Anger management: It’s on you

by Karen Bowen

Do you ever feel like lifting your hand from the wheel and shaking your fist at the world? The frustrations of professional driving – inconsiderate drivers, traffic congestion, detours, demanding supervisors, unrealistic deadlines, soaring fuel costs, personal concerns, etc. – sometimes can just make you angry.

Everyone feels angry at times. Anger itself isn’t a problem. It’s your body’s natural protective response when sensing you’re in danger. By automatically releasing adrenalin, tightening muscles, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, increasing blood flow to major organs, and intensifying senses, your body prepares for fight or flight. However, your response for managing anger is your own. It comes from a combination of learned and inherited tendencies, brain chemistry, and/or underlying medical conditions.

If you regularly feel you must hold in your anger; constantly feel cynical, impatient, critical, irritated, and/or hostile; frequently argue with your partner, family, co-workers, dispatcher, and/or boss; physically lash out at others; provoke fights or arguments; threaten violence against property or others; behave/drive recklessly; and/or withdraw due to anxiety or depression, your health will benefit from adjusting your methods of handling anger.

If you typically suppress anger, and bottle it up inside – be careful. Long-term, suppressed anger can lead to serious health issues. The constant flow of stress chemicals and related metabolic changes can lead to recurring headaches, digestive issues, abdominal pain, skin conditions, eczema, insomnia, high anxiety, depression, poor judgment, reduced cognition, high blood pressure, stroke, and/or heart attack. It’s healthier to express anger.

When conflict situations offer the opportunity for resolution, consider ways to recognize and rationally talk about your frustrations, rather than holding them inside until you explode with uncontrolled words or actions. Remaining calm, take the opportunity to assertively express yourself and release your anger in a way that still allows you to maintain relationships with others (and avoid addictive escape activities).

Allow anger to become a catalyst for positive change. Recognize and acknowledge the early signs you’re becoming angry; then consciously, positively, and logically deal with the triggering circumstances. When possible, prepare a game plan in advance to manage typical situations. Establish in your mind what you consider the ideal solution and also what compromises you are willing to accept. Take time to calm down before speaking.

Present what you would have liked to occur (instead of what you didn’t like). Listen to the other person’s perspective. Ask questions. In the end, be satisfied with an ok/ok solution, instead of holding out for the ideal win/win.

In your workday, it will often be inconvenient or even impossible to resolve anger-triggering issues. Poor car drivers are an excellent example. When a driver cuts you off, doesn’t signal, races in front to stop and turn left, passes you and slows down, and/or almost clips your front bumper to make the exit, you’ll never have an opportunity to resolve that experience with those drivers.

So, to avoid the temptation of venting your frustration through unsafe, retaliatory actions, I invite you to take a moment to step back from your emotions and impersonally analyze the experience. The drivers don’t know you. Their discourteous, aggressive actions were not directed towards you personally (even though it felt like it); they’re just displaying their ignorance of basic driving etiquette. That’s on them.

In these unresolvable situations, use creative ways to healthfully vent your anger on your own. As soon as convenient, get physical; doing anything that works up a sweat will trigger calming endorphins in your brain. Focus on the funny side – humor releases tension. Consciously decide to let it go – that person/driver/situation is not worth your aggravation. Practice relaxation techniques with deep breathing, calming music, a journal and/or yoga. To avoid accumulating anger, schedule short escape breaks during typically stressful periods of your day to grab a cup of coffee, stretch, or text your friends/family.

Every workday, flashes of anger are possible, even inevitable – how you respond is on you.


Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at

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