Today I want to talk about how to deal with frustration and anger. These negative emotions arise to all of us every now and then. In many cases you feel frustration or even anger when it is required to control these emotions, for example in a public place or at work. Usually home is the place where you are free to express these difficult emotions. It is good to have a safe place for being yourself, but the way we deal with these emotions is where we often need some improvement.
Frustration and anger are strongly linked to stress. Stressful events, tasks, responsibilities or the lack of meaningfulness in our lives can all result to frustration. The emotion can also be so unconscious and long-lasting that you might not even notice it. For example, watching the news about all what’s happening in the world right now or scrolling social media is something that accumulates stress and can lead to unconscious frustration and even anger. But often the only thing you notice is that you feel a bit off. You might not even know the reason for it but you just feel down, irritated, frustrated, restless or anxious.
How do most of us act when these emotions arise? Usually we distract ourselves even more and try to push the unpleasant emotion away without any intention to face it. We might also react by bad behavior, usually targeted towards our closest ones. We do this because have learnt these unhealthy defense mechanisms over time. Facing – or even further – accepting the hidden emotion would be unpleasant, unfamiliar, “unacceptable” or scary. We have learnt to do the exact opposite of what we should be doing; we are disconnecting even more when what our inner self would need is some self-compassion and love.
How to deal with frustration and anger?
How to then learn to deal with frustration and anger in a healthier way? What is the answer to stop reacting based on your automatic defense mechanisms? There are plenty of tools for this, but let me share the one that I have found most helpful.
First, raising your awareness towards all kinds of emotions is the first step towards building healthy coping mechanisms to these difficult emotions. It might be challenging to recognize the frustration or anger when it appears, because you are so emotionally charged. But the more you raise awareness and listen to yourself for example via regular meditation, it will get easier over time. As a general advise I could say that whenever you feel even a bit off, stop and raise awareness towards it. Your inner self is telling something important via this emotion. Welcome it and give time to it – not by reacting to it – but by acknowledging it.
But how to get started with changing your behavior then? One great way to get started is to follow a “STOP” method. STOP refers to “Stop”, “Take a breath”, “Observe” and “Proceed”. Let me describe the method step by step.
Stopping is the most challenging part. It is the moment when you make the decision not to react the way you would automatically and normally do. For example, instead of raising your voice, being snappy or anything that is familiar to you – that also does harm to yourself and the people around you – you decide to stop. To be able to make this conscious decision to stop requires the ability to acknowledge the emotion first. You don’t need to name the emotion yet, it is enough to notice there is a hidden emotion that you want to discover.
In practice, stopping can mean a lot of things. For someone going to another room works the best. Or you can just take a seat and close your eyes. Do whatever works best for you in order to stop and take this timeout. Don’t say anything or distract yourself with anything, just stop for a moment, despite how difficult it might feel.
Take a breath
Once you have stopped, it is time to simply take a breath or two – or ten if you feel like it. Focusing on your breath for a moment is a perfect way to calm down and reconnect with yourself, getting back to the present moment. The thing is, whenever you have a strong negative emotion, it is built up by your brain based on a reflection of your past experiences and your beliefs. And your automatic reaction helps you survive and fight against that thing your brain thinks is a threat. In reality, you don’t need to fight against anything. That is why it’s extremely important to reconnect with yourself and to the present moment. In the present moment there is no past, no beliefs. There is only this moment.
Observing is the next step. Here, after reconnecting to the present moment by focusing on your breath, you move towards observing what is going on. This means that you stop and notice what is the emotion that appeared. Is it frustration, anger, anxiety or even sadness or fear? Name the emotion you have. Then, instead of punishing yourself from having this emotion, accept and be compassionate towards it and towards yourself.
Whatever the emotion is, it is ok to feel it. It is totally ok. It is an emotion that comes and then it goes. Do not value yourself based on any emotion you are experiencing. You are not the emotion. Also, ydon’t need to start analyzing why you had this emotion. You can simply accept it and let it go.
The last step “proceed” is when you decide to let the emotion go and move on. It is important to make the separation between letting go and ignoring. Do not proceed before you have completed the three previous steps. On the other hand, after the observation phase, it is important to proceed instead of sticking with the difficult emotion for too long. This might be difficult, especially if you have the tendency to overanalyze and need to find reasons for everything.
Don’t get me wrong, it is good to do some self-reflection, to give some thought on why you react in a certain manner in certain situations. But what is even more important when dealing with a difficult emotion is to find the balance by returning back to your inner self and present moment. The separation between the emotion/your reactions and who you are is essential. You are not what you feel or how you react. Overanalyzing the bad emotion and all its causes might make you define yourself via that emotion or a personality trait. For example, “I always lose control” “I have a short temper” ”I am not enough” etc. which again supports you to behave based on that harmful belief about yourself.
Finally, I want to remind that reasoning your bad behavior by any external factor (i.e. a stressful day at work, someone wasn’t doing what he/she was supposed to, you received some bad news etc.) is dangerous. Your emotion has nothing to do with the external environment. It is simply something you brain comes up with in certain situations, based on your past experiences and beliefs. Therefore, do not ever blame anyone – including yourself – for any emotion.
Another important thing to remember when coping with a difficult emotion is to take responsibility over it. Give yourself the full attention, do not require anything from anyone around you during that challenging moment. Nobody else can fix or save you from having the difficult emotion. It is nobody’s fault, but simply your body’s way to tell that you need to STOP, connect with your inner self and give some love towards yourself.
No emotion – even a negative one – is wrong or worth leaving unnoticed. You can always choose to STOP. And most importantly, you are enough and worthy, exactly the way you are.