5 Steps Towards Managing Anger

5 Steps Towards Managing Anger

When I moved to Providence about 2 1/2 years ago, one of my first cultural challenges was adapting to a new city with different driving habits. I noticed how I became easily frustrated when I observed drivers turning left from the other side of the road by cutting directly in front of me when the light had just turned green; or when traffic unexpectedly stopped to a halt to let a car coming out of Taco Bell turn left on a four lane road in a no passing zone. I was not used to experiences like these, so I often became stressed and angry at the other drivers. At some point, I realized that I was getting frustrated a little too often, and that something needed to change before I lost my nerves! 

Analyzing the cost of anger.

 I thought about the cost of my driving frustrations, which included a lingering bad mood and becoming a less pleasant person to be around. I imagined my body releasing “cortisol”, the scary toxic stress hormone that undermines our mental and physical health in the long run. I was also more likely to get in an accident by being stubborn and proving to others that I was “right”.  The cost was too high and the reward was absolutely none! 

Asking how does getting angry help the situation.

 My first question was: is my anger towards unknown people on the road helpful in any way? The answer, of course was clearly “not at all!”.

Putting myself on other people’s shoes. 

I realized that I was going to live in Rhode Island for a while, and that I wanted to make the best of living in such a beautiful and historic state. Once I became a little more familiar with the place, I saw that there was some cultural precedence that was escaping my understanding of why people where driving the way they were. After all, the density of population in the east coast was much higher than what I was used to in Utah, and the road space in the streets of Providence was more limited. Rhode Islanders seemed to have actually found ways to make traffic more fluid when there are less middle lanes for turning. In this way I began to understand a different point of view, instead of fighting it! I also began to notice my own driving mistakes, which sometimes contributed to other people’s frustration and anger towards me.

Letting go of the things I don’t have control over.

 I saw that I could not change anyone around me, and that it made no sense to be angry at one driver when there were so many others after him that would be doing something similar. I concluded that instead of trying to tell others what was fair or what they should do right, I would change my attitude and stop reacting at the “unfairness” I came across every time I drove. I practiced “letting go” every time someone did something I perceived as unfair, and went back to thinking about other more important things in my life. 

Changing my expectations. 

I began to expect the traffic to stop suddenly anytime for any reason in front of me. I expected people to sometimes cut in front of me when my light turned green, and I began to suffer less when it happened!. Instead of giving the person the evil eye, I just adjusted my driving accordingly and went back to thinking about my day. I also began to leave home a few minutes early so I would not need to get in a hurry to my office. Now, every time I get on the car, I make the conscious decision to drive relaxed and cautiously. 
I still feel angry when someone does something that I consider "wrong", but with monitoring and practice I work towards not letting everyday hazzards take too much of my energy. 
Angry driving is just one of the many ways anger debilitates us. When we are frequently angry it is hard to think clearly, find solutions to problems, improve the quality of our lives, or have the kind of relationships we want to have. The good news is that we are in charge of shaping the way we think, feel and behave through understanding, training and diligent practice. Anger does not have to control how we respond to adversity!