NEXT time you feel you’re going to burst a blood vessel from rage because a colleague undermined you or stitched you up or just generally made you feel crap, think carefully about how you deal with your feelings. Repression could be deadly – a study from Stockholm University’s Stress Research Institute found that men who bottle up their anger at being unfairly treated at work are up to five times more likely have a fatal heart attack. Men who let their frustration out are less likely to drop dead, the study showed.
But as any long-standing office employee will tell you, simply hollering when you feel hard done by isn’t the path to professional success. So how should you deal with your anger without doing yourself damage at work – or harming your heart further down the line? Dr Jo Perkins, of Orbit, a City-based mental health and coaching consultancy, says the bulk of your approach should be about nipping your anger in the bud. “You want to get it before it reaches the anger stage,” says Perkins. “Deal with things as soon as they arise. That is not to say you should act on impulse. It just means you should try to resolve the problem thoughtfully, honestly and calmly as soon as you detect it.”
For example, if someone comes to you and asks you to turn something around in 24 hours, and you’ve already been given lots to do, it is your responsibility to be assertive about managing their expectations. “Rather than being a ‘yes’ person, try saying: ‘I can do this, but you’ve got to understand I have these other five things to do, so which is the most important?’ You’re not angry at the moment you’ve been given too much to do, but it becomes anger when you get stressed. Also, it’s very difficult to back-track after a deadline, so intervene and deal with it as soon as you’re overburdened.”
As ever, the root of the anger or frustration is the key to dealing with it in a healthy way. Be honest with yourself. Why are you angry? Did you over-promise and now you’re under-delivering? Or is there something else in your life that’s causing the problem, such as relationships or money? “People misunderstand their anger and misplace it,” says Perkins. “If you catch yourself flying into a rage when somebody grabs your seat on the train, you might be angry about something else you haven’t identified.”
A big source of tension at work comes from your perception of colleagues’ behaviour towards you. It may be that you’re on the receiving end of unacceptable behaviour, but it may not, so think twice before pinning your anger on someone else. “Don’t always assume you’re right,” says Perkins. “If you’re really seething, think on it for 24 hours. You might realise it’s a one-off and then you need to just let it go. If you’re not sure if you’re right or think you may be over-reacting, get some counsel from a trusted colleague. Ask: ‘Am I justified in thinking this person’s treating me badly?’ A good friend might tell you: ‘Well, actually you can be a bit aggressive or sarcastic sometimes.’” Indeed, the power to improve relations might lie with you. Or it could be a personality clash, which is something you should be able to talk about with the other person. Of course, if everyone else is being bullied, then that’s an issue for HR. As Perkins points out, we work long hours and spend a lot of time with our colleagues. We’re often sleep deprived, with lots to worry about, and the pressure to respond to emails and phone calls immediately puts us in a heightened state. No wonder then that if you’re sitting with someone you don’t like, it can lead to anger and then depression. And if you’re constantly feeling too much pressure, your self-esteem is going to suffer.
“A lot of people find themselves unhappy at work but are not in a position to leave,” Perkins says. “The result is that they don’t feel in control, and this can take a toll on all aspects of emotional health. But if you can take the view that whatever is bothering you can be resolved, so long as it’s dealt with calmly and rationally, then your self esteem and happiness should start to rise again.”
TIPS HOW TO DEAL WITH ANGER
• At the end of the day, write down a list of all your frustrations, then rip it up trash it. What you’re doing is outing – then disposing of – your anger before you go home, leaving you in good shape for your evening and for time with loved ones.
• Practice gratitude by writing down things that have gone well. “We get in habit of only looking at what’s gone wrong,” says Perkins. “Allow yourself time to dwell on what’s good.” After all, it’s hard to be angry when you’re feeling grateful.
• Don’t slip into victim mode – keep fit, eat well and dress nicely to bolster your sense of self.
• Be vigilant: spot discomfort before it becomes anger, and resolve it there and then if possible. Either suggest a more realistic deadline, speak openly and politely to someone who has done something to bother or upset you, or go through the appropriate channels, such as HR, if you don’t feel able to go directly to the source.
• Take responsibility for your anger: why are you angry? What’s going on in your life? Are
you sure it is the other person’s fault?