Help for when you're stuck in a chronic state of crankiness
This is for anyone stuck in a loop of negativity and you are able to notice it, but are having a hard time altering it. AND conversely for anyone who you are around who is stuck in a loop of negativity – so that you can understand why and buffer the impact.
If you prefer to listen, here’s the podcast version of this post on iTunes and Soundcloud.
Are you in a state of “I hate this” or “people are morons” or are you just generally over something about life? Well this episode is for anger of all kinds – from crankiness to annoyance, all the way to pure hatred and screw this crap to hell. What I am really addressing is the mental and physical state itself – because it’s not what you want, it can wreak havoc on your body, those around you, and worst of all, it perpetuates itself. Unhappiness cultivates unhappiness. I assume you’re listening to this because you are well aware this is bringing you down and it’s not what you want – but you can’t seem to help yourself out of the situation because there are external factors that make that impossible. So without further ado – there are 3 parts to this puppy – the what, the why, and the how: the tools. Yay. Let’s do this!
PART 1: The What
- Likely caused by environmental triggers, a baseline state of grouchiness that slowly becomes your new normal. Sometimes one major trigger, other times a series of small triggers that become increasingly harder to manage as they add up. When we know a circumstance like this will not change, we often look at ourselves as the permanent victim and thus grow into the perma-crankiness. Because the triggers are continuous, all we do it manage it – never thinking we can alter the results. Because it’s not that bad, and we perceive that we have no other options – we choose to grin and bear it. And this is when things begin to rot – but this angering is building at a gradual pace, often you cannot see the manifested cumulative effect.
Or B: A random, bad mood that spontaneously occurs and outstays its welcome. Sometimes the source is a mystery, sometimes it’s hormonal, sometimes it’s one bad experience that knocks the happiness out of us.
Regardless of which group you fall into, this is your step 1.
I want you to scan through memories of your last week and basically put a filter on so that you can become aware of when you were rude to others or vented negativity onto them. Look back and think about when you used anger to get what you wanted – or perhaps when you hurt someone by acting rude – and you were aware of that fact. Even small, off the cuff comments that you think were so subtle they were barely recognizable, but the intent was clear. Think back to times you were annoyed or fed up – when you took that out on another person. I want you to push yourself to take an honest and thorough moral inventory of when you got angry and it showed. Even if you were managing it to the best of your ability – and you just let a little bit of passive aggression slip.
Are there people in your life who receive the bulk of your venting? Often it’s the ones we love most who we trust and rely on to soothe ourselves. The reason to become aware of this is not to feel guilty – it’s to empower yourself to change. Change must begin from honest awareness. Then you know what work you need to do.
The reason this is an important first step is it introduces the most important piece of information in this podcast: ANGER is UNCONSCIOUS.
It’s literally a habit of being that takes over for you, the caring human. It comes with a crap ton of chemicals so it’s fully immersive when it takes over. It’s not that you will be blinded completely – or that you have no control – it’s that you are chemically out of balance, and your consciousness is narrowed. So this first step is about having awareness so that you can create change. With perspective comes increased ability to choose the right actions moving forward. I know that if you’re like me, you don’t like when you’re in an angry place and you know you want to move out of it but that’s difficult to do, especially when the state is prolonged. Usually when I get into this state – it’s initiated by something but then spirals into a loop of being: I get mad about being mad. It’s a loop.
Depending on how well you manage a trigger and how many triggers are in your everyday life – the angry state can seem synonymous with you or your life – “My life is hard, so this is how I must act as a result.”
Whatever incites it, anger is most always reactionary. It’s not a calculated process- it’s involuntary. Sure, there are some crazies out there who like to get enraged for the sake of oppressing others, expressing self-hate and soothing feelings of powerlessness, but for the majority of the populous, anger is just like most of our emotions: it’s a habit. We live lives that contain many patterns and we grow used to the chemicals associated with our emotions, then our bodies become reliant on them as a part of our comfort with “who we are.” So with repetition, they become unconscious and automatic, and anger fuels more of itself. The patterns we live out as a reflection of who we are become set in overtime, and we grow attached to them. That’s when the emotions themselves take over our bodies – causing us to get angry or frustrated. And for the most part we are unaware that the triggers we are upset by are open to interpretation – that we don’t HAVE to be angry. Because it’s such an instant exchange, the cause feels seamlessly connected to the result. There’s no decision-making involved.
Sometimes when you get into a strong chemical groove created by constant triggers – you get stuck in a loop of being mad all the time. You can’t help but perpetuate more of this chemical flowing – because it’s like a constant drip of this drug your body wants. So it will be like choosing what DOESN’T feel good and retraining yourself to take back the wheel. You need to undo a habit.
Part 2: The Why
If you’re cranky and mean, it’s not a character trait – it’s your body’s chemical imbalance.
Anger comes from a part of your brain that senses threat and then sends that threat to the part of your brain that judges how rational the threat might be. So in other words, your rational brain is taking loud orders from the roided-out fighter part of your brain. It’s a part of us built in for survival – however it gets used a lot in every day life for the wrong reasons. If you’re not defending your life, the function is obsolete.
- Here’s why anger is addictive even though it’s not fun:
You get high. Anger is a drug – a potent series of chemical processes that’s addictive, and it floods your body. Among other things, you get a big burst of adrenaline. Your muscles tense, neurotransmitter chemicals called catecholamines are released giving you a burst of energy. Hence that urge you often have to take immediate action against the focus of your rage. Your heart rate accelerates, your blood pressure rises, and your rate of breathing increases. Blood rushes to your limbs so you can fight or move fast. Your attention narrows to focus on the subject of your anger and that’s where it stays locked. Hence the power anger has to haunt and nag at the back of your consciousness – unable to forgive and forget.
You literally lower your immune system when you’re angry and reduce your body’s ability to digest and metabolize. You also reduce your ability to concentrate because when your focus narrows, you can’t see irrelevant details – hence the reason you forget a lot of stuff about a previous fight.
- Here’s why many of us get stuck in a pissy mood – and set the stage to say terrible things to other strangers on the freeway, or belittle a cashier who isn’t going fast enough.
The adrenaline released during anger can last many hours up to many days. That means that if you are angry, you are primed to get angry again soon. It makes you feel powerful and therefore you are more inclined to look down on others or flex your will in situations that you might otherwise be a pacifist. That’s why a lot of bosses tend to be angry jerks: they use anger to feel powerful and exert control.
- Here’s why being short-tempered is a bigger deal than you think it is:
It’s an early warning sign of greater health problems. Anger is a process in your body that destroys your organs and tissues. The more you stay aroused, the more your systems degrade. Studies show being angry is a stronger predicted of heart than other known risk factors including cholesterol, alcohol intake, cigarette smoking and being overweight. Why? Because your parasympathetic nervous system grows weak with overuse – you cannot calm your body down and this damages your organs and tissues because it constricts them. You cannot digest you cannot relax, you cannot calm yourself for normal blood flow functioning. SO if you are short tempered – take this as an alarm bell to start doing something about it starting now.
Part 3: The HOW: Tools!
The cause of your anger isn’t as relevant as how you manage its outcome, so I’ll give you a few tools to help you do exactly that. Using tools to soothe your anger is not about letting not-cool things slide. It’s about moving from a reactive state to one where you can choose your action based on a thoughtful decision. So the tools I have are all focused around strengthening that muscle. And just like practicing using your opposite hand, it will feel awkward at first, but with time gets easier – and the benefits are immense.
As a starting point – if you suffer from a temper, you should be exercising regularly. Get your blood flowing and sweat! It will help to improve your mood and give you a leg up on the issue.
DEEPEN THE BASELINE
This is a bit of Zen philosophy for you to chew on: where your attention goes, your life goes. Meaning – what captures your attention also controls where your energy and life flows.
This one is a meditation designed specifically for anger, and I recommend you practice either first thing in the morning or when you get home at night. And this isn’t suggesting you are the problem or that your situation isn’t a bad one – it’s so you can remove your reaction to it.
From a removed place you can decide things. You can decide to change something you hate. You can decide to value someone’s opinion and respond or not: to alter your situation or accept it. To fight the truth or refuse to accept it is what causes you the most pain. Because that struggle requires you engage with the negative factor. So this meditation will help you to simply observe and watch it. It’s a meditation exercise to lower your anger baseline. When your rushing around all day and your thoughts and body are moving in all sorts of directions, it’s really hard to align the two and even see what’s going on inside of you. So, becoming still physically is a super important step in getting control of your mind. Once you get to a very still place, you can work on tuning your intentions and untraining negative thoughts. In other words, by practicing being still you can train your body to grow chemically calm.
Choose a place where you can sit uninterrupted. Set your phone timer for ten minutes.
Sit in a position where your legs and seat are as stable as possible, but most importantly, in one that allows you to be the most comfortable.
Start by making yourself as still as possible. Decide your position and then commit to being still. Don’t adjust your body, don’t itch or readjust your clothing, and don’t get up to do anything. If you HAVE to move because something is unbearable, then do it quickly and return immediately to complete stillness.
Breathe normally. And all you are going to do is sit very still and practice accepting all the information as it comes – so for example, if your foot falls asleep, practice accepting that it exists and do not judge it. Like, don’t respond to the pressing need to do something about it.
There will be a specific moment in your practice when something in you is panicking and telling you to “give up” or “put it off” this time. Know that it’s going to happen and push through it. Know that the panicky feeling will subside and practice watching your brain struggle and then release the pesky thought. Continue to bring back your attention to the stillness of your being. Just observe. Listen to sounds. Notice the feeling of energy inside your body. Do not judge or analyze any of it: only observe it.
When you hear sounds, allow them to move through your awareness and do not attach to them. Almost like you’re drifting by them on a boat. Don’t define them as good or bad or annoying or not – just observe them.
If you notice yourself becoming uncomfortable in your seat, there will be a moment when something inside of you wants to fight it – to push it back or not want it to be so. When that happens I want you to instead allow it to exist and do not respond to it. Just accept it and allow it to drift away from your focus.
Part two of this tool is a practice you do throughout your day. What I want you to do, when you experience your triggers, is separate yourself from the context around you and remember a position of non-judgment. Do not get involved in them or feel the need to engage and participate. Instead simply observe them as “things that exist.” Things are not good or bad, they just “are.” Don’t get involved in the judging or interpretation of what they mean. Take a beat to simply step back and watch them. Make that state last as long as possible. Know that you can handle the physical sensations of fear and pain, and you can pass them. Let them drift through your body. Based on all information, you get to choose what you want to do about them: take action or accept them and move on from them.
Contrary to how it might feel, currently – you always get to choose to accept the truth of their existence and not engage with them, meaning, not get swept up by them. You can watch a screaming person be a dick to you and accept that it happened – acknowledge that person exists – and choose to do nothing about it and let it go. How? With frequent meditation practice! Negative things lose their ability to hook into your triggers when you practice looking at everything as a separate occurrence, outside of you. This is ‘the golden beat’ that the inner state of calm that gets lost to a reactionary state of unrest.
VISUALIZATION EXERCISE: The Two Doors.
This is a visualization exercise to help you stop driving yourself crazy with angry, obsessive replay. In any and all situations, if you begin to notice yourself fighting with something that has happened to you: a person is rude, something is not fair, a condition in your life is making you insane – imagine a visual of two bright red doors on a wall in front of you: Door one has a plaque that says, “Acceptance.” Door two, on the right says “Action.” You are You only have two choices in any given situation – to accept the thing exists and move on, or take action to change that thing. The rest is madness. So imagine when you’re not doing either of those things – you are just standing outside the doors and banging your head into the wall. It’s just self-inflicted misery and it’s coming from you – not the external event. This part is not necessary or helpful, so just remind yourself, all you can do is walk through one of the doors. Action or acceptance that something is out of your hands and you don’t have to change it.
When you do choose the “Acceptance” door, remind yourself of the reasons you are accepting it and then spend some time to value and viscerally embrace those reasons. List the benefits of your acceptance and really focus on the value that they truly bring to your life. For example, if this acceptance is related to a job that is causing you misery, remind yourself that you are accepting it for wonderful reasons: safety, food, shelter, and the wellbeing of your family. Feel proud of that decision and feel confident in your reasons for this being the way things are. Let the rest go.
MANTRA: It’s Just Stuff
I’ve given this tool before and it’s one that I use all the time. It can remind you to skip the replay process of lamenting something like a parking ticket or a stain on a new blouse. At the end of your life you will remember your family, all the love you felt, all the moments you shared – you won’t give a crap about physical property. Make it a rule for yourself: if something angering you has to do with your possessions and anything NOT human, don’t waste your time getting upset over it. It’s just stuff – crap that’s replaceable. It’s not a life and you won’t remember it in a year from now. The truest form of insult comes from wasting MORE valuable time pissed over something that has no real value in the big picture. So this is a mantra to help you stay in touch with that all the time.
Anger Reset Button
This is a manual method for resetting your mood when you get angry and need to soothe. You are going to take slow breaths and count to the same number as you breathe in, hold it, breathe out, and hold all the breath out. Start with a count to 4, then 5, then 6, then 7, then start over.
- Take a slow, constricted breath in for the count of four.
Hold it for four.
Exhale for four.
Hold it out for four.
- Next, breathe in and count to five.
Hold it for five.
Exhale for five.
Hold it out for five.
Etc… all the way to seven. Once you get to seven, start again. I recommend at least three rounds and ideally more.
This is a quick way to regain your chemical calm – you will find that your brain wants to continually spit back the thing that is upsetting you, but it’s your job to distract and reaffirm where your focus belongs: soothing. Calming. Listen to the sound of your breath.
Protective Love Bubble
This is a visualization to help you remember what to do when something does make you mad. Think of yourself as protected in a bubble of love – you are the one who chooses when something can affect you, otherwise things cannot get through to you. Nothing is allowed to penetrate this invisible force field around you. If something does manage to make its way through and piss you off, picture that thing is just a super tiny gnat and it’s flying around in your face. THAT is what is bugging you. JUST a stupid gnat. It’s not meaningful, it just needs to be removed from your face. So don’t give it any more weight or meaning than it deserves.
In literal terms – if you are bugged, that means you just have to soothe the emotion itself. Don’t pay any mind to the stupid thought – it’s just a gnat after all. How do you physically soothe? By releasing the opposite chemicals: Exercise, deep breathing, meditation, getting outside in nature, any kind of yoga inversion. If you’re bugged, make it a point to do something nice for yourself to soothe the emotion. Make this a worthy investment of as much time as possible and don’t put it on yourself to just eat it and move on. Show you that you are a top priority and take care of what is irking you – get it the hell out of your body.
This is not a selfish step to take – in fact it’s quite the opposite. When you’re angry, you are like a live round of ammunition ready to go off and hurt the next person – so this is your way of being loving to everyone. Empower yourself and give yourself permission to take time for self-soothing. It’s important for your personal growth to happen that you confront these states. That you become aware of it, acknowledge it exists and it’s something worth doing something about. Don’t feel like it’s selfish to soothe it – begin to make it more of a consistent habit and take a beat for yourself.
This includes informing others of your state, sending emails explaining where you are at so that others can protect themselves. Go for a walk in nature. Meditate. Stop somewhere before you enter the home. Play lots of music at top volume and dance it out.
Anger might feel right or natural in your situation if you’ve been living that way for a long time. It might feel like a part of your identity – like it helps you do a good job or is the reason others listen to you. But it’s not necessary and it’s not sustainable for your body. It’s not who you are or how you have to be, it’s just a bad habit you haven’t been able to see your way out of. So start now, today by enabling yourself. Start at the baseline and move that lower so that you empower yourself with the tiniest bit more control. Just focus on that as a starting point and then build up from there. You will find the rest gets easier and change occurs faster. Go for it! I believe in you and I send you my love. Don’t forget to smile! xo
Image via iStock