Ask Paul at the RSIC: Managing anger an important way to stay healthy
April 18, 2018
RENO, Nev. — Many times I see people who are frustrated and angry. They can't really define where their anger comes from — they just know they have it. Not being able to define why they have this angry emotion leads to more frustration and ultimately more anger — a vicious cycle.
Sometimes the person reaches out for relief in the form of substance use or harmful behaviors. Anger is actually a healthy emotion that motivates people to take action. The source of anger can come from sadness, feeling hurt, feelings of being treated unfairly, not being heard, having no control in a situation, or feeling threatened. Counseling can help find the source of the anger and offer methods to deal with it.
The downside of anger
Anger can lead to destructive behaviors, especially if alcohol or drugs are involved. One of the reasons alcohol and substances are dangerous is because they stop the person from thinking clearly.
The person under the influence takes every situation, emotion, word or facial expression very personally and hyper-exaggerates their meanings. This mindset, paired with the compulsive fight or flight response, can result in a cycle of verbal and physical altercations and, says Dr. Art Martinez, a member of the Chumash Tribe of California, "we don't learn to grow from our experiences."
Let's see how we can make anger productive. First, calm down and figure out what you want. This may take a few minutes or a few days. Don't worry — this time will be well spent.
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Think about your mindset the last time you were in a conflict. Think about your fantasy conversation afterward. Think about how you said the perfect thing to put the other person in his or her place, and of course, how the imaginary audience came around to understanding and believing in your thought process.
You were the hero, and the foolish person who dared cross you lost all of his dignity and respect, never to be heard from again!
You won, they lost, and all is right with the world. Well, maybe not. Let's get back to reality. You have to calm down your mind to think clearly. The adrenaline and other action chemicals that surge through your body when you get into a fight serve one purpose: to help you physically prepare to fight or run.
This cascade of chemical release does not help you prepare mentally or allow you to look at the whole picture for an optimal outcome. Once the threat has passed, however, you can clear your mind and use all of your mental ability to create a situation that is beneficial to everyone involved.
In the book, "The Red Road to Wellbriety," the Elders teach us "When the struggle starts, get happy. It means a change is starting to occur. Conflict precedes clarity."
When a person is angry, he tends to raise his voice and become verbally and physically intimidating to get what he thinks he wants at the moment or to win.
Be careful. Words can be expensive, and the result of verbally attacking someone makes the other person defensive and unreceptive. If the other person feels threatened, his fight or flight chemical reaction will be engaged as well.
This results in two people who are angry and not communicating. It's hard to be respectful, caring, and maintain relationships when people are attacking each other, and someone always loses.
The person who loses now has a grudge or resentment and may try to get even. Ask yourself this question: "The last time I saw someone in a conflict, who did I respect more, the person who was calm and level-headed or the person who was emotional and seemed to lose control?"
Protect your 'brand'
Think of your words and actions as your brand. Think of companies like Coca Cola, McDonald's and Apple. They spend a lot of money and effort protecting their brand and image.
You have your own brand too. When a person loses control or is described as a hothead or reckless, it tends to draw people away. Also, using curse words never helps your brand. The initial shock value of a curse word and the fleeting sense of being "cool" is temporary. Speaking with purpose and using a clean vocabulary will last a lifetime.
As your reputation or "brand" is created by your reactions to situations, it's good to use some calming strategies. The idea is not to lose a friend, acquaintance, or coworker over the situation. The clear-headed, cool response will generally prevail.
If you find you cannot avoid an altercation, try this strategy. Say, "You may be right, let's think about this and talk later." This simple phrase lets both people leave with dignity and respect. It's also an open- ended invitation to review the problem at another time.
This way the problem remains the problem and the other person has not become the problem. When you can think about your thoughts, you can control your thoughts. If you can control your thoughts, you can control your actions.
We have many thoughts that go through our brains every day. The first thought may not be your best thought, but you are responsible for your second thought and first action.
Don't hold grudges
Remember, it's OK to be angry. If you have to be angry, recognize where you are and who will be impacted. Sometimes you may have to break away from the situation and vent.
If this is the case, be angry for two minutes alone then stop. Do not let yourself hold grudges or resentments because then you are the one who holds the extra burden. The optimal outcome is for everyone involved, including you!
These methods are just a few ideas to avoid potentially harmful situations. To understand the root cause of the anger, see a qualified professional where we can resolve the anger issue together.
"Ask Paul" is a health column by Paul Snyder, MA, LADC-S, a Substance Use Counselor at the Reno-Sparks Tribal Health Center. It publishes each month in The Camp News, the monthly newsletter for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony community. Have a question for Paul? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.