There's nothing quite as destabilizing as anger, or other negative emotions like sadness or anxiety. What's worse, we're taught to suppress these negative emotions, so when we snap and show our sadness or the depth of our worry, we often feel ashamed, which in turn leads to more anger or deeper sadness or persistent stress. It's a never-ending, ever-tightening loop.
But while these emotions may feel unpleasant, don't mistake that for pointless. There's a good reason, evolutionarily speaking, why those emotions trigger the reactions they do. Your goal isn't to prevent any and all negative emotions (or repress them, which is worse), but to metabolize them the way you would food: Get what you need from it and let the rest go. This means it's critical that you can understand what's causing you to feel the way you do, and to manage your response so that you remain in control.
Here's a three-step approach to meeting negative emotions with more control.
Allow yourself to feel the emotion.
It is absolutely normal, and necessary, to feel the full range of human emotion. Anger may be the most taboo emotion, especially for women. The fear is that if you're angry, people might reject or, even worse, dismiss your anger as unimportant or irrational. The emotion boils down to one thing: You feel your rights are being violated. And you may be right! This emotion may be clueing you in to a real infringement that calls for action. But if you've in a constant state of anger, then your thoughts are likely out of sync with reality. That's when you need to practice bringing awareness to your thinking.
Take a breath between feeling and expression.
This isn't about repression. It's about taking a breath before the emotions run away with you. Emotional literacy is partly about learning how to separate from the feeling and consider it with a neutral mind. When you can find this space, you are more able to disrupt the thoughts feeding the huge emotion. Often breathing, stretching, or otherwise becoming aware of your body can help give you a buffer zone.
Challenge the thoughts determining your emotions.
Part of regaining control and calm is being able to identify the thought that are triggering the emotion, and changing it. You may not even be aware that these thoughts are operating beneath the conscious level. They surely are, though, and investigating them is the only way to lessen their power. For example, anxiety gets a lot of mileage out of the idea that some threat is coming to get you. It's vague enough to apply to anything and ominous enough to affect all your decisions, from what you eat to how you talk to your kids. If you flub your words on the conference call, the potential client won't hire you. But you can test the thought against reality -- and reality will win. If there is a threat out there, you'll deal with it. If not, you can change the thought.