James Musson

March 10, 2021

Anger Management

I've been reading a fair amount of material about stress recently. I don't think it's by accident.

A key theme is the toxic effects of stress on our bodies. Essentially, we have one response to stress, whether it's from a predator bearing down on us in the street, an email which is attacking us (perceived or actual), or the long-term stress of uncertainty about job, house, key relationships, children, etc.

That response, as we've all experienced, is the dump of adrenaline which puts us into a fight-or-flight response – our heart rate quickens, our hands go clammy and muscles tense. That's great if you do actually need to run away, take some kind of quick, physical evasive action or fight the predator away.

But it completely ill-equips you to work out how to respond to a Facebook comment that you've read as combative. Still your physical response is the same, but without any of the associated physical activity your body is expecting, so you're sitting there feeling uncomfortable (because that's what adrenaline feels like) with no-one to punch. Oh, and it takes a good chunk of time for the adrenaline response to wear off.

This is a very physically and mentally draining process that uses a lot of our resources. So imagine the impact of reading 30 unread emails with a potential predator lurking in each one, ready to jump out and attack you. (You might not have to imagine!)

Sounds silly when it's written down, but that's how our bodies respond.

Everything I have read has urged me to consider the long-term negative effects of this. In effect we are experiencing life-threatening events several times a day!

No wonder we feel stressed.

There's no easy solution except to work with our own physiology. In the words of Danny from Hot Fuzz: "You've just gotta learn to switch off that big old melon of yours".

How I think about and approach my emails will make a difference to how I process them. Emptying my head in Getting-Things-Done-style mindsweep will help me to externalise and make concrete my worries by putting them down on paper.

Oh, and it will help me to remind myself, cliché as it sounds, that everything will be basically OK. Although there are sometimes dangers in my day (email me if you want to hear about how to support me in my job), I can worry less knowing that my body does actually have an appropriate response if I'm jumped in the street.

Time to get smarter about anger management.

For further reading, I recommend two books by Dr Harry Barry: "Emotional Resilience" and "Toxic Stress" (these are links to Amazon.co.uk). Let me know what you think.