Blowing off steam...in a healthy way.
Back in December, I finished reading Anger by Thich Nat Thih. The reason for starting this book comes from my experience in working with my fiancé’s son through his anger issues, which can manifest in violent and unpredictable ways. It was also a way for me to help deal with my own anger as well. As a new step-parent, I’m quickly learning that I have less patience for the extreme anger expressed by a young child than I originally thought.
I also began to think about anger in relation to my professional work. Anger might be a bit extreme when discussing professional work. Sure there are times I’ve been truly angry, but it is mostly a sense of frustration and irritation, as I feel any job tends to bring, for a variety of reasons or faults.
There is certainly a feeling of frustration when I’ve sent ten proofs out and there are still unexpected new changes to the copy and layout. Or, when a large payment is going on 2-3 weeks late. Or, when I’m suddenly expected to explain my design process to a panel of committee members who would also like to discuss their ideas. Things like that definitely get my blood pressure moving upwards. But, they’re also challenges I chalk up to part of this business. Should they happen? Ideally I would like them not to. But, in any occupation where communication is key, there will always be moments that feel messier then they should, or ought, to be.
This book has reminded me of a couple of things to do when these pessimistic urges of anger and frustration come up. Though I’ve practiced them before, I’ve never done so with much intention, which is something the author recommends.
1) Take a walk with intention – This seems obvious, but my fiancé is a big believer in daily walks. She usually uses them to help meet her daily exercise goals of movement and working out, but for me, they’ve proven useful for a means of de-stressing. I live in an area of town where it is very easy and safe to simply go outside, walk around the block, and head back inside. These walks allow you to leave the problem facing you for a while, get your body moving, and breathe some fresh air, find a momentary distraction in life existing outside work. It’s amazing in the summer how helpful these walks are and after the first summer working in the same location, I found myself asking my fiancé to go on walks with me instead of the other way around. Having another person to go with you is also nice because you can potentially share your problem in a healthy way, possibly receive advice or recognition and allow her to also communicate about something in her world, something that might get your mind away from the problem. But, walks alone are also helpful in focusing your thoughts on the problem, acknowledging it and then finding insight and moving on peacefully.
2) Meditation – This is something I always wished I could do more often, and with more intention, but after reading ‘Anger’, I’m very much rejuvenated in doing so more habitually with intention. I’ve known since my college days studying Dr. Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response, that meditation is very much real in its powerful ability to calm and heal yourself, both body and mind. That said, it is difficult to do when you’re faced with the pressure of deadlines, last-minute projects, meetings, etc. But if you can allot time to meditate, I believe it will only help with bringing your mental pressure at ease.
While reading this book, I read the inside page of the Dec’18/Jan’19 issue of Fast Company. Jonathan Van Ness (Queer Eye) was featured and quoted saying, “I start my day by meditating. It’s literally just three minutes.” This got me thinking that a three minute ritual could easily be added to my already fairly busy schedule. So I think this week I’m going to try and either spend 3 minutes allowing myself to add that to my wake up routine, or wake up 5 min earlier than normal to make sure I get this in. I’m not a morning person, but I do find myself to be productive in the morning, so I’m interested to see if this helps or if it is painful for me to do so early in the morning.
3) Write a letter. This sounds obvious and you’ve probably been told this before. But, I find it incredibly helpful to write out what you’d like to say to the person you’re frustrated with. Be it a client, bff, significant other, family member, etc. Sometimes the things you’d like to say to them in person are more hurtful than they’re worth actually saying. But, because you know the anger is still red hot, it’s important to not necessarily let the anger do the talking. Get the anger out, not by beating or hitting a pillow or punching bag, or by screaming and yelling about it, but instead, with a paper and pen or a new Word doc. I prefer the tech-friendly method because it allows me to type more and get my thoughts out more quickly. I don’t worry about spelling or grammar, or even sometimes complete sentences. Sometimes it’s just a bunch of words that sort of connect my thinking. I usually do this, go on a walk and come back to the document (some days I’ll even let it sit for multiple days). If I’m still mad and think it worth looking at again, I will, but most of the time, if I’m honest with myself, I’ve had the ability to vent and I will simply save it and file it away in a file I have labeled ‘frustrations’. I then number them in the file name to not give them a specific name to the thing that gave me frustration. I don’t necessarily want to be reminded of the incident by seeing filename “thattimeclientxhatedmywork.doc”. This isn’t healthy and (god forbid) somehow that file was leaked, I’d hope I didn’t say anything that would destroy my relationship with that client. Once every so often I’ll go back to that folder read a few of those incidents and delete them because they are no longer relevant. In fact, many I look back and laugh at because by the time I go back to reading them, I’m most likely over the incident and have moved on.
One of these documents was written out to a good friend and after re-reading it, I found it so funny how I could be so mad at one time with someone I’d grown to be very good friends with. I also think of how unfortunate it would have been had I sent the letter. Our friendship would have suffered, if not completely deteriorated. All it took was some time for me to privately think about the situation and make a more calm and collected decision of whether or not to deliver it. In an age of instant messaging, I fear people are more conditioned to speak their minds in an instant instead of letting the frustration subside before speaking out.
While I felt Anger provided some great reminders and advice when confronted with such, I did feel like Thich Nhat Hanh repeated himself often, as I feel I’ve encountered in much Buddhist literature. It seems to help let the key components really sink in – if you repeat it three times, it’s pretty much in memory, which is actually helpful for self-help book like this. There are other tips and advice on meditation and mindfulness training. If this isn’t really your thing, then I’d suggest skipping the full book read and try to take on the few ideas mentioned above. If you find that your anger is hurting your relationships or yourself in any way, it might also be time to seek out some help. That said, I’ll finish with a simple quote from the author who reminds us that “Nothing can heal anger except compassion.”