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How To Manage Your Anger

2003-10-01 10:44:39

From rude drivers to anonymous hackers to co-workers that make your job harder than it should be, it seems that everyone is getting on your nerves and you're about to lose whatever hold you have left on your temper. What to do? Learn some anger management techniques. Here are a few that might help.

"When angry, count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, a hundred," said Thomas Jefferson. That's still good advice, says Dan Johnston, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Mercer University School of Medicine in Macon, Ga. The "energy" of anger often leads to impulsive behavior that only aggravates an already tense situation, Johnston tells WebMD. If given enough time to cool off, however, most people can learn to control their initial impulses.

Three Keys to Defusing Anger

Once more relaxed and in control, Johnston says, we're ready to "respond," which is the key word in dealing with anger. "Don't react," says Johnston. "Respond. Make a carefully considered choice about the best course of action to take and guide your response by the three anger-regulating principles of empathy, compassion, and assertion."

Empathy is the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view, Johnston tells WebMD. "Adopting an empathic stance opens the door to compassion by providing for a deeper emotional understanding of the source of conflict. Being compassionate in an anger-arousing situation allows for the deliberate choice of a tolerant but assertive response to resolving the conflict."

Choosing to respond assertively is different from the impulsive reaction of acting-out anger, Johnston says. An assertive response is characterized by standing up for our legitimate rights, but it does so in a manner that does not violate the rights of others. "Assertive behavior is a direct, honest, and appropriate expression of feelings and beliefs that helps to establish understanding, consensus, and cooperation."

Take One Step Back

To make sure you actually understand what you're angry about, paraphrase or clarify what the other person has said to you,says DeAnna Beckman, MSW, LISW, executive director of the Center for Threat Assessment at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. "This allows you to make sure you did not misunderstand the message," she tells WebMD, "and it focuses your brain on thinking, not reacting."

Beckman also suggests leaving the situation if necessary. "A simple, 'Can we discuss this later?' or, 'Can I get back to you on that?' can buy time to control your feelings. You can use that time to take a short walk or climb a flight or two of stairs to calm down," she says.

Now Five Steps Forward

Washington, D.C. therapist Mark Gorkin, LICSW, author of the forthcoming Practice Safe Stress: Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression, offers a five-step method for "constructive confrontation":

1.Use an "I" statement, question, or observation: "I'm concerned," "I'm confused," or "I'm frustrated" are good ways to begin your exchange. 2.Describe the problem specifically. Avoid judgmental accusations such as "You never get your work in on time." Instead, be specific: "I've asked you three times this week for the status of the systems report and I haven't received the report or any response. What's going on here?" 3.Explain why you're upset. Talk about effects and expectations. For example: "Because I didn't receive the report on time, I wasn't able to present it at the meeting and we had to postpone making a decision." That's the effect. The expectation: "We really need the data. I want to meet tomorrow morning at 9 to discuss where you are with the project." 4.Acknowledge the other person and ask for input. Let the other person know you have some understanding of what he's going through. For example: "I know you're working on several important projects. Tell me what's on your plate. Then we'll need to set priorities and upgrade the importance of this project." 5.Listen and let go. Once you've engaged in the first four steps, you can be more objective and can let go of any existing anger, hurt feelings, or questionable assumptions.

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