For many, anger is an uncomfortable feeling to avoid. For others, it is the moment we are motivated to “solve the problem.” It often leads to one or both of us raising our voices, saying words or taking actions we regret, and having a bigger mess to clean up afterwards. Why does this happen?
Research suggests this is partially due to anger generating the same physical and psychological responses as if our lives were in immediate danger. This includes the activation of the “fight, flight, freeze” response. In this mode, our body releases a burst of adrenaline and redirects blood flow to our extremities, which shuts down “unnecessary” functions such as the digestive and immune systems. Additionally, the brain’s frontal lobe (the reasoning center) decreases in activity while the other centers that are responsible for visual, auditory and tactile response increase. In short, we are more able to protect ourselves physically, but we are likely quite impaired when it comes to problem solving.
How do I address it?
In order to break this cycle, here is a simple strategy that helps many clients. This strategy is known as “The Four R's of Anger.”
- Recognize: Identify your personal signs of anger and be aware of when you start to experience them.
- Retreat: Immediately separate yourself from the situation and move to a place of safety.
- Relax: Participate in a soothing activity that is both helpful and healthy. (Avoid the use of alcohol or other mind-altering substances. They may help in relieving the physical symptoms, but they prevent the reasoning center of our brain from re-activating).
- Return: When possible, return to the situation once you are completely relaxed. If you notice the other person is still upset, repeat steps 1-3 for both yourself and the other person’s benefit. When you are both calm, follow these steps:
- Apologize for your part of the conflict, as applicable.
- Talk about how to do things differently next time, ie ask what can we do next time instead of yelling, cursing, throwing things, etc?
- Problem-solve the original motivator of the conflict, ie ask what are other options to deal with the problem at hand?
If you find yourself needing further support, make an appointment with a BJC EAP consultant by calling 314.747.7490.