Feel Angry Every Time You Read the News? Here's What to Do About ItNone By Homaira Kabir
You’re watching the news and hear about an incident that upsets you intensely. Before you know it, you’ve launched into a barrage of disgust and criticism. Soon enough, you’re angry at whomever and whatever passes your way, punching your seat’s armrest in rage and calling anyone names who remotely associates with your object of fury. It's no wonder that conversations that take place while you're angry rarely find a solution.
Anger can hardly be called a mild emotion. Even passive aggression consumes our mental energy and eats us from within. Our biological action tendency is to attack. Blaming others, criticizing the perceived perpetrator, or retaliating and seeking revenge are some of the ways in which we vent our anger.
But studies show that venting not only makes us angrier, it also makes us aggressive towards innocent others. We keep fueling our rage with angry thoughts and behaviors, harming our ability to hold perspective and see the full picture. Is staying silent, even when we’re angry about something that touches us deeply, the only other option we have?
It appears that there’s a third way—one where we can harness the energy of the emotion, and use it towards a better purpose. Anger is, after all, a social emotion, part of the "approach" emotions of the left pre-frontal cortex—which is why anger has often been a powerful catalyst for social change.
If you, too, want to use your anger towards making a difference, here are 4 steps to guide you:
Listen to the Story
Our minds are storytellers, and leaders and organizations are constantly using stories to steer our opinions and actions. However, stories do not have to be true, nor helpful, for us to believe them. These days, many political stories are often based in fear, purposefully intended to cause emotional overwhelm, distorted thinking and impulsive behaviors. We don’t have to be the helpless recipients of these stories, though. We can ask ourselves whose story we’re running in our minds. We can reflect upon its effects on our bodies and behaviors. We can question whether the story is based in fear that triggers anger and anxiety. Or whether it’s a story that opens us up with compassion towards all of humanity, and uplifts us, even just a bit.
Shift Your Focus
If you recognize your stomach clenching, your heart racing, or your mouth going dry, its time to shift your focus from the harm that a perpetrator has done, to the victims who’ve suffered from it. In his book Originals, Wharton professor Adam Grant shows that shifting the focus of our target of anger can keep the energy of the emotion while enabling us to consider other ways of responding. Think of how Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for civil rights using peaceful methods. Or of how writer Elie Wiesel used the power of his pen to remind us of our duty towards the oppressed.
Why Are You Angry About It?
Now that you have shifted your focus towards those who deserve your compassion, you need to turn this into a cause that you’ll uphold against all odds. This is important because too many of us feel angry in the moment, only to turn to our daily (and often mindless) busyness once the anger has run its course. We can instead connect to this cause and use it not only to change the lives of those who are oppressed, victimized, or otherwise voiceless, but also to find fulfillment in our own lives. Identifying the values that underlie our stance is the best way to do so. Ask yourself whether it’s your sense of justice that drives you or your vision for a better world. Reflect on whether it's your strength of courage that’s the fuel for your passion, or your inherent kindness and compassion.
What Will You Do About It?
Now that you feel emotionally involved in making a difference, it's time to use the planning and executing functions of the left pre-frontal cortex. This problem-focused approach allows for bilateral integration between the right and left brain hemispheres—taking the energy of the emotion and funneling it through "cool" cognitive processes of emotional regulation, problem-solving and reasoning. It’s this final step that triggers action and brings about desired change.
For example, if you’re angry at your government’s policies, you may want to think of the people who are bearing the brunt of it, connect to your own sense of fairness, and think about what you can do to help them live with justice. If you’re angry at the discrimination you see around you, you may want to think about the disadvantaged groups you stand behind, connect to your voice of courage, and think about what you can do to help them find their own voice.
Elie Wiesel once said: “Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately”. Whatever your source of anger, find the cause that underlies it and then go out and do something about it.
Homaira Kabir is a positive psychology coach and cognitive behavioral therapist. She offers courses and coaching to help women develop the self-confidence and inner strength to identify and achieve their biggest and boldest goals. You can take her free quiz on learning to grow authentic self-worth at her website.
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