“Contrary to what many people think, anger is not something we should avoid at all costs. It is an entirely normal part of human experience. It’s power to be harmful and destructive is completely dependent on our ability to face angry feelings and learn to deal with them.” — Eda LeShan, “When Your Child Drives You Crazy.”
Maybe I should stop watching the television news. Often, when I see the faces of people like George Zimmerman, Ariel Castro, Anthony Weiner or John Boehner (who represents all those Republicans who keep throwing monkey wrenches in the works), it sets me off. Hearing about injustice, the actions of any egregiously narcissistic exploiters and the number of victims of rampant violence can turn a potentially lovely day into a gray morass of depressing thoughts. Maybe it would be best to avoid the television and even the radio news and only read the newspaper where I can select which newsworthy events to read about.
There are many other ways we may deal with anger and the stress that results. There are unhealthy methods like becoming physically violent, yelling, drinking, using legal or illegal drugs and/or stuffing it inside and pretending it’s not there or that it will go away. Many stress reduction experts advise such things as yoga, meditation, physical exercise, simplifying our lives, taking more B vitamins and breathing exercises. But there’s an important aspect to preventing anger and relieving the accompanying stress that underlies it all that we don’t hear much about.
We need to consider our attitude toward a situation — the way we think about it and then react to it. We need to remember that we can choose whether to get all unglued about something potentially disturbing and decide how to react. It’s very tempting to think, “It’s not me. It’s those incompetents (or those jerks or mindless ones) that need fixing. If it weren’t for them, I’d be fine.” But if not them, it would no doubt be something else.
When something or someone irritates us, we can get all steamed up and yell or kick the sofa or try to put the situation in perspective when we first feel the irritation begin or the frustration welling. Or we can say to ourselves, “Stop!” and ask ourselves, “Is it worth it to jeopardize my health by bringing on this adrenaline rush that can, among other things, contribute to lesions in my arteries where cholesterol builds up, for my blood pressure to rise, possibly dangerously, to possibly damage my digestive system, to ruin my day?”
It all boils down to learning to hang loose. Sorting out what is truly important from what is not is basic. Being able to keep from reacting angrily to many irritations (especially those we can’t do anything about) can eliminate much stress from our lives. Learning how to let go and keep the adrenaline from surging in the first place will do much more good. I’m not suggesting that we repress all angry feelings, but redirect them. We can decide when our anger is useless — like when having to wait in a long line, when we drop the bowl of dog food on the carpet, when we see that face on the screen that stirs up hostile feelings — and when it is something that truly needs to be dealt with in a reasonable, civilized manner.
It helps to keep reminding ourselves that all of those irritations have much less to do with other people and events than with our inner reactions. It helps to give up some of our expectations about how things should be and realize that it is not necessary to be a perfectionist (Everything must be RIGHT or I get upset!) or so egocentric (Why does everyone pick on me?). It helps to take time to relax and put things in perspective.
There’s ANGER and there’s anger. If we can use it in a productive way — like maybe joining an organization that works for needed changes, contacting our representative in Congress, sending a letter to the editor or maybe even writing a column about troubling issues, hopefully we can keep it from engulfing us. What Ms LeShan added is very true: “We SHOULD be angry at human suffering, at social inequality, at poverty, at war, at bureaucracies that interfere with human needs and rights. Anger turned toward a fight for liberty and justice is what democracy needs for survival.” It’s just that I SO badly want the world to be a decent place for our progeny!
But when it’s something I can do nothing about, I must try to more often heed my English son-in-law’s advice: “Don’t get your knickers in a twist.”
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 700 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is email@example.com.