9.2 Develop a Personalized Anger/Stress Management Plan
b. Relieve the Pressure of the Anger/Stress
Each of us has a volcano inside us that can angrily erupt. While it may seem our volcano could erupt for many reasons, there are two basic types of eruptions.
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Whether we are experiencing a stress overload or a trigger-button eruption, taking a time-out is recommended. Time-outs can be as short as ten seconds or last an hour. It depends on how much time we need and how much time we can reasonably take. Unless we are dealing with a life or death situation, we can usually spare three to five minutes. While we may want more time, we can learn to squeeze a half an hour of relaxation into five minutes. This helps us hang on until we can take a longer time-out later.
During our time-out, we can either emotionally withdraw or physically remove ourselves until we regain control. (When children are very young, we need to make sure they will be safe and occupied while we are gone or stay with them and tune out distractions we can’t avoid.) If the timing or circumstances of a situation don’t allow us to take an immediate time-out, we can give a quick, controlled, effective response and disengage. Once we calm down, we can resolve the problem further.
SMOLDERING EMBERS NEED STRESS MANAGEMENT
Example of Stress Overload Eruption
Smoldering embers are a result of built-up stress. Any change, whether positive (the birth of a baby) or negative (a divorce) can be stressful. Even everyday irritations (a baby’s constant crying) and frustrations (a curious toddler) can cause stress to build. Children occasionally do things that are annoying, irritating, and even infuriating. It’s part of the parenting territory. There are certain stages of development that will test our patience more than others. While most parents have felt like hurting their child at some time, acting on that feeling is totally off limits!
Sometimes our stress has nothing to do with our children, such as marital or work conflicts. We can explain to our children that we’re dealing with a problem (we don’t have to go into details) that has made us angry, sad, or frustrated. Reassure them that we are not upset with them. If we say nothing, children pick up on our stress, which increases their stress level. As children feel more stressed, they are more likely to misbehave. As their misbehavior increases, our stress increases and we are more likely to blow our tops. See the vicious cycle?
Smoldering embers build when we handle several small or big problems well, but don’t take the time to calm down and regroup. As a result, our stress level increases with each new event. Soon, our overall stress level increases so much that even a small irritation can trigger our wrath—the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
The real key to managing stress overloads is to prevent them. Our bodies send us signals, such as shaky hands, rapid and shallow breathing, sweating, or knots in the stomach or neck. We can become more aware of our body signals and take time for a calming activity (even ten seconds) to prevent a stress overflow.
There are several common stress management techniques. Some of these calming activities can be done anytime, anywhere. Others require some planning:
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Most people find it difficult to make time for relaxation. If we think about how much time we spend feeling upset, tense, or worried, we can choose, instead, to use that time and energy relaxing. The benefits of stress management have been repeatedly proven scientifically: the body releases chemicals that can slow or stop heart disease; regulate sleeping, eating, and digestion; increase creativity, work productivity, and brain power; improve interpersonal relationships; and even slow down or reverse aging.
A Personal Story. Stress management is one area where I have a hard time practicing what I preach. Over ten years ago, when I should have been on a maternity break, I continued volunteering nearly 40 hours a week for the nonprofit organization I had started. A serious conflict arose with a person with whom I had to work very closely. This person refused to resolve the problem with me directly and wouldn’t accept mediation. The board of directors was unwilling to enforce the conflict-resolution mandates in the bylaws, so I took a leave of absence. Six months later, nothing had changed, so I resigned.
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My body couldn’t handle the ongoing, intense stress of this unresolved conflict. My adrenaline had been so high for so long, it could no longer regulate itself and I developed debilitating physical symptoms. Stress management was the key to regaining and maintaining my health, but I had great difficulty learning the techniques. Visualization was difficult and I was easily distracted by thoughts of more purposeful activities I could be doing. I finally took a meditation class and completely relaxed for the first time in years. I realized that relaxation was a purposeful activity. I also promised myself that I would never again allow any person or event to rob me of my inner peace. Nothing is worth sacrificing my health.
Recharge Styles ☆☆☆☆
When we have too much energy or too little, we need a “recharge.” What relaxes or stimulates one person does not necessarily help others, because there are two styles of recharging one’s energy supply: internal and external.
Internal rechargers get their energy from within. They need to be alone regularly to regain control or recharge their energy supply or they get irritable. When physical isolation isn’t possible, they might tune out for a short time. They are often misunderstood and pressured to be a part of groups when they need time alone. Traditional stress management techniques usually work well for them.
When internal rechargers feel stressed or angry, they need to ask people for space, instead of pushing them away or ignoring them. They need to avoid interruptions when working and take time to think before responding to requests or problems.
Internal rechargers can stop one block from home after work and recharge before going home to their children. If they are stay-at-home parents, they can use nap times or quiet play times to recharge—not to do chores or other work. Otherwise, they’ll run out of energy by the bewitching hour—dinner time. If a spouse is an internal recharger, we can give the person about 15 minutes to unwind, before demanding time or attention. If 15 minutes is not enough, negotiate an agreement. For example, agree to immediately give the person some time alone if the person agrees to then spend time with you and/ or the children.
If you are an internal recharger, try some of the following activities during your down time:
INTERNAL RECHARGE ACTIVITIES
External rechargers draw their energy from the world around them. They need to interact with other people or activities to get energy, calm down, or work through problems. Without opportunities to talk with others, they get cranky and stir crazy. They usually have a harder time learning the traditional stress management techniques.
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External rechargers who work outside the home may not feel as drained at the end of the day as an internal recharger does. If they are stay-at-home parents, they are often chomping at the bit for a spouse to come home so they can interact with an adult. If the spouse is an internal recharger, this can cause a conflict in needs upon his (or her) arrival. One person cannot meet all our recharge needs, so external rechargers need to plan outings with other adults.
External rechargers can get energy from anyone or anything outside themselves, not just a spouse or close friend. They can make time each day (or weekly, at the least) to do one or more of the following external-recharge activities:
EXTERNAL RECHARGE ACTIVITIES
Internal/External (Combination) Rechargers can get their energy from within or from others, depending on their activities that day and what they need to reach a centered balance.
A Personal Story. When Chris was born, I resigned my full-time job to be home full time with him. I was used to daily interaction with many people. Now I was home alone with a child who couldn’t talk. I was starved for adult companionship and found few resources for meeting others during the day. It was difficult, financially and emotionally, to be a full-time mother, but my heart had reasons to stay home that were stronger than my need to socialize. Then, I thought of a compromise. I started a local discussion group for stay-at-home parents. Eight years later, when I returned to part-time work, the group was a nonprofit organization with almost 100 members.
During my eight years as an at-home mother, I was an external recharge person. When my husband came home, I had difficulty waiting for him to unwind before I rattled on about my day. Now, I am usually an internal recharger. I teach parenting classes almost every day (or evening) and it takes a lot of energy to discuss and meet everyone’s needs. My husband has time to himself while I’m gone, so when I come home, he wants to talk about his work day or a TV show he’s watching. I try hard to listen to his stories and share a little about my day, but it’s often a short summary. Usually, I just want to relax without talking for a while. It’s ironic that we both have opposite recharge styles from what we had years ago.
There are some recharge activities that serve both needs, depending on whether we do them by ourselves (internal) or with someone else (external). Some can be internal and external, because the solitary activity involves an energy source outside us.
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INTERNAL/EXTERNAL (COMBINATION) RECHARGE ACTIVITIES
These lists of recharge activities are just ideas to get you started. Some might not fit your schedule, needs, or interests. There is no right or wrong recharge style; both serve a healthy purpose. They are part of a person’s biology and personality makeup. We need to be sensitive to others’ needs for time alone or interaction with others. This includes our children.
FLASH FIRES NEED ERUPTION OUTLETS
Common Trigger Buttons
Flash fires are sudden explosions that can result from single events that push our emotional trigger buttons. Trigger buttons are reactions that were usually programmed at an early age from an upsetting memory. When a similar event occurs, it triggers a quick, extreme emotional reaction.
A Personal Story. Being rushed in the morning and morning arguments were two of my trigger buttons. As a child, I was always running late in the morning. If someone nagged or pushed me to hurry, I’d get a big knot in my stomach. My brother and I would also fight and argue almost every morning before school. My days often started out on the wrong foot and I’d cry as I walked to school. For years, when someone rushed me or picked an argument in the morning, it would spark an emotional, tense, irritated reaction from me. These events triggered memories and childish reactions that, at the time, were the only way I knew how to cope with the situation.
Children do not program their parents’ buttons, they simply discover them! When children are discouraged, frustrated or hurt, they can use these buttons to serve a purpose. This is PO behavior, a Parent problem with On purpose misbehavior. If children can push their parents’ buttons, they can get their parents’ attention, cause the parents to lose control (which proves the child is in control), or get revenge. Although trigger buttons seem to make us lose control, we are really the only ones who can control them. We can reprogram our buttons and plan how we react to similar situations in the future.
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Types of Anger Energy
At first, this process simply increases the time we pause between the event and our response. As we use our new response more often, it becomes more comfortable and comes to mind more quickly. After a few times, we have de-programmed our trigger button and replaced it with a more helpful response.
Despite all our efforts to avoid stress and anger, there will still be times we erupt. The energy we experience can be verbal, physical, or both. Our ultimate goal is to replace any automatic, unhealthy reactions with healthier outlets for our anger energy. To do this, we need to first change how we release the anger, while we work on the future goal of not getting angry as often.
Verbal anger energy most often comes out as yelling, screaming, or saying something we later regret. If this is our tendency, our goal is to express our feelings in respectful and assertive ways. Simply saying nothing keeps our anger energy inside. Without an outlet, it does not go away. When we feel like yelling or saying something in anger that we might later regret, we need to bite our tongues and take a time-out. We release the anger energy by expressing ourselves through activities like those listed below. Once we’ve released the anger energy, we can plan a constructive way to express our feelings or resolve the problem using the Universal Blueprint.
HEALTHY VERBAL ANGER ENERGY OUTLETS
Physical anger energy that builds up during anger is very real and overwhelming for some people. It must come out—somehow. It’s important for parents to use and teach healthy physical outlets for anger energy. Do not encourage children to hit pillows, etc. as research shows this increases the likelihood of children behaving aggressively in the future. Instead, use or suggest any of the following activities:
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HEALTHY PHYSICAL ANGER ENERGY OUTLETS
Whenever possible, go outside to release physical anger energy. Doing some of these activities inside can make the energy feel like it’s trapped and bouncing off the walls.
Physical and verbal (combination) anger energy can surge at the same time. When it does, we can combine some of the activities listed above, or try some of the following activities:
HEALTHY VERBAL AND PHYSICAL ANGER ENERGY OUTLETS
- Exercise, blowing out air powerfully (or grunting) when you exhale.
- Blow into a paper bag or balloon then pop it.
- Throw towels into a bathtub (or rolled-up socks into a laundry basket) and grunt (or mumble what you feel like saying to the person you’re angry with).
- Throw marshmallows into a sink with a karate yell as you throw.
- Write your feelings. Don’t censor yourself. Write whatever comes to your mind. Rip up the letter, as a symbolic way to let go of the feelings and problem.
We may feel silly doing some of these activities, but if we are alone, who cares! It’s better to get the anger out in a silly way than to destroy a relationship or hurt someone. Just pick those activities you feel comfortable doing.
A Personal Story. My parents were always nurturing, calm, and skilled, even when they were upset. I experienced emotions strongly, but didn’t learn healthy ways to release or express them or the energy they caused. Instead, I would stuff my feelings until I exploded. When my children were young, this scared all of us and I was afraid that even I could be abusive. I had to work very hard to learn how to express emotions appropriately, before I reach my boiling point. I can still lose it if I don’t walk away soon enough.
When Amber was about three, we were singing silly songs while I made a snack. I bent down, put my face right in front of hers, and made a goofy face while I sang. In her glee, she clapped my cheeks—so hard it left slap marks on my cheeks. This immediately triggered a button from my childhood memories with my brother and I almost smacked her back. I caught myself as my hand was starting to rise. I backed up against the kitchen counter and leaned on my hands. Tears came to my eyes as the stinging in my cheeks increased. I was ready to yell at her, so I literally bit my tongue. Amber had a shocked look on her face. She didn’t mean to hurt me and was just realizing she had. I couldn’t control myself much longer and ran out of the room.
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I went to my room and cried, but was worried about leaving Amber alone, so I quickly returned. She was crying—she felt so bad that she had hurt me. I was still furious, though, and started to yell at her for crying! “I’m the one who’s hurt!” I stopped myself, bit my tongue, and walked away again. I stayed in my room longer, taking deep breaths, trying to calm down. If I returned to the kitchen too soon, I wasn’t sure I could control myself. That risk was greater than leaving Amber alone for two minutes. I finally returned when I had calmed down enough to comfort her. I gave her a hug and told her I knew she didn’t mean to hurt me. I apologized for yelling at her and told her when I got that angry and left it was because I didn’t want to say or do anything mean.
DEVELOP A PERSONALIZED MANAGEMENT PLAN ☆☆☆☆
Once we identify whether we experience verbal or physical anger energy (or both) and need either internal or external recharging, we can plan an individualized anger/stress management plan. If we mix each style of energy and recharging, we have six possible combinations. Here is just one example of what we could do when we are angry or stressed, based on each style combination:
POSSIBLE STYLE COMBINATION PLANS
Verbal anger energy
V/I. Go to your room and yell, write, or draw .
V/E. Call a friend who will be supportive and talk.
Physical anger energy
P/I. Go for a walk/jog by yourself or clean.
P/E. Exercise outside or with others.
Verbal/Physical anger energy
VP/I. Pull weeds and grunt with each pull.
VP/E. Exercise with a friend/group where you can talk, yell, or cheer.
Despite the type of anger energy we experience, there are four acts that anyone can use to regain control. They are the all-time best strategies for managing stress and anger, and each has been proven to have helpful biological benefits.
- Talk to someone. When people talk to each other, it reduces their blood pressure. Long-term studies have shown that people with a companion (whether it was a pet or friend), have better long-term health. Those without a companion tend to die younger, even when the presence of disease wasn’t apparent.
- Talk yourself through the anger. This is internal conversation encouraging ourselves to effectively handle the situation. We can talk ourselves through the various steps of anger control. “Okay, just hold on a second. Count to ten. Take a deep breath. Calm down. That’s better. Now, what is it I want to do? I know I can handle this. Take it slow. Remember to listen to what the other person is saying. Breath more, talk less. Think before you speak.” If we say these comments aloud, we can openly model healthy anger management for our children.
- Forgiveness is more than an ethical principle. It stimulates a release of chemicals that can counteract the toxic chemicals released by anger. Forgiveness is easier said than done. It begins by not taking events and comments personally. Someone may be having a bad day or they haven’t learned to control their anger. Just because they aren’t at peace doesn’t mean we have to give up our inner peace. We can stop debating who is most at fault and take responsibility for our part. This helps others admit to their part of the problem. We can forgive others whether they admit it or change. It is especially important for us to model forgiveness to our children, although children usually model greater unconditional forgiveness than adults. We can learn a lot from them!
- is widely known to release muscle tension and built-up toxins in the body, while toning the body for total health. Exercise is helpful when we are not yet stressed, already stressed, or ready to explode. It is a healthy way to express the flight or fight response. Internal rechargers can exercise alone, external rechargers can exercise with others.
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