If you believe that screaming and punching a pillow will make you feel less angry, think again.
Studies show that venting unpleasant emotions can reinforce those feelings. On the other hand, like Sigmund Freud said, bottling them up is usually even worse.
So, what can you do with your anger and anxiety? Try these tips for processing and expressing difficult feelings.
Preventing Unpleasant Feelings
1. Take a deep breath. Tension builds up quickly. When another driver cuts you off, pause and pay attention to your breathing. Loosen up your shoulders and neck. Think about something that makes you laugh.
2. Accept discomfort. Distracted drivers and earthquakes are part of life. Plan for delays and obstacles so they stop taking you by surprise.
3. Care for yourself. Healthy lifestyle habits make you more resilient. Eating a balanced diet and exercise regularly does just as much for your long-term mental health as it does for your physical well-being. Also maintain a consistent bedtime that allows for adequate sleep.
4. Shift your attention. Stop feeding the flames. Catch yourself when you’re dwelling on last night’s argument with your teenage daughter or next month’s water bill. Lighten up by watching YouTube videos or meeting a friend for coffee.
Viewing Unpleasant Feelings Differently
1. Question your assumptions. It’s difficult to resist blowing off steam if you still believe it will provide relief. Check in with yourself a half-hour later to see if your anger is gone. Read studies about how road rage can negatively affect your heart and other physical systems.
2. Set priorities. It’s worth fighting injustice if your child is being bullied at school. But if another shopper wants to count four cans of cat food as one item, could it make more sense to be flexible?
3. Assume responsibility. Indignation is less tempting when you face how you contributed to the situation. Did you criticize your daughter about her grades when you meant to discuss cleaning up her bedroom? Was the result that both situations weren’t resolved because she was too upset to do either?
We don’t live in a bubble. Your actions and your kindness, compassion, even forgiveness influence people beyond your circle as well…
4. Focus on solutions. Unpleasant feelings can be beneficial when they prompt you to take action. Acknowledge your anger, and then concentrate on fixing the situation.
Responding to Unpleasant Feelings Differently
1. Seek validation. Talk with a friend or family member about your concerns. Receiving compassion and support will help you to cheer up and put things in perspective. Maybe you were right, but maybe you can be the bigger person this time. That in itself is a noble gesture you can take pride in.
2. Ask for feedback. Confidantes who have nothing at stake in the situation may also help you to clarify your perceptions and understand your options. Talk about how to deal with neighbors who throw noisy parties or keep borrowing your parking spot.
3. Negotiate conflicts. When possible, approach the other party in a dispute directly. Work out compromises so you and your neighbors can be friends. As Stephen Covey often mentions, “Seek to understand, then be understood.”
4. Consider counseling. If you’re angry or upset more often than usual, there may be underlying causes that you need to explore. Therapy provides a safe forum for healing and developing new life skills.
5. Write it out. Maybe a journal would help. Keep track of what is triggering your irritation or sadness. Are you working too much overtime or struggling with single parenting?
6. Stay offline. You’ve probably read stories about employees who lost their jobs because they thought it was safe to complain about customers or their boss online. Even if you remain anonymous, prolonged griping is likely to leave you feeling more disgruntled.
7. Create new patterns. The good news is that each time you decide to pursue constructive remedies instead of destructive ones, you train yourself to become more calm and resourceful. Soon your natural path will be to seek a more productive solution.
It may feel gratifying to have a meltdown over your property taxes or snap back at a disruptive coworker, but indulging negatively over those impulses comes at a high price. Protect your physical health, relationships, and peace of mind by dealing with unpleasant emotions constructively.