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Change Your Mindset and Reduce Stress

Most often, your thoughts and perceptions are what make you angry, and anger in turn causes stress. You can learn to modify your thoughts, lessen your anger, and prevent much of your stress.

Thoughts like “I was angry because that idiot cut me off in traffic” or “Missing my train made me angry” suggest that an outside event or circumstance is what caused you to feel anger. But the reality is that these situations are only potential triggers for anger.

Like your other stress emotions (anxiety, upset, frustration, and so on), your anger is largely self-created. Your thinking — your perceptions and interpretations — play an important role in creating (and ultimately reducing) your stress.

Think about your anger-producing thoughts

See if you can identify your anger-producing thoughts. Ask yourself, “What could I be saying to myself to make myself angry?” Take a look at this table and try to complete it with your own experiences.

Your Angry Thoughts and the Experiences That Triggered Them
Situation My Automatic Thoughts
My son spilled juice on the couch. “The couch is ruined! He should have been more careful! How could he have been so careless? He knew he wasn’t supposed to bring food into the living room!”
I missed my train by one minute. “This is awful! This always happens! Now my whole day is ruined. I hate this!”

Writing down these anger-producing thoughts helps you get a clearer picture of what you’re saying to yourself to make yourself angry about a particular situation. By getting in touch with this thinking, you’re now in a good position to begin changing that thinking, thereby reducing your anger.

Find and fix your stressful thinking errors

If your level of anger is excessive or prolonged, you’re probably making at least one thinking error. Examine your automatic thoughts and see if you can find any thinking errors. Although just about any of the thinking errors can result in some form of anger, the two that most often trigger an anger response are unrealistic demands and can’t-stand-it-itis.

Expectations and stress

Your expectations play an important role in determining your level of anger. Having unrealistic expectations about your world and the way other people should think and act, as well as demanding that they be more like you, adds to your anger level.

If you expect everyone else to be honest and fair, you’ll probably wind up feeling more than a little angry most of the time, because your expectations won’t be met. Expectations are accompanied by “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts”; when you create demands that are unrealistic, you end up judging the person who doesn’t act the way you think they should.

Should you become a complete cynic? Not at all. If anything, becoming more trusting is a better way of feeling less angry and less hostile. Becoming realistic in your expectations doesn’t mean becoming cynical and untrusting.

Not everyone out there is selfish, nasty, and only out for themselves. But other people see things differently and have priorities different than yours. At times, they’ll do things you wouldn’t do. Expect the expected, given the world we live in. The following exercise helps you assess the extent to which your expectations are in line with reality.

Would you ever expect any of the following situations to happen? Answer yes or no.

At some point in the not-too-distant future:

  • Someone will cut you off in traffic.

  • Somebody you know and care about will disappoint you or treat you unfairly.

  • You’ll just miss catching your bus or train.

  • Your computer will crash at a critical time.

  • Someone in front of you in the express checkout line will have more than the specified ten items.

  • Someone will play music incredibly loudly and disturb you.

  • Someone will push his or her way onto your already crowded elevator, even though it’s totally full.

Answering “no” to more than one or two of the above suggests that your expectations of the world (and the people who live there) are not totally realistic. You’re probably in for some surprises — and some anger.

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