Overreacting to minor annoyances can be a symptom of depression. Manage anger and irritability by learning healthy ways to divert and release them.
By Carol L. Rickard, LCSW
Why do such little things make me so mad?
One of the symptoms of depression that doesn’t get a lot of recognition is irritability. First, the bad news: We don’t get to choose when and where it happens. Anger and irritability can erupt at work, at home, with friends or family.
The good news is, we can take steps to manage anger and irritability. The first is becoming aware of those reactions in time to try interventions like:
POSITIVE SELF-TALK. Negative self-talk like, “I can’t believe they did that to me,” or, “Why does this always happen to me?” makes the anger stronger, like gasoline on a fire. It’s more helpful to try statements like, “I am managing the situation the best I can,” or , “I am choosing to stay calm.”
THE LIBRARY SHELF: There are times when anger is so strong that when we open our mouths, we say things we regret and can’t take back. Instead, imagine putting the anger in a book and placing that book on a library shelf. Once the strong emotion has abated and it’s possible to talk more calmly, take the anger book back off the shelf and work with it.
When irritability is a symptom of depression, the reaction will subside along with the episode. However, the way we tend to process emotions can also play a role in getting unreasonably mad at relatively minor annoyances.
The type of person who tends to hold everything inside will run out of room to calmly absorb those “little things” that provoke an irritable response. Think of a sink filled to the top: When there is no room left, even adding a few drops of water will cause the sink to overflow. The same thing can happen with our emotions.
The key is finding healthy, nondestructive ways to release pent-up emotions. Here’s one technique many people find helpful:
DUMP & DESTROY: Take a piece of paper or open a document and just start writing whatever comes to mind. Don’t read any of what you just wrote. Dispose of it or delete it. Let the emotion out and get rid of it.
Isn’t getting angry a bad thing?
This is one of the biggest misconceptions about anger. The truth is, feelings are just feelings-neither good nor bad. What happens is that people tend to lump the emotion of anger together with angry behaviors. In reality, those are two very different things.
Understanding the difference is important because it means we actually can be angry in a positive, constructive way. The big question to contemplate and address is this: What behaviors get hitched to my anger?
Think about one of those big semis on the highway. At first glance, it looks like one unit going down the road. But if you look closely, you’ll notice two separate parts hooked together: the tractor in front and the trailer in back.
The same principle applies to anger. There are two parts: the feeling (which is the tractor in this analogy), and the behavior that follows (the trailer). And while it might seem like anger itself is a bad thing, it’s really how people behave when they’re angry that can be hurtful and harmful.
Let’s look at an example: George was someone who used to yell and curse at his family when he got angry at home. It had gotten to the point where his wife was thinking of divorce, so George agreed to get some counseling. He learned he could actually be angry without letting it come out as screaming and swearing. He learned to manage his anger.
Printed as Ask The Therapist | Carol L. Rickard, LCSW, Winter 2018
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
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