In the last two weeks or so I have been angry, really angry, a couple of times. And the anger has exhausted me each time it arrives. I have suddenly felt tired, my eyes lose their sparkle and the gray circles beneath them show up, and I physically just want to curl up in a ball and sleep.
If I think about it, this isn’t too surprising. Anger happens when our needs and values are stepped on or disrespected. And that hurts. Any kind of pain, physical or emotional, makes us tired.
And the emotional impact of anger is much wider and deeper than other emotions. It’s more like a bomb blast going off- scattering feelings and pain all over the place. It also leaves a crater- a place where our emotional and physical selves are lower than where we first started.Anger: worse off than when I started.
In my case, my anger was only justified in one situation. But, I’ll be bold here and say that it doesn’t matter if anger is justified or not. Anger happens. It’s part of the human condition.
But still…anger is difficult. And dealing with it -both expressing it and recovering from anger directed at you- in a healthy way takes intention and practice and patience and self-kindness (also difficult to come by when you’re angry-nevertheless, we try…).
Getting Through Anger
One of my favorite songs at the moment says:
if our hearts are never broken/
then there’s no joy in the mending/
there’s so much this hurt can teach us both
(“New York”/ Fallen Empires / Snow Patrol)
In the spirit of learning from the pain, and thereby turning it into something useful, I offer you what I learned these past two weeks about dealing with anger.
1. Let it all out. During one of my angry moments, I was in an inappropriate place to express my feelings. I made sure that I scheduled an appropriate time and place to process. To cry, to piss & moan, to vent. I also had a kind friend who would let me go over every detail of the interaction, multiple times, until I had gotten everything out.
Getting out the anger by expressing it verbally isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But if we don’t express it somehow, the impact isn’t just emotional, it’s physical. Those who are less likely to express themselves are more likely to have heart disease, depression, and stress-related diseases.
2. Accepting support. It was difficult, but in the midst of my anger I knew I didn’t want to cut myself off from supportive resources. This meant I had to intentionally soften and open my heart when I usually would have reacted by closing it and hiding away from others.
But by staying open I got so much in return: love, acceptance, support, and compassion from family, friends, and co-workers. (This is a shout out to: JM, GM, NM, the WoW chicks, DS, KL, JB, CC, and JC- who unknowingly made me laugh when I most needed it. Thanks to you all!)
3. Time out. Adults need these, too! I took myself to my car, found the loudest song I could, and turned up the volume until I could feel the music move through me physically (better speakers are worth the cost, BTW). I figure if you can use sound waves to break up kidney stones, you can use music to dissipate anger. It worked.
4. Fantasize. There were two kinds of fantasy I let myself indulge in when I was angry. The first helped get rid of the anger because I imagined, in full detail, all the nasty things I would have liked to say or do to the person I was angry at. This also made me laugh.
The second kind of fantasy helped me to find out what I could learn from the situation. I imagined how I would have preferred to handle the situation or how I would like to handle it in the future. This not only transforms the anger, it also helps train the brain to handle the situation more calmly next time, because the connections are already laid down.
5. Do something physical. The thing that actually helped me regain more of my energy was detailing my car. It was gross after a family trip to Caratunk Wildlife Refuge and it needed the cleaning. The act of lugging the giant vacuum cleaner up from the basement, pulling the bits and pieces out of the car, vacuuming, wiping, washing, etc. helped dissipate my anger, sadness, and frustration more than anything. I felt tired from the work, but no longer tired from the emotion.
I don’t have any snappy ways to tie this one up. Maybe because it’s so fresh for me. What I can say is this: anger is exhausting. By choosing to work with anger you are helping your mind, body, and spirit. You’re choosing health.
Thanks for reading.