Earlier this week, I was upset at something that happened at my house. I was irritated, ticked-off, and just plain angry. Typically, I have a long fuse with enough patience and empathy to deal with the frustrations of living and working with other human beings, but there are times when I have just had enough. That morning was one of those times
At the moment I was angry, I was getting ready to go out for a short bike ride. As I started up the hill outside my house, I was fuming. While I shifted gears and picked up speed, I ranted to myself a little about what had happened and how frustrated I was. As the hill got steeper, I worked harder, pushing my irritation into the pedals. Each mile seemed to help more. I knew when I left it would be good for me to go out biking, and it was. By the time I returned home, I was feeling much better and able to deal with my anger in productive ways.
Mr Rogers of Mister Rogers Neighborhood has a song about dealing with anger. In his patient, non-judgemental way, he lays out the feelings and lists helpful things a child might do to cope with anger. “Punch a bag, pound some clay or some dough, round up friends for a game of tag, or see how fast you go.” He goes on to sing that they can stop themselves when they are about to do something hurtful (like hurling a block at another kid) all while affirming that anger is a feeling that everyone experiences sometimes. The song is intended for children, but offers wisdom that is helpful at any age.
That morning when I was angry, it was helpful to get out of the house and into a different context. Physical activity, particularly gross motor activity, helped diffuse my angry energy. Greeting neighbors that I biked past pulled me out of my head and reminded me of positive interactions. Breathing deeply as I biked calmed me down and helped me to think and come to a better state of mind to deal with the situation.
So, what is helpful for you when you are angry or irritated with the people or situations in your life? Biking may not be your thing. I’ve talked to people who do other kinds of physical activity (running, walking, yoga or tai-chi, and even house-cleaning), who reach out to talk to a friend or family member, read or watch TV or play a video game, write about their experience in a journal, spend time with a pet, or do something artistic.
Anger is one of the emotions that we will inevitably encounter as we live in community with other people. Jesus’ call to love our neighbor and serve the world does not make us immune to any emotion. Jesus’ call to follow him invites us to try and sort out conflicts in ways that are loving for both others and ourselves. That is not easy, and I think the first step is caring for ourselves in times of anger and stress, then finding the resources to act in caring ways toward the very people who are irritating us.
Peace to you,