14 Sep
Letting Go of Anger

This was first written in March 21, 2022 for the UIHC community.  As the subject of how to navigate stressors and negative feelings in a world that continues to present so many challenges is still relevant to many, we share it here.

In recent months, people in our community have expressed feelings of ongoing anger. More than ever, we need to spot anger in all its forms, and deal with it in skillful healthy ways. Anger is a normal response to hurtful situations.  This may be: unmet expectations, feelings of unfairness, mistakes and failings, moral distress, systemic injustices, community divisions, grief, actions of our fellow humans.

At this moment, you may be carrying one or more angers. These can range from “annoyed” to “furious.” For example, Suresh shared that our hospital was about to go through an all-hands-on-deck moment.  This was to meet the coming wave of need brought to us by the omicron variant.  That evening, I noted that most of the employees at the local grocery store were not wearing masks, commented on it in the cash register line to little effect. When I got home, I phoned the store management, again to little effect.  Their response: “Store policy is that employees who are fully-vaccinated should have the freedom to choose whether to mask if they’re fully vaccinated.”  This ended with a frustrated verbal flailing, and emphatically pressing my finger onto the circular red phone button. 

Symptoms of anger may include body tension, a narrowing of vision and awareness, and intensely gripped with specific thoughts.  Anger is a natural and necessary energy for navigating the world.  It can inform us “This is what I don’t want” and motivate us to make change.  But if anger is mishandled, or brushed off, it can be harmful. Anger can come quickly and become big enough to overwhelm us. Our sense of self then gets replaced with “Someone hurt me. I am angry.” If we are not quick to stop that anger-train in its tracks and find compassionate ways to get it from inside to outside, it can lead us to lash out.  This brings others into confusion, or emotional overwhelm, or a cycle of back-and-forth anger. Instead of lashing out, we hold back the anger. We gloss over our feelings with denials or double think.  We say, “I’m fine. Hanging in there…” However, this way of coping tends to do its harm on the inside. It creates self-doubt, and growing resentment toward somebody who may be oblivious, or has moved on. Then the anger only hurts the one who is holding it.

Whatever the cause and effect of anger may be, it is good to grow skills and viewpoints to let us to handle it and release it. Whenever your anger is fully front-and-center, and occupying your attention, take time to pause, and breathe. 10 minutes with a breathing or mindfulness routine, or an app like Headspace or Calm, or relaxation videos on YouTube may give enough of a break to get some distance. Once the flood of feelings is paused, it’s key to acknowledge the anger is real.  Develop an understanding of it beyond our initial “I got hurt” story.  That is how we find the anger’s source, its effects on us and those around us. Exploring what’s behind the hurt is necessary because it lets chances for love, kindness and graceful understanding enter the picture. Those are needed to let the anger’s story evolve.  It helps direct the anger’s energy to make changes that let our hearts and relationships return to wholeness. One other tool is to recognize anger as something we have, not something we are. The phrase “I am angry” claims that we are the anger.  This can keep us attached to it far longer than needed. Instead, using the phrase “I have anger” allows us to hold the anger as long as we need to, and to leave it behind when we are ready Hopefully these words are a good start to taming the monster of anger. 

The subject of anger is huge, and there is so much more to explore. We will offer more tools and skills for our community to manage future anger-inducing situations. Additionally, we encourage you to make use of the variety of support resources UIHC provides.  These include the UIHC chaplain team, the UIHC COPE team, the UI Employee Assistance Program, liveWELL Health Coach Services, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses, and the Mental Health at Iowa program.

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