Be angry, but do not sin. Ephesians 4:26
Enjoying the smooth peddle strokes of my bike, I coasted lazily towards a t-intersection on a quiet tree lined street in my neighborhood of Old South, London. The soft morning sunlight filtered down through the canopy of old trees causing fluttering shadows on the pavement. Suddenly, breaking the idyllic moment, there came behind me the roar of a speeding truck. The noise built louder and louder, boring down upon me. Quickly, on the left came the fender of a white pick-up truck, angling menacingly toward me and the curb. Words my only defense, I yelled, “Hey dude!” The truck lurched to a stop, opening the way for me to slide between it and the curb. I made the the turn. Again came the roar behind. Pulling up beside me, a young man leaned out the window and yelled, “Hey dude, F#$%-off!”
My body flushed with adrenalin, and I seethed with images of vengeance. I quickly weighed my options in glorious 3-dimensional imagination, experiencing myself yelling “F*&# -You” back, jumping from my bike, and swinging my fists! I would make him pay! I was angry!
Ah, sorry folks, the drama ended ingloriously. I took a deep breath, muttered something to myself about the government giving licenses to idiots, and glided my bike into my driveway. The truck raced down the street and that was the end of it. Swinging my leg over the bicycle seat, the adrenalin rush waning, a corresponding sense of fatigue washed over me. The reality of what might have happened had I reacted to his aggression came to me. Who knows, the guy could have had a baseball bat in his truck and was willing to use it? Maybe I would have clobbered him and been arrested for assault.
The first step to dealing with anger is to recognize that anger is an emotional, physiological state of in the body. Anger is a reaction to threat that impels us physically and emotionally to do something – to fight, to flee, or in extreme circumstances such as violent trauma, to freeze. When we are in a state of anger, our bodies are ready for action. Our heart rate increases, our muscles tense, fist clench, angry thoughts speed through our minds. Anger is very much a ‘state’ of physical and emotional preparedness for action.
When we’re angry, we can feel like hurting, hitting, or smashing something – or someone! Of course, this can be highly inappropriate. Unless there is a situation of imminent danger, dealing with anger is best dealt with by pausing, becoming aware that we are in a heightened emotional state, and allowing ourselves to calm down before reacting.
How do we do this? We do it by adopting physical coping mechanisms in measure to the circumstances of our anger. With mild irritations, this can simply mean pausing and becoming aware of our breathing. Greater states of anger, or rage, demand more physical releases, like working out, punching a bag, or even going off in the woods to scream it out, etc.
In most social circumstances, excusing ourselves from situations where we feel we might lose control is a good tactic. Then, after we go for a walk, a run, or work out, etc., free from the reactionary state of anger, we can more maturely and appropriately deal with the circumstances of our anger – like writing a letter to the government decrying the licensing system.
Next in Navigating Anger, Part 3: where anger comes from