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Calming the rage

Updated: May 3, 2022

Stress is a day-to-day occurrence for many of us, and can often lead to the red mist descending more often than we’d like to admit. For this reason, stress deserves a lot of attention. We shouldn’t normalise stress or just accept it as a part of our daily lives, but instead try to actively reduce sources of stress and develop strategies to pre-empt it. But sometimes we just need some easy strategies to use in the moment and this is what this article is focused on: reducing stress as it happens, so that you don’t end up losing your rag over something that you can later acknowledge wasn’t that big a deal. You’ll need to practice the strategies so that they become both effective and automatic, and some may work for you while others don’t. The key is in recognising when you are starting to get angry, and implementing something at that point before your feelings explode. You may notice that I don’t recommend pummelling a cushion or screaming into a pillow. That’s because it doesn’t really work – it doesn’t channel or diffuse your anger, and it can actually leave you feeling more wound up as you are essentially reinforcing the feeling that you are angry. Have a go at some of these instead.

When you’re in a hurry or have no time:

1. Breathe

When we’re stressed and angry, our breathing tends to become shallower and higher up in our chests. Try some deep breathing, drawing the breath down in the belly, to slow down your heart rate. You could try breathing in for a slow count of 4, and out for a slow count of 5. Or try breathing in for 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4. Try a few variations on this to see what works for you.

You could combine this with another strategy, distraction (see point 3). I sometimes try taking 3 deep breaths then count backwards from 10, then sing a happy song in my head!

2. Take a helicopter ride

This is a great strategy from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Zoom out of the situation – try to imagine you’re in a helicopter, looking down on the situation. Using this has helped me to see that I’m doing my best and that there are probably a thousand other people around the world going through the same thing as me. It helps put things in perspective so it seems like less of an issue.

3. Distract yourself

Look around and see what can take your mind off the current moment. Are there some nice clouds in the sky? Can you see aeroplanes or birds flying over – where might they be going? Or do something mentally challenging that means you have to stop thinking about it. Count backwards from 100 in 7s. Do some times tables. Anything that will change your focus.

4. Happy music

I’m a big advocate for the power of music to change your mood. I recommend having two ‘happy playlists’ – one that is upbeat, for when you need a lift or boost, and the other being more mellow, for when you need to cheer up without getting hyped up. When you’re feeling stressed out you need your mellow playlist (think artists like Laura Mvula, Solomon Grey, Emeli Sandé, Fleetwood Mac) to help with your mood. Do not make the mistake I’ve made in the past and switch on your upbeat playlist! You will find that this just makes you stomp louder and rage harder.

5. Make the situation fun

I know, I know. You don’t have time and you’re not in the mood. But if shouting at the kids to finish their breakfast isn’t working, can you make it a game instead? Can you turn it into a race, or set a funny alarm that they have to beat? Breaking the tension is good for everyone.