Anger Management and First Responders

My daughter and I had the opportunity to shoot the cannon at half time of a football game at The Citadel.
Anger can feel like your insides will explode.
Photo by Michael Givens

Anger management. Yes, it’s the title of a movie starring Adam Sadler and Jack Nicholson, but it is also a big problem in our society. Do a Google search for “Anger Management” and you’ll get over 262,000,000 hits. Most of these sites don’t have anything to do with the movie.

Anger is a natural emotion. It can be a healthy emotion to express. In the work environment however it is a hard emotion to process. Working in a time sensitive and at times dangerous industry only increases the likelihood of anger increasing on the job. Emergencies, equipment failures, and a variety of personalities on a scene can combine to make for one very frustrating and anger-filled environment.

Left unexpressed, anger can internalize and cause physical problems. Repressed anger can come out in passive aggressive behavior, depression, or in a negative outlook of life in general.

The key is to express anger in a constructive manner. Too many individuals channel their anger in destructive ways. When I was growing up we referred to it as the “kick the dog theory.” This theory basically said a person who gets in trouble with a boss in the work place can’t voice their anger at the boss. Instead they go home and for no reason kick the dog – definitely not the way to handle anger and frustration!

If you have an encounter in the work place and feel yourself getting angry you do have options in how you respond. We can’t always control what is happening around us, but we can control our reactions to what is happening.

Your options include learning how to express your anger in a manner that does not harm yourself or another person. These options take practice.

  • Count to ten. It sounds like a cliché, but there are studies to back this practice up. When we’re angry, we use the emotional side of our brain. This is where the “four letter words” reside. Taking a minute to count to ten before you speak will bring you back into the rational side of your brain. The counting method also gives us sometime to calm down and is a distraction from what we reacted to.
  • Sleep on it. While related to the first suggestion, this advice applies to situations when a decision is announced and your first reaction is anger. Allowing a little time between the announcement and your reaction can help by allowing all the facts to be presented. We often get angry first and discover later our fears never materialize.
  • Write out your response. Sometimes it helps to write everything down. All the things you want to say but don’t feel you can. This is the version you keep in a private place or shred later. Write down all your thoughts, including the things you’d never say out loud to someone, then move to a more rational approach. Write down why or what upset you. Then write down how you can resolve the problem (remember you can’t harm yourself or others!)
  • Exercise – We often feel an an adrenaline rush along with the feeling of anger. This is related to the fight or flight response. Taking a walk, or more strenuous exercise, can help your body process the rush you felt during the encounter,

In some cases the pattern of anger has gone on for so long, outside counseling is needed to help you live a healthier life. Your friends and family will also give you clues that you need help. Taking that first step can be scary, but well worth the rewards.

If you are a member of a faith community the clergy person may be a good resource for referrals. They can also offer practices within the framework of your faith system of how to work through anger. The American Psychological Association has a very helpful information on their web site about anger management, what it is, how to deal with it and when to seek outside help.

Additional reading:

What your Anger May be Hiding

Anger Management: Understanding Anger

Science of Anger: How Gender, Age and Personality Shape This Emotion