Overcoming stress with the right question

sunWhen an event takes place in your life you no doubt will describe it in either positive or negative terms.  Doing so will set the tone for how we feel about the situation and dwelling on the event with the idea of it being the greatest or the worst thing that can happen to us can create a great deal of stress on our minds and bodies.

If you describe an event with words like, “terrible”, “horrible”, or “nightmare”, we generate negative feelings in our body which may actually disable you emotionally.  It is much better to focus on what might be done to minimize the effect of the event or as we have suggested previously ask yourself, “What is great about this?”  Does this sound like a crazy question when a “disastrous event” just took place?

Think about it for a minute.  At first you will say “there is nothing great” – but on thinking about it further you may find something good that could come.  Now you are problem solving.  How much better to do this than to complain and get worked up, maybe to the point of being short or aggressive with others who really do not deserve the aggression?  Most of us can look back on an experience that at the moment looked like the worst thing ever, that 5 years from then we look back on say it turned out well.

I personally like the question, “What is great about this?”, but in addition to that question just using different words will also help to keep the stress levels lower.  If you see a problem or event as an inconvenience or a challenge – that is very different than seeing it as the end of the world.  Maybe there is an opportunity for growth, or it is a setback – but not a permanent one that cannot be recovered from.
Remember that the feeling of anger occurs when we do not reach a goal or someone does not act or react the way we think that they should have or we wanted them to.  The behavior of anger though can be better managed when we ask ourselves the right questions or use words that put us in problem solving mode vs. negative aggressive roles.

How are you looking at that stressor?

The difference between being an optimist and a pessimist is the way we interpret the situation.  A pessimist looks at the situation and believes that this is permanent and pervasive.  An optimist looks at the same situation and sees it as temporary and fixable.

want-it-all-and-want-it-now-slade_poster_frontA pessimist believes the situation will last forever and will affect everything else in their life and an optimist asks themselves, “Will this thing be that important five years from now, or even next month?” If the answer is yes – then deal with it, if the answer is no – and most of the time it is no – let it go.

Most of the time when stress leads to an outburst it is because the event that has just occurred seems so important and “unfix-able” at the moment.  When in fact, most likely there is a solution, and it is not likely that it is really worth fighting about or for.  Since stress and the reaction to it is a factor in anger management, we must learn these thinking tips for dealing with them as they come up.  Put the stressor into a time perspective.
Take that deep breath or the time out and then put words to your feelings.  Decide if this is a permanent or a temporary setback.  Decide if it is fixable or even ours to fix.  If we are not able to find a calmness, it may be we are attached to a result or we are not getting something that we really want to happen or the way we want someone to be.  Is it possible that the change is just not happening in the time frame we wanted it to happen?  Can we be optimistic about it happening in the future if we chose to?

Stressed? The resources I can turn to, reducing anger

Helen Keller is quoted as saying, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”  When we are feeling angry zebra-stresssome of our needs are not getting met, or our situation is not going the way that we had hoped that it would go.  After asking ourselves the question of focus, “In the grand scheme of things how important is this issue?”, we may have to admit that we need to look for some help.

It is in the overwhelmed feelings that we quickly go into a “fight, flight, or freeze” defense, resulting in those around us feeling the brunt of our actions.  It might very well be though that the support we need is right there for us.  We may only need to ask ourselves,

  1. What resources do I currently have to deal with?
  2. What resources do I need to develop to better cope with the stressor?

We will call this the “resource principle”.  When there is a stressful event in your life, ask what resource do I currently have that may help me?  If we just explode it is likely that we have not asked ourselves about our current resources.

If you are a parent or a teacher and your child or students are pushing some buttons for you, you may have forgotten your love for exercise, meditation or you may have forgotten that you have friends that might be able to help you see a solution.  It could be you have a coach in your life to turn to, but have not done so out of feeling that you should be able to handle this yourself.

You may ask the second question, “What resource do I need to develop to better cope with this stressor?”.  Do I need to ask for help?  Do I need to improve a skill like assertive communication, humor, or not taking myself so seriously, to deal with this situation.  Or we may combine “what will this matter in 3 years” with a new resource to be developed.
We may be stressed at work, and really the answer is just asking for the help we need from a co-worker, employer, or an adviser friend.  Many times the help is right there if we can take a deep breath and see it and ask for it.  Doing these things will take a lot of the power out of the stressor, resulting in the anger subsiding.

Reduce stress & reduce anger

stressed out girlWhen someone in a close relationship with you seems to explode about something that you did not feel was that big of a deal, you may want to ask yourself, what else is going on for them.  It most probably is not about you personally.  Likely they are feeling stressed about something else going on in their life.  In fact, stress is one of the most common triggers for anyone losing their feeling of peace and experiencing angry feelings and behaviors.

Think about a time when anyone of us has felt stress financially, and the affect it has on our spouse or partners.  Think of a teen who is struggling in school and how they react to those close to them.  Think of a young person who has lost a close family member in death, and the stress results in quick reactions to anything that is hurting them.

Some stress comes from the outside, like described above and some come from the inside of us, the things that we worry about.  All of them result though in our brain responding with a “fight, flight, or freeze” defense.  While those defenses may have been great in the days of cavemen, they typically do not serve us well in modern society.  Learning to deal with stress will help us from letting things get out of hand resulting in angry aggression.

Here is one tip in reducing the stress.  SHIFT YOUR FOCUS

Ask yourself some of these questions,

  • In the grand scheme of things how important is this issue?
  • In 3 months will this still be as big of an issue as it seems now?  How about in 3 years?
  • What is great about this situation?

Knowing what your priorities in life can be helpful in letting the small stuff go.  Knowing what our core values are and what our personal mission and family mission comprise of will help us to focus on the big issues.  Keeping our focus on what is really important allows us to over look comments and other events that could get us caught up in the moment, and focused on the small things.

Shift your focus is one step in reducing stress.  Reducing stress is one step to anger management.

The feeling of anger is not the same as the expression of anger

ad_anger_topics_lgThe feeling of anger is not the same as the expression of anger.  Everyone of us is going to feel angry from time to time.  When those feelings are more often than not, or when the feeling result in a behavior that harms ourselves, property or others – is when we must realize that learning to manage this feeling, understanding it and dealing with it is very important to our own peace and that of those around us.

Can you identify where you feel anger? What do your different body parts feel like when you are angry?  Do you feel it in your eyes, mouth, hand or arms, feet or legs?  Does your voice change, or does the way you posture yourself change?  Maybe you feel it in your stomach, chest, head or does it feel like your blood is boiling?

Being aware of the bodily changes that occur when we get angry can be helpful in the process of leading to better control and management.  Recognizing the rise of these feelings may help us to make a choice about our expression of the feelings that we are having.   The feeling of anger is just that a feeling – and there is nothing wrong with us having feelings, they belong to us.  However, the behavior or expression of those feelings can be very harmful.

Our expression may be explosive or it may be simmering. Can you identify the patterns that have developed in yourself or your children when they are having the feelings of anger?  One way of understanding our own expression is to ask those close to us what they see in us when we are angry?  How do others tell us how we look or sound when we are angry?
Understanding our feelings, where they are coming from, why or what we are fearful of,  are all beginning steps in anger management.  Remember, the feelings of anger is not the same as the expression of anger.  Feeling are our own – expression is a choice we are making.

Joe Van Deuren is an anger educator and is available to work with both children and adults in finding ways to manage anger.  Finding and creating peace in our lives and families is a key mission of his work.  Contact can be made through Balanced Life Skills.

Fear is the root cause of anger

I start this with a strong statement – Fear is the root cause of anger.

fear-450x298No matter who we are we all feel our anger triggered, sometimes by individuals, by groups, or the conduct of others.  Generally though if we have an expectation or goal and it is not filled or completed in some manner, we may begin to have angry feelings come up for us.  It is very easy for us to blame the customer service person, our spouse, our child, the teacher, the organization for “making us feel this way”.

Our reaction to those triggers may come out as anger and may be displayed in a number of ways, from something as simple as a feeling of resentment, bitterness or frustration to the other end of the spectrum of hatred, hostility or rebellion.  The anger may be shown in a physical, verbal, or emotional way with attacks on others physically or verbally or emotionally.

But why the attack for something that may seem later to not be that important?  I would suggest that it is due to fear.  Our brain is trying to protect us from something that we believe or feel is going to hurt us. So while anger is probably meant to be a good thing, some parts of our brain are not realizing that we live in a different society beyond the caveman age and the “enemy” can be dealt in different ways than the explosion of anger and fighting or running way.

In our modern society the fear we have or the danger we see, is not from wild animals or other physical enemy  attacks.  But the reaction to the fears we  have are the same as in caveman days – we are going to attack back and sometimes we get way to aggressive about that attack and we get into trouble.

Where is that fear from?  There are two main groups that fear falls into, that everything else that happens to us can be tied too.  Those groups are:

Fear of failure

Fear of not being enough

Every reaction to an attack on us or even perceived attack is based on protecting ourselves from our fear of failure or our fear of not being enough.  Let me give you some examples.

Think about the parent who is yelling at their child because of misbehaving in a public place

FEAR of failure as a parent or not a good enough parent


Think about a person who has lost a loved one and becomes angry lashing out at others.

FEAR of “did I do enough”


Think of a young person who was just ‘dumped’ by a friend

FEAR of not being a good enough friend to be kept and what will others think (embarrassment)


Think of a person who has lost their job and has become short and aggressive at home with family members

FEAR of failure as a provider,  what will happen to my family?

Learning to recognize the fear that is lurking beneath the anger, then communicating what is happening inside of you is an important part of anger management.  If you only show the anger, and that is all that everyone sees, they will likely respond to the anger, not realizing that there are other feelings going on for you.

To learn to do this is a process and many times needs the help of others.  More on that later.