Your boss is being a jerk. A financial emergency has totaled your budget. You’re not seeing eye-to-eye with your spouse. And then that bozo cuts you off on the freeway!
Your anger has been simmering. Now it’s come to a full boil. How do you do cope with it?
We talked to psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD, to get tips on managing life’s little — and not-so-little — irritations.
1. Steady yourself with deep breathing
One of the most effective coping skills is something you already do all the time: breathe. But not just any breathing will do. Dr. Borland recommends diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing.
This is the type of deep breath that makes your abdomen rise when you inhale. Practice inhaling slowly through your nose and exhaling gradually through your mouth. It may seem too simple to help, but there’s science behind it.
When we’re stressed or upset, our sympathetic nervous system — the fight-or-flight response — activates. Diaphragmatic breathing engages our parasympathetic nervous system, which is what calms us down.
You can enhance diaphragmatic breathing with a calming mantra or visualization, too. Try repeating to yourself “relax” or “let go.” Or imagine relaxing on the beach or in a forest.
2. Move through stress with exercise
“I’m a big proponent of getting some kind of physical exercise,” says Dr. Borland.
“A lot of people tend to misconstrue that as meaning they have to get a gym membership or take some kind of class, but that’s not necessary. Walking, taking the stairs — anything that gets you moving a little more than you have been — will help,” he says.
He also calls yoga, with its focus on mindfulness and breathing, a great stress-reliever. “Some people scoff at it, but if they try it, they’ll realize that it really helps,” he says.
3. Have an attitude of gratitude
Practicing gratitude can help us highlight the positive things in our lives, Dr. Borland says.
“One thing I’ve really been focusing on with my patients is the idea of gratitude,” he says. “I think in general we tend to go to the negative, and we overlook the good things.”
Try keeping a gratitude journal. Or, make a point of talking to family members or friends about the things you’re grateful for on a regular basis.
3. Mind your body’s cues
Are you clenching your teeth, balling your fists or tensing your shoulders? Some of the first signs that anxiety or anger are about to overwhelm you occur in your body. Pay attention to these cues. Then try to use some of your coping skills, like diaphragmatic breathing.
“If you can address these symptoms when they’re at a 3 out of 10, rather than a 9 out of 10, it’s easier to calm yourself back down,” Dr. Borland says.
4. If stress is over the top, seek help
If stress, anxiety and/or anger are starting to impact your life, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional. One simple way to find out is to ask yourself if you’ve been acting in a way that’s out of character:
- Are you usually mild-mannered but now find yourself having angry outbursts?
- Are you typically a dependable employee but have started calling off work because of anxiety?
- Are you avoiding friends or family because of a sour mood?
If you’re going through these changes, talk therapy can be a good way to help you release pent-up emotions and learn skills for handling stress, says Dr. Borland.
Stress — at work, at home or on the road — is unavoidable. But you don’t have to let it overwhelm you.
These tips should help you keep your cool when life turns up the heat.