If you find yourself getting angry more often than you’d like, it may be time to take an interest in reducing your stress levels.
It’s the weekend. You come home from an afternoon with friends. The sink is full of dishes from breakfast and lunch. You had a relaxing day so you don’t mind doing the dishes. You have the thought that your partner should’ve cleaned up, but you let it go, knowing that the kids can be a handful.
Fast forward to Wednesday. You walk in the door and the kitchen is a mess. You just worked a 10-hour day, full of deadlines and back-to-back meetings. This time, doing the dishes feels like a really big deal. It infuriates you that your partner left the kitchen like this and you find yourself yelling at them for the disaster that you walked into.
Stress can be a major component of anger. As the example above shows, the stress that leads to the anger explosion doesn’t even need to be related to what ultimately triggers you. That’s because stress tolerance is similar to a balloon. If air keeps getting pumped into it with no relief and no chance to let it out slowly, the balloon will explode. When we find ourselves exploding out of anger more frequently than normal, it’s important to stop and ask ourselves:
- Am I stressed?
- Do I have things going on in my life that have added too much to my plate right now?
- Do I need to do more for myself right now to relax so that I don’t erupt during challenging moments?
In many cases, people can manage their overall stress level and feel less triggered by what might otherwise be an anger-inducing situation. In contrast, when we stay stressed, we can get tunnel vision when we become angry: we may truly believe that the person who didn’t do the dishes is the sole source of our problems without even realizing how many other stressors are contributing to our anger. To avoid taking our feelings out on someone undeserving, it’s important to address our feelings of overwhelm, hurt, or sadness about things such as a tough day at work, so that anger about dirty dishes doesn’t get blown out of proportion.
The impacts of stress
Research shows that stress can have multiple negative impacts on our ability to cope with emotions such as anger. Studies have shown that stressed states lead to higher levels of anger reactions in anger-inducing situations for adults. When stress is ongoing, it can actually reduce the grey matter in the brain, which is partly responsible for regulating emotion. Without the ability to regulate emotion, we’re much less equipped to manage our anger appropriately and more likely to simply allow hurtful things to come barreling out of our mouths. Also, social stress can kill off nerve cells in the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and emotion—which may contribute to depression—another mental state that can make it difficult to cope when anger arises.
Stress management for anger reduction
There are many techniques you can employ to keep anger from feeling unmanageable. If the day-to-day grind is getting to you and you are angry because you are feeling overwhelmed, it is important to find ways to relax and—if possible, take some things off your plate. Try the following techniques:
- Delegate. Whether at work or home, asking for help is a great way to manage stress and overwhelm. Let your coworkers and family know that you need help, keeping in mind that the person and your role in the relationship may impact how you communicate this. Some people need specific direction about what to do while others just need to know that the need exists, and they will jump right in. If you are in a position of authority, as a boss or a caregiver, you can respectfully tell someone that they need to help you. However, when speaking with an equal like a partner or a coworker, or when in a subordinate position when speaking with a boss, you will need to ask instead of tell.
• Take frequent breaks. Consider creating your own healthy version of a smoke break without the smoking. While smoking itself is not good for your mental or physical health, the act of getting up every couple of hours to go outside and just breathe is great for your mental health. Take a cue from the ethos of smokers who take breaks every couple of hours and you may find yourself much more centered and attuned to your wants and needs throughout the day. Use these breaks to get some water, coffee, or tea, to take a short walk, to breathe deeply or practice mindfulness, or to talk to a friend. If you notice your mind telling you that you’ll be more stressed if you take a break, remember that we can work more effectively and efficiently when we are less stressed.
- Move your body. Keeping your limbs, ligaments, and other body parts in motion can really loosen up your mind during times of stress. If dedicating a chunk of time to movement feels too daunting, try incorporating it in small ways: park a little further from the store when you go to get groceries; take the stairs instead of the elevator, or perhaps do some house cleaning to get the added movement benefits. Whatever you do, that movement is likely to release some of the stress that’s been building up in your body.
- Get ample sleep. Managing stress and other emotions is more difficult when we are sleep-deprived. Set the scene for a good night’s sleep. Close the blinds, make sure that the room is not too cold and not too hot, and turn off electronics at least one hour before bedtime. Avoid caffeine after lunch and use your room for only sleep-related activities. The more you can ensure you are getting the sleep you need during this time, the better chance you’ll have at bringing down your stress level.
Curbing stress and its impact on anger are not easy to do alone. It can often feel so much easier to stay stuck in the stress and the anger rather than trying new things that may feel weird at first. If you or someone you love would benefit from support in learning how to manage anger and stress, Serenity Solutions will be offering our Anger Management group starting on October 13, 2022. It helps to have the support of a therapist and others who can relate to help you learn these coping skills and make long-lasting changes. Give us a call at 267-317-8817 or schedule your free 15-minute phone consultation here to learn more and register.