By Tracy Henderson, LMHCA
Anger related issues are a common reason clients reach out for help. I frequently hear from individuals that “talking it out” with friends or family isn’t working. They share how they cannot let an experience go or the anger becomes even more escalated the more they repeat their account of the situation.
For starters, it’s completely reasonable to believe that talking things out will make you feel better. That is a common and effective approach we learn. Ask any bartender or hair stylist how many unsolicited stories of anger or frustration they’ve heard from their customers about a co-worker, friend, or spouse. Talking things out can lead to healthy solutions and closure.
Unfortunately, what can also occur by “talking things out” is that instead of creating a cathartic experience for individuals, a more familiar and routine manifestation takes place. By rehearsing it, individuals recapitulate the emotional arousal and feelings associated with the original experience. Physiological reactions can reoccur through momentary or prolonged arousal of adrenal hormones. Prolonged arousal of adrenal hormones can lead to other health related issues such as headaches, insomnia, digestion issues, and high blood pressure. Furthermore, while rehearsing the experience, unhealthy habits continue to be exercised and embedded in terms of how the emotion is expressed.
A suggestion I offer to my clients to mitigate their experience with strong emotions involves the mind, body, and behavior. Starting with the mind, we attempt to approach how the experience is processed. Rather than rehearsing the experience blow-by-blow, I ask if they can step back and examine it as if they were a curious observer? What was the catalyst for the event? How can we re-frame the emotional experience? How can we reinterpret the event?
When we rehearse the experience, our body will commonly repeat similar or even escalated emotional response mechanisms. Therefore, it is helpful to adopt a pro-active approach to identify our individual triggers coupled with learning skills to self soothe and down regulate our emotional response. Examples to help self soothe include exercises such as mindful breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.
It is also important to address behavior and how the emotions are expressed. Introducing alternative approaches and building new habits should be implemented.
Discussing anger can lead to practical solutions, but it can also lead to a situation where we feel like we are spinning our wheels. A first step is to bring awareness to the situation by checking-in with yourself. Are you trying to find meaning and closure through a healthy expression of your emotions or are you continuing to “talk it out” and just rehearsing the experience?