Anger. I’d never thought of myself as an angry person. But then I had kids and wow, did that change and knock me over.
Anger can have a few roots. For me, it has been part postpartum mood issues, part aging hormones setting me adrift. But part of it is also not paying attention to my triggers, or even not really knowing or understanding them.
All I knew, in those earlier days especially but now also, was that anger filled me up as if I were some paper cup. I could feel anger rush in until overflowing. I wasn’t thinking straight, I could feel as much.
I could sometimes see a better way but the anger drowned out alternatives. Words flew from my mouth and somehow punctured a hole in the cup so that finally it could all drain away, slowly, slowly.
And instead of just the anger leaving, my self confidence and respect for my ability to parent drained as well.
If you can relate to this, you are not alone.
What’s wrong with anger?
A few things on anger, first.
Women aren’t supposed to get angry. We know that we are perceived differently than men when we get angry, so there’s some conditioning at play that not only when we get angry, we feel bad about it or try to hide it.
But anger can give us clues about underlying emotions. In this article, a psychologist talks about how anger goes hand-in-hand with other emotions but are hidden, for instance, in something like road rage.
This knee-jerk reaction, this flash of anger. But what we don’t realize, is that within a measure of time so small we cannot perceive, a different emotion came first. In the car example, that would be fear, fear that we were almost involved in an accident by someone who swerved into our lane or who rode our tail.
So keep this in mind, how anger connects with other emotions and how we are judged for expressing anger.
What’s pushing your buttons?
One of the hardest parts about confronting your anger, after you’ve done the hard work of passing through your anger, is knowing what set you off. Here are some things to consider.
As you start your day, maybe even as you throw your sleepy legs over the side of the bed, ask yourself if there’s anything pressing on you that you need to watch out for.
- Are you pressed for time
- Did you get enough sleep
- Are you mid-cycle or a few days before your period
- Are you caring for a sick or tired kid
- Are you about 40 years old
- Is your kid in a difficult phase
- Did you have drinks the night before
- Are you stressed about an ongoing issue
- Have you been neglecting your exercise routines
- Have you been eating crappy lately
Just knowing that a particular day, or time of day, will have you feeling stress, can help you make steps toward heading off blow-ups.
I found that my patience goes to zero and my anger is a hair trigger from mid-cycle onward. It took a while to make this connection because, at 38 and mother to my second child, I didn’t get what was going on. When my periods went haywire the next year, I started tracking things more closely.
I’m now taking a couple of hormone supplements that have realigned a few things making the connection oh-so-clear. So if you’re in the neighborhood of 40 years old, track your moods with an app like P Tracker for Apple.
Hormones+kids=angry mom face.
Little things that may help
Once you have opened your eyes to your sensitivity by scanning your circumstances with questions like the ones above, try doing a body scan.
There are a few ways to do a body scan but the point is to become more conscious to the places we carry our emotions and stress. It’s not always where you think.
Body scan: Start at your toes and move up, through every body part, to the tip top of your head. Body scan meditations, even if you aren’t really meditating, can help you focus on every part of your body to find and release stress.
You can tense and release muscles along the way, or simply move that body part a little to become aware of it, then move up. You can also imagine yourself breathing into that spot to help it relax. Here’s some more detailed instructions for body scan as well as some other meditations.
The forced smile: I used to think this was the stupidest thing. But lately, when I am about to tell my kids that I’m five-miliseconds from exploding, I turn around and force a smile and within seconds I can feel a shift. I can breathe. I can come back into my somewhat more rational self. I can turn back to my kids and not roar my terrible roar or gnash my terrible teeth. (who knows this from Where the Wild Things Are?).
This gives me just enough buffer between the knee and the jerk. I can then step back and cool off even a tad and I can choose a more calm approach or take this next step if I need it.
Give yourself a time out: Do it. Tell your kids: “Mom needs a time out to cool off. I will talk to you when I’m not so angry.”
Do whatever you need to do to get through that moment without strangling your kid. Turn on the TV or hand over the tablet so you can get some quiet. Whatever you have to do, do it. If you can take yourself out of the situation, you will be surprised with how quickly you can regain your right mind… most of the time.
Become a movie director: You stand back and watch your situation from a farther distance. You see all the players, you look for ways out of the most tense moments. Then, in that space, you may find a little more control to get through.
DON’T count to ten: Apparently that thing my elementary school teachers used to do when they were trying to save their jobs by not screaming at us “darling angels” made them worse, not better, according to this report. It actually makes people angrier. Bad idea.
Breathe OUT not IN: Well, of course you’ll do both, but when you suck air in thinking you’re taking a deep breath in, you actually may be triggering the fight or flight response. Instead, focus on blowing all the air out of your lungs.
Your body will then naturally, relaxedly (is that a word?) take in the air it needs. These exhales will help you move from the fight or flight response and into a more rational part of your mind so you can deal with the struggle in a more rational way.