I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get angry. And what’s wrong with getting angry? After all, anger is one of our basic human emotions, like sadness and happiness.
Let me begin by saying that anger has a purpose. It triggers what scientists call the fight response which in turn motivates us to take action. And sometimes fighting – defending or advocating for ourselves – is what we need to do.
However, what to do with those angry feelings isn’t always so clear.
Anger may be temporary, we work through it or it passes on its own. Angry feelings may also stick around. You’ve probably met people who seem to always be mad about something.
I often talk with clients about how angry they are. They describe what’s making them feel that way. The challenges of following their treatment regimen. Having to follow diets or make other unwanted changes in their routines. Conflict with family members. Disclosure.
The situations we encounter in life have a way of reminding us that life isn’t always fair, that it doesn’t always go the way we want it to go, or the way we think we deserve. Nobody knows that better than someone who is living with a chronic condition like HIV. And during a rough patch, you may have times when you find yourself walking around “primed” to get angry at just about any curve ball that seems headed in your direction.
What can you do with all of those angry feelings?
What I have noticed is that my clients often apologize for talking about how angry they are, as if they should be feeling that way, or for going off on a rant. I have also noticed how often my clients don’t know what to do with their anger. At the same time, they know it’s not good to sit with all of those angry feelings.
I want to say again that getting mad is human, while sitting with all that anger can have a negative effect on your wellness. The experts even say that holding in anger can contribute to conditions like depression and high blood pressure, among others.
Who needs that?
So I thought it might be helpful to give you a few ideas about things you can do instead of sitting with those angry feelings:
Count to ten. I know this is the oldest trick in the book. You’ve probably even seen it on a sitcom or two. But I can tell you from personal experience that it works. Counting to ten gives you a chance to think, and to calm yourself down, before you react in a way you might regret later. While you’re doing that countdown, don’t forget to breathe.
Step out of the story. Ask yourself if there is an old story behind your anger. If you hear yourself saying something like “this always happens to me” or “I never get what I want” then that’s a clue to a story you may be trying to repeat. React in the moment, to this situation, and not to a situation in the past that this might remind you of. By staying in the moment, you will be more likely to keep reaction from blowing up into something that it isn’t.
Reconsider your expectations. What were you expecting (to happen, receive, hear, etc)? And were your expectations realistic? Sometimes anger is the result of not having our expectations met. Having realistic expectations is a great way to avoid the disappointment that can lead to angry feelings. And remember: you’re not in control of everything.
Look for the humor. Recognizing the humor in a situation go a long way toward balancing out that rage-rush that anger can bring on, as well as help you to keep your perspective. Have a good laugh about how life just seems to get in the way of our plans.
Have a heart. Living with HIV can bring up all kinds of emotions. Accept your own feelings – all of them – and let yourself be human. Give yourself a break, and you’ll be that much more able to give others a break, too. We’re all in this together.
Reach out for support. Talk to a friend or family member who can listen without judging you for your feelings. Post a discussion! Rant if you need to. Let the feelings out.
Take care of yourself. Is staying on top of your self-care routine a priority for you lately? Or are you placing the needs of others before your own needs? Not taking care of yourself can leave you feeling emotionally or physically depleted, and especially vulnerable to angry feelings. Take time for yourself every day. Take a walk, listen to music, do something you enjoy.
Feeling angry is only human. You don’t have to avoid feeling angry, and you don’t have to be controlled by your anger. You have a choice!