Anger Management

I am writing this at the start of Anger Awareness week, having been asked to put my “mental health correspondent” hat back on for my Kent-Teach colleagues. I’ll admit that I didn’t know that this was coming up until they asked if I could do a relevant article, and other than the odd comedy performance by Rhod Gilbert, I’ve not given anger much thought.

I started research for this article on my day off, with a cup of tea and the TV on in the background for company. Ironically, it was Jeremy Kyle, which is quite fitting. Before you judge, it was only because I hadn’t turned over after “Lorraine” whose accent is much more restful to do housework to. Thanks to a few google searches, I found that I am not the only one who hasn’t given anger that much thought. It is not that the research isn’t there. The Mental Health Organisation’s “Boiling Point Report” in 2008 found that there are few options for GPs if patients turn to them for help with problem anger, despite a few research studies that demonstrate that there are successful interventions that could be used. Their research showed that more than one in ten people felt that they have trouble controlling their anger, yet fewer than one in seven of those people have sought help for their difficulties. Given that twenty percent of respondents say that they have ended a relationship because of the other party’s behaviour when angry, this is a bit of a worry.

One statistic stood out to me; almost two thirds of people felt that people in general are getting angrier. I wonder if this is because we are generally more stressed. It is widely recognised that one of the behavioural symptoms of stress is irritability – or anger. I am sure then that it is no accident that Anger Awareness week comes at the beginning of December when many will be feeling the strain. Christmas (it’s ok, it’s December and therefore one can use the word legitimately now), is stressful as we all rush around juggling work, home, present buying and the pressure of expectation; that sense that we have to have fun “because it’s Christmas” and besides, everyone else is having a ball. We know this because everyone’s Facebook statuses tell us so. 

And so to the (hopefully) useful bit of the article. What do we actually do about it? I confess to the odd bit of road rage, and did lose a bet with my daughter that I could manage an entire journey without talking to the other drivers. She is right, they can’t hear me asking them who taught them to drive, or telling them that cutting me up on the motorway is not exactly safe. Or something like that. However, the British Association of Anger Management’s “Keep Cool Kit” is a great starting point. There are a range of techniques that it suggests. Its calming strategies include:

  • Remove yourself from the situation physically and emotionally if possible (this works for me in town on a busy Saturday when I can only manage so long before being rammed with a buggy or held up by a dawdler drives me to distraction).
  • Count backwards from 20 to 1 and/or take deep breaths.
  • Go for a walk, ideally in a park or open space (another favourite of mine, and great for a lunchtime de-stress).
  • Inhale relaxing aromatherapy oils, e.g. lavender.
  • Relax in a bath whilst listening to chilled music (not much use on the M20, but maybe an escape plan over Christmas?).
  • Let go of any expectations you might have.
  • Remember life is unfair!

Longer term strategies include various stress management techniques such as taking up and indulging in a new hobby, participating in sports or physical activity and taking up yoga or meditation.

These approaches are good for all of us and less stress will make us less irritable and less quick to anger. However, this is not about never being angry. The British Association of Anger Management quotes Lyman Abbott; “do not teach your children never to be angry; teach them how to be angry”. Bottling up our anger will only make it erupt Vesuvius-like, and probably at an inopportune moment. Managing our anger in bite-sized pieces will help us to let go of grudges and move on in a much healthier way.  I think my overall favourite quote though was “You don’t have to show up to every argument you’re invited to”.  At this time of year, we’re probably all invited to more than we would wish, but reminding ourselves that it is our choice whether we pitch up or not, is sage advice. 

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