Anger management is a skill best kept close at hand, you never know when you might need it. A few years back, while working on a TV drama, I found myself at a swanky rooftop dinner in Rome with a 1950s screen goddess, a famous astronaut, his wife, a free bar and a range of spiky opinions. One thing led to another and fruity stabs of anger were soon floating from the venerated Castel Sant’Angelo. Since I was nominally responsible for keeping an eye on our guests, it fell to me to tackle their rising tension.

I was pretty much out of my depth the moment we sat down to dinner. By the time the coffee turned up, I was in danger of sinking without trace. I got a couple of key individuals to listen to reason, though some anger management training might have speeded things up. Like all emergency responses, however, anger management only works if you’ve nailed it before the crisis. Nobody wants a fire extinguisher a day after the fire.

Typical causes of anger

In the norms of daily life, anger comes in various forms,  such as:

  • Normally sane and sober people can struggle to stay calm during a sudden, incendiary crisis, for example a moment of blatant injustice.
  • Alternatively, minor issues can be perceived as bigger problems by someone whose patience has already been stretched by long-term tension, like a pandemic, for example.

Being ourselves, beyond the person we are at home

Before the pandemic, I used to go to meetings, meet friends in the pub and live more of a life than I did in lockdown. In lockdown, I spent most of my time at home. My wife – forced to put her business on ice – spent most of her time in the 1950s, or so it felt like. Previously, for both of us and the kids, there was more to-ing and fro-ing, more engagement with the world. As we moved between home and work, home and school, home and the pub (the children not so much), there was regular time to ourselves, time away from home, time to think, time to be who we are other than the person we are at home.

Without the variety we normally enjoyed, and the life-affirming reactions that came with it, lockdown settled on us like a form of fog. As wearing as we found it, we knew we were fortunate. For family and friends working in healthcare, or experiencing financial hardship and uncertainty, things were far tougher. For everyone, there was a background sense of tiredness and tension, misunderstood by the likes of Bill Michael to their cost.

Managing anger

Once the first lockdown began in March last year, there was a national increase in demand for domestic abuse services, according to the Office for National Statistics. In August, a survey by campaign group Women’s Aid found that 91% of respondents currently experiencing domestic abuse said the pandemic had negatively impacted them in at least one way. At Working Voices, we received a spike in calls looking for help with anger management.

While some problems are best handled by a psychologist, others can be managed through awareness and self-development.

Our online anger management course touches on 5 basic points:

1) Anger is a useful energy

Anger is a normal reaction, recognising this helps in managing it. It shouldn’t be feared or suppressed, these responses may be counter-productive. Better to channel the energy it brings.

2) Responses to anger

Channelling anger begins with recognising when it’s present. Remember you have choices. Choosing to think of the bigger picture, and looking for a positive outcome, help to keep control of anger.

3) Proper expression

Be assertive not aggressive. Learn to control your voice, which will help to stop things escalating and will give you more time and space to express your needs.

4) Prevention

Having managed your anger in the moment, learn lessons for next time. Recognise triggers and strengthen interpersonal communication by better use of emotional intelligence.

5) Coping

Develop a new daily routine that will help soften triggers and carry you past potential problems.

After that tricky night in Rome, I was glad to usher our celebrities safely back to the hotel. On our return, I discovered that Michelle Obama had checked in during our absence and the place was crawling with armed guards. Soothing bruised egos was one thing. Now there was the potential for a minor diplomatic incident. Relying on the last strategy for anger management I had left, I led the guests into the bar, bid them good night and went to bed at a run.

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