Riley was livid. His heart was pumping out of his chest. His hands were shaking, and all he could think about was, “This is it. It’s go time.”
Riley is not an MMA fighter or a warrior about to enter battle. He is a regular guy who got cut off for a parking spot. He was turning into the last available spot. It was clear to everyone around that he had the right of way to the spot. As he was about to park, a small car swooped in and took HIS spot. The guy parked and got out of his car without even glancing in Riley’s direction. Riley was livid. Every scenario ran through his head as the guy was parking. He could park right behind him, get out and confront him. He could park, follow him in, and then confront him. He could park where he was, get out and start yelling. In Riley’s mind, the options were limitless, and they all involved making the guy pay.
Riley parked his car in a spot he found forty seconds later, took a deep breath and went into the store to buy his snacks for guys’ night. He did not confront the guy; he did not slam the back of his car with his fist. He let it go. Well, kind of. He could not get it out of his head. He was mad, and didn’t he have a right to be?
Here’s another scenario: Your wife told you she would be ready at 6:30 p.m. so you could make it to the party by 7 p.m. It is now 7:15.p.m. and she is just getting her purse and shoes. You are sitting in the car and your head feels like it is about to explode. You clench your jaw, hold the steering wheel very tight. Your breathing is short and shallow. After ten minutes in the car, she asks if something is wrong, but you tell her “no” and that you’ve just had a busy day.
This is a different way of being angry, but the man in the second scenario is just as upset as the first. He is just expressing it differently. Whether it is explosive, or a slow boiling over, anger can be destructive if it is not channeled properly.
Is it okay to be angry?
A question I hear a lot in counseling: “Is it okay to be angry?”
Another one I hear is, “I don’t know what to do because it’s like I’m not allowed to be upset about it?”
Some of us are so afraid of hurting those around us, that we have swung too far the other way. Anger is not a bad emotion.
Anger can be useful and is a naturally occurring emotion that can propel us forward in many situations. Anger of injustice can motivate someone to stand up for a cause they believe in. Anger of bad guys can cause an army infantry man in a scary situation to ignore the horror of battle and fight bad guys. Anger can be useful, but as we have seen lately in the news, anger can also lead to domestic abuse, bullying or murder.
If we keep our anger in, it is possible that we end up expressing it in unhealthy ways like violence or addiction, or it boils over and can do more damage than when you first felt it. Here are three ways to express/deal with your anger in a healthy, creative way.
1) Exert Yourself.
It is hard to be angry when you are tired. This is also a great opportunity to be in the great outdoors which can distract you from the original source of anger. Anger can often make us want to be physical, and for some that first response is to lash out. Express yourself physically but in a controlled, productive way. Whether it is hiking, running, riding a bike or lifting heavy weights by the time you are done you will find your anger is either gone, or not as strong as when you first started.
2) Take a time out.
If you are surrounded by people and your anger is going to make you explode, get out of there. The amygdala is the part of your brain that takes over when it is afraid or believes you are in danger. It completely takes over and can require up to 20-30 minutes after the initial source of fear or anger, before you are back in control.
Once you are in control, you are now dealing with all the stress hormones your body released to help you deal with what it thought was a life-threatening issue. You are in no shape to have an important conversation at this point. Take a shower, go for a walk, or take a nap in your hammock—the important part is that you separate yourself from the source of your anger and allow yourself the opportunity to calm down. This is also a helpful exercise for those who say they are not angry, but it is obvious to everyone else they are. Separation from the source, or the argument is the main idea. It is very hard to put out a fire if instead of dumping water we dump gasoline. Remove yourself from the gasoline.
3) Talk about it.
The crazy thing is that you do not even have to talk about it with someone else. There have been many times as I was driving where someone has made me extremely upset and I start yelling and hollering and talking at my steering wheel. About five minutes later, I have let it go and I am back to singing my favorite song. The key is to talk about it in a constructive way, or make sure if you are yelling, you are alone and in an appropriate place to express your anger.
In counseling, when I am working with a client to find coping skills to deal with anger, anxiety or depression, the final skill I give them is a question. This question is to be used if they find something that works, but they are not sure if it is healthy.
“Am I harming myself or anyone else by doing this, and if not, is it working (relieving the anger)?”
When it comes to anger this is so important because it makes you aware of your surroundings. Punching your steering wheel might feel good, but is your three-year-old in the back seat watching you? Here’s the bottom line: It is okay to express your anger. Just be aware of your surroundings and make sure you are doing it in a way that is helpful to you and not harmful to you or others around you.
If you are interested in learning more about anger or working with a professional to find creative ways to deal with anger, contact us at [email protected]. Our counseling center offers a safe creative environment that can help you tackle important issues like anger and so much more.
Drew Dilisio is the Director of Counseling Services at Good Dads. He is a graduate of Evangel University’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, a husband and father. He can be reached for question or comment at [email protected].