You’re frustrated, tense, unhappy or hurt and you just see red. Suddenly you’re out of control, lashing out with your words or even fists. It’s a situation that causes problems for most of us at some point; but loss of temper can end relationships and careers.
Some people are genuinely scared of their inability to control their temper. New father Barry admits: “I have gone so far as to strike at my wife, although I never actually hit her but I knocked a hole in my door right by her head… I am scared I scare my family.”
And the internet is full of sad stories like his. “I am a destructively angry person.” “Right now my husband’s job is in jeopardy because of his anger.” “I’m ruining my own life…”
But whether you have an extreme anger issue like these, or you just find it hard to keep your cool at work, here’s how to not lose your temper…
It’s okay to be angry
Anger serves a purpose and has helped humans survive for millennia. Your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing increases, and this ‘fight or flight’ response lets you focus on any imminent threat and react quickly.
But while this is great if you’re outrunning a mammoth, it’s not so useful if you’re driving in rush hour or coping with a difficult customer.
Paul Wilson is the author of 90s self-help phenomenon ‘The Little Book of Calm’. He’s keen for people to distinguish between anger and loss of temper.
“Losing your temper is an irrational short-term outburst, whereas anger is the emotional state that may lead to this occurring. Anger can be dealt with positively, say by rationally letting someone else know how you feel, or negatively by allowing it to overwhelm you to the extent that you do and say things you might not normally choose to do.”
[Related feature: 7 tips for dealing with children's tantrums]
Can you count on counting to 10?
‘Just count to 10′ may be an age-old advice but how many of us actually manage to follow it? Paul says losing your temper often results from feelings of stress and it’s possible to do something about that before you lose control.
“One of the most powerful ways of dealing with stressful situations is to bring all of your attention to where you are, to what you are experiencing, and to what you are feeling. This might seem counter-intuitive in a stressful situation but being mindful has a powerful diffusing quality.”
Time-poor and stress-rich?
Paul has taught an estimated million people to meditate through his books and classes and says that it is a good way to become a calmer person. That will help with temper control.
He recommends taking 10-15 minutes every day to meditate, perhaps in the park at lunchtime.
“The challenge is not finding the time; it’s deciding to do NOTHING with it. No phone calls, no checking emails, no iPod, no planning what you’re going to do next. We are so conditioned to filling every waking moment that we tend to think of ‘doing nothing’ as being stressful. Overcome that way of thinking, and you’re already meditating.”
Can’t manage to take some time to do absolutely nothing? It’s okay, here’s Paul’s ‘meditation lite’ for the extremely busy: “If you think that’s difficult, try this: twice a day for 10-15 minutes, concentrate all of your attention to whatever you’re doing… If you’re drinking tea or washing dishes, devote all of your attention to that act. That is a form of meditation and, over time, will help you to become a more relaxed and focused person.”
Let it all out
Anger is natural, healthy and as Paul says, can be positive if it’s channelled properly. In fact, trying to suppress emotions like anger can cause other problems.
Wendy Rigley is an anger management therapist at the Priory she warns: “Internalising anger leads to resentment and low self esteem. Rather than trying to stop the anger it is important to see the feeling as automatic. But the response can be a choice, for example, choosing to be assertive rather than passive.”
And finally, surely the king of calm Paul Wilson does lose his rag on some occasions? His answer might provoke a stab of rage among less calm readers: “Not that I am aware of,” he says, simply. Maybe it’s time for that meditative cup of tea…
How do you keep your temper? Is an anger problem ruining your life? Share your experiences and tips with other readers in the comments below.