, or we’ve asked another for help, people are usually willing to make amends.
Giving ourselves some time and space to settle down, thinking reasonably about what happened and circling back when we’re ready, might present an opportunity for growth and deeper understanding.
Anger is a basic human response. Don’t beat yourself up about it. But do find ways to live with it that work for you and allow you to enjoy a more peaceful existence. It’s worth the effort.
How often do you get angry? What triggers this emotion in you? Do you think it’s natural to get angry? Is it a good idea to hold in your anger? What advice do you have from personal experience?