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Anger-obics Can Make Anger 'Work Out'

How to transform negative energy into a positive tool for anger management.
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Anger Management Through 'Staging'

Instead of going ballistic, postal, or flying off the handle, Nay urges us to understand the anatomy of our anger. For instance, instead of full-blown rage, anger usually manifests in stages:

  • Passive aggressive. The angry person quietly withholds whatever the object of the anger wants. If the boss blames her, she stalls on a project. If a spouse wants to talk, he clams up.
  • Sarcasm. The angry person may escalate to sarcasm. If the other person complains, the angry person may turn it around: "Well, you can sure take a joke."
  • Cold anger. This is the silent treatment or minimal response. Maybe the angry person leaves the room.
  • Hostility. This is the toe-tapper in line, the feisty customer, or the time bomb waiting to go off at dinner.
  • Aggression. This is the stage where the angry person acts out physically, yelling, threatening, or laying on hands.

"You need to identify your own triggers," Nay says. "And clearly see your own thinking distortions." Such distortions include "thresholding" ("If she does it one more time..."), catastrophizing ("The Beltway was a total nightmare"), or personalizing ("How dare he cut me off?").

The next step in handling your anger, according to Nay, is to chart your pattern of arousal. How does your body react -- and why? The "Five S's," as he calls them, can play a role. They are sleep, stress, sustenance, substances, and sickness. These affect your ability to be resilient. You may say, "I can't believe I got so mad over something so small," but maybe you had a rough night, gobbled or skipped breakfast, and drank too much coffee." Voila! Overreaction.

Once you understand how you think and see how your thinking may be off-base, you need to learn to communicate thoughts, feelings, and needs effectively. "I call this assertive problem solving," Nay says. Some suggestions:

  • Actively listen to the other person.
  • Respond only with "I" statements. Say, "When I got home, you didn't even say hi. This makes me think you're angry." Don't say, "What's the matter with you today?" That's a "You" statement.

Sustain ways of making these changes real. "And figure out how to deal with a setback," Nay advises. "No one is perfect. You could relapse in a second. I know what I am supposed to do, but even I am snippy to my wife sometimes."

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