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What to do next time you're angry

BY JUSTIN HAGAN

We all get angry.

And when we get angry, we have our go-to ways (usually subconscious) to respond. I was raised in the Midwest, and like a classic Midwesterner I bury my anger and then watch it leak out into my conversations and relationships in the form of sarcastic comments, passive aggressiveness, and who can forget, the cold shoulder.

I'm really fun, I swear.

These are all, albeit, unhealthy ways we try to cope.
And we aren’t the only ones that do this. It turns out coping is pretty universal. Rats do it too.

Physiologist Jay Weiss did a series of studies with rats that showed when under stress, if they had access to a running wheel or could gnaw on a piece of wood, they were less likely to develop ulcers. Their ability to self sooth lowered their levels of stress and improved their overall health.

Not into rats? Okay, here’s another example.

Researcher Robert Sapolsky in his book “Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers,” shares a story about the wild baboons he studies in Africa and their response to stress. Typically after losing a fight, baboons will respond by either beating up a lower ranking baboon, grooming or being groomed, or sulking. Interestingly, the baboons that either fought or spent some time on self care showed lower levels of stress.

Sulking, on the other hand, was not helpful.

Why bring up all these coping mechanisms in the animal kingdom?
It helps us see that self-soothing is a natural response.

But without a plan, it's easy to default to unhealthy ways of soothing.

Sure, being passive aggressive, lashing out, or sulking might feel good in the moment, but it doesn’t benefit you or your relationships. Below are some outlets to deal with anger in ways that are proven to reduce the amount of stress you’re experiencing.

A quick warning before we jump into this: it is always better for you to address an issue than put it off. In other words, if you’re upset or stressed over an issue you had with a friend, go talk to them about it. These following suggestions are most helpful when the solution is outside of your control or not immediately available.

Like rats, having an outlet for our anger is significantly healthier for us than having nothing at all. And while we don’t suggest gnawing a stick, here’s how Sapolsky defines an outlet:

“Outlets distract from the stressor and are something that is positive for you—a reminder that there’s more to life than whatever is making you crazed and stressed at the time.” 

Outlets aren’t meant to help you stuff a negative situation down or even distract you from it. They work best when they can help put your situation (anger or stress) into context. This will also help you navigate the situation better in the future. Outlets can be anything that you already love doing: going on a hike, making something with your hands, or reading a good book.

It’s well-known that exercise is a particularly good outlet. Why? When you encounter a stressful situation, your body enters its flight or fight mode, where resources are directed to the parts of your body that are deemed immediately useful to surviving. In other words, you have a shot of energy to your muscles. Why not do what your body was planning on doing anyways?

Community

At this point, it’s pretty well documented that having a strong social network has serious positive implications on your health. And this makes sense. Enter into a stressful situation and friends can typically help out with the physical demands of the situation, i.e. provide childcare, money, housing, food, etc. This kind of tangible help is effective at reducing stress and keeps us from entering into even more stressful situations.

Community plays another important role in relieving stress: it’s an anchor for our identity. Particularly difficult situations can make us doubt who we are. To give an example, say you fail one of your college courses. This may trigger thoughts about your intelligence, your worth, and you may start to think you’re stupid and believing these negative thoughts about your character can carry long term effects.

Your community (friends, family, etc.) will remind you that you are, in fact, not dumb. And instead, that it’s likely you just needed to give that difficult class more of your time. Stress can make us question who we are, but good friends serve as a counter balance to that by reminding us of what is actually true.

As a caution, social physiologist James Pennebaker notes, “If you have a trauma that you have not talked about with anyone, the number of friends you have is unrelated to your health. Social support protects your health only if you use it wisely.” In other words, having a lot of friends is great, but having honest conversations is a key component to community helping you through a particularly stressful time.

Reflect

In difficult situations, it’s easy to ruminate. Rumination is where our brains obsess over an unresolved and often stressful situation. It’s that quintessential moment long after an argument is over that you finally realize “If only I would’ve said _____, that would’ve really got to him.”

That’s rumination.

This obsessive rehashing of a situation isn’t helpful. Rumination doesn’t occur just in our thoughts, it can happen out loud as well. Telling everybody who will listen about that jerk that ripped you off, even though you’re fairly sure they’ve all heard it before. That’s rumination as well.

In our heads or out loud, rumination doesn’t leave us feeling any better than before. In fact, it usually leads to increased levels of stress in the long run.

So how do we actually get some perspective on a situation without falling into the easy trap of rumination? It turns out, a simple switch in how we think about the situation. Rumination focuses on re-living the situation, but reflection focuses more on the “why” of the situation. It’s asking questions like “why did this happen?” “how did things get to this point?” and “what is my role in this?” These kinds of reflection questions are more focused on an intellectual resolution to an issue than an emotional reliving of it.

How do you stay clear headed when trying to be reflective on an emotionally charged situation? Two of the most effective and proven ways are to talk to a good friend or write down your thoughts as you reflect.

What To Do The Next Time You're Angry

BY JUSTIN HAGAN

We all get angry.

And when we get angry, we have our go-to ways (usually subconscious) to respond. I was raised in the Midwest, and like a classic Midwesterner I bury my anger and then watch it leak out into my conversations and relationships in the form of sarcastic comments, passive aggressiveness, and who can forget, the cold shoulder.

I'm really fun, I swear.

  These are all, albeit, unhealthy ways we try to cope.
And we aren’t the only ones that do this. It turns out coping is pretty universal. Rats do it too.

Physiologist Jay Weiss did a series of studies with rats that showed when under stress, if they had access to a running wheel or could gnaw on a piece of wood, they were less likely to develop ulcers. Their ability to self sooth lowered their levels of stress and improved their overall health.

Not into rats? Okay, here’s another example.

Researcher Robert Sapolsky in his book “Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers,” shares a story about the wild baboons he studies in Africa and their response to stress. Typically after losing a fight, baboons will respond by either beating up a lower ranking baboon, grooming or being groomed, or sulking. Interestingly, the baboons that either fought or spent some time on self care showed lower levels of stress.

Sulking, on the other hand, was not helpful.

Why bring up all these coping mechanisms in the animal kingdom?
It helps us see that self-soothing is a natural response.

But without a plan, it's easy to default to unhealthy ways of soothing.

Sure, being passive aggressive, lashing out, or sulking might feel good in the moment, but it doesn’t benefit you or your relationships. Below are some outlets to deal with anger in ways that are proven to reduce the amount of stress you’re experiencing.

A quick warning before we jump into this: it is always better for you to address an issue than put it off. In other words, if you’re upset or stressed over an issue you had with a friend, go talk to them about it. These following suggestions are most helpful when the solution is outside of your control or not immediately available.

Like rats, having an outlet for our anger is significantly healthier for us than having nothing at all. And while we don’t suggest gnawing a stick, here’s how Sapolsky defines an outlet:

“Outlets distract from the stressor and are something that is positive for you—a reminder that there’s more to life than whatever is making you crazed and stressed at the time.” 

Outlets aren’t meant to help you stuff a negative situation down or even distract you from it. They work best when they can help put your situation (anger or stress) into context. This will also help you navigate the situation better in the future. Outlets can be anything that you already love doing: going on a hike, making something with your hands, or reading a good book.

It’s well-known that exercise is a particularly good outlet. Why? When you encounter a stressful situation, your body enters its flight or fight mode, where resources are directed to the parts of your body that are deemed immediately useful to surviving. In other words, you have a shot of energy to your muscles. Why not do what your body was planning on doing anyways?

Community

At this point, it’s pretty well documented that having a strong social network has serious positive implications on your health. And this makes sense. Enter into a stressful situation and friends can typically help out with the physical demands of the situation, i.e. provide childcare, money, housing, food, etc. This kind of tangible help is effective at reducing stress and keeps us from entering into even more stressful situations.

Community plays another important role in relieving stress: it’s an anchor for our identity. Particularly difficult situations can make us doubt who we are. To give an example, say you fail one of your college courses. This may trigger thoughts about your intelligence, your worth, and you may start to think you’re stupid and believing these negative thoughts about your character can carry long term effects.

Your community (friends, family, etc.) will remind you that you are, in fact, not dumb. And instead, that it’s likely you just needed to give that difficult class more of your time. Stress can make us question who we are, but good friends serve as a counter balance to that by reminding us of what is actually true.

As a caution, social physiologist James Pennebaker notes, “If you have a trauma that you have not talked about with anyone, the number of friends you have is unrelated to your health. Social support protects your health only if you use it wisely.” In other words, having a lot of friends is great, but having honest conversations is a key component to community helping you through a particularly stressful time.

Reflect

In difficult situations, it’s easy to ruminate. Rumination is where our brains obsess over an unresolved and often stressful situation. It’s that quintessential moment long after an argument is over that you finally realize “If only I would’ve said _____, that would’ve really got to him.”

That’s rumination.

This obsessive rehashing of a situation isn’t helpful. Rumination doesn’t occur just in our thoughts, it can happen out loud as well. Telling everybody who will listen about that jerk that ripped you off, even though you’re fairly sure they’ve all heard it before. That’s rumination as well.

In our heads or out loud, rumination doesn’t leave us feeling any better than before. In fact, it usually leads to increased levels of stress in the long run.

So how do we actually get some perspective on a situation without falling into the easy trap of rumination? It turns out, a simple switch in how we think about the situation. Rumination focuses on re-living the situation, but reflection focuses more on the “why” of the situation. It’s asking questions like “why did this happen?” “how did things get to this point?” and “what is my role in this?” These kinds of reflection questions are more focused on an intellectual resolution to an issue than an emotional reliving of it.

How do you stay clear headed when trying to be reflective on an emotionally charged situation? Two of the most effective and proven ways are to talk to a good friend or write down your thoughts as you reflect.