Quick to anger, implode and then shake really bad
April 2, 2014 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Let me first state that I have started seeing a counselor and take anxiety meds. What I am hoping to learn from fellow mefites : What works for your *if* you are hyperquick to anger even in times when you feel calm?

I tend to go into reactive mode, then can't think straight and fumble my words, and usually end up shaky and feeling like a balloon in a pin factory. My attempts to assert either turn aggressive or I swalllow it all and it seems like I am growing smaller. I am doing many maintenance things such as exercise (weights/cardio), stretching at night, meditation, but I then still hit these moments at my job mostly, where it is really crowded in the building with a small parking lot and folks working very cramped together, like in a submarine. Bottom line? I am afraid a lot, especially of losing this job and walking out. Although it is a bit job-related, it is more me related. I know that it is anxiety/confidence based with more than a little depression. All this being said, are there any sort of band-aids that work to short fuse the anger until my coping skills get better? Today was a scary one and I was luckily able to meet my patient wife for a quick supper. Thanks for any input. I feel really small and like a loser and strangely scared of being around people.
posted by snap_dragon to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm sorry that sounds awful. Are you afraid you're going to go off on someone and get fired or are you afraid you're going to say "Fuck this!" and just walk out? I have some anger issues that are usually more like frustration issues and while I'm confident that in my in-person part time job (not this one) I'm not too fireable but I am concerned generally about being viewed as a weirdie who can't keep it together and goes into a ranting rage when the projector doesn't work (because it never fucking works because people don't take care of things because ... and there I go sounding like my mom again...). A few things that have helped me.

- Really trying to keep hour-by-hour me even keel. It's great that you're doing all that stuff, but how is your nutrition, and your caffeine intake? Making sure you are staying fed so that you're less ragey is helpful, don't get over caffeinated.
- Same with getting enough sleep and not being late for stuff. Sort of trying to set up future-you to not have more hurdles than you can deal with in the near future. It's tough with anxiety because everything seems AAAAA out of control a lot, so see if you can front-load some care for yourself so that when you're in the submarine you are better prepared to hack it
- Don't keep it totally inside - it's okay to tell someone "I'm having a bit of a hard time with this" or "Give me a sec, I have to get something, I'll be right back" if it can buy you some time to count to ten, calm down, go for a short walk, whatever.
- Realize that you are probably your own worst critic and try to be gentle with yourself. Model your wife or someone else who is in your corner and think about what they'd say to you and try to learn to say it to yourself.
- Visualization can be good for calming waterfalls and whatever, but it may also help take the edge off by viewing yourself in a truly terrible scenario and seeing some of the "We are all doomed" humor in it. You work in a submarine, that sucks! Super awful. "Boop booop, the sonar noises are making everyone insane and no one has slept for six weeks, how do we get anything done??" If you can distract yourself from the "I fucking hate this" apsect it may help you move through things

Also there are some anti-anxiety meds that can make people a little ragey in the short term, make sure this isn't just an adverse reaction you're having to something that should be helping. Again I am sorry, such a lousy feeling. Hang in there.
posted by jessamyn at 6:44 PM on April 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Figure out what your triggers are. I know mine are fear related, usually claustrophobia. Then learn when the attack is coming, that tightening in the chest that means you're about to go off. Pick out an interruption technique to help redirect your thinking (I am okay/ there is no danger), a breath related one works well for me. Counting, using worry beads, a stress ball, whatever works. Then after the episode analyze what happened and why you reacted so you can learn from it.
posted by Requiax at 6:45 PM on April 2, 2014

Best answer: "Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, simply surrounded by assholes."
- William Gibson

You need to understand the causes of anger. We get angry when our wishes are denied, or when we are placed in a light that we don't see ourselves in.

You might not catch it the first time you blow, but as soon as you notice you're angry, ask yourself what need was negated or how you were being framed.

As for being easy to anger, watch your thoughts (are you ruminating on injustices?) and make sure you snack every 4h. Get lots of rest. When you are feeling bad, say so. Use your words. When things feel unfair, say or (or tell your wife). You could also look into mood stabilizers or dietary supplements. I've been reading that highly levels of omega3 fats (DHA & EPA) help the brain & help modulate moods.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:51 PM on April 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had a crazy stressful job a few years back, and the second I felt like exploding I would take a coworker friend and take a "sunshine break." Like a cigarette break, but without the lung cancer. We would walk around the parking lot for 5 minutes (and 5 minutes only), I would vent and scream and curse and say all the wildly inappropriate things I should not say to my general office, and once my time limit was up - I had to stop and put on the office face again.

It really helped me separate appropriate emotional responses into two distinct environments, and stop me from flying off the handle when someone took full credit for my major project, or said something utterly wrong. It let me get things off my chest that I needed to, and bolstered me for the rest of the day, because i told them off, on my sunshine break.

Granted - this only worked because my job was an office job, and a 5 minute break was easy for me to take. It's obviously harder to work out if you can't easily walk away after receiving a shitty email or a bad meeting.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 6:53 PM on April 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When this happens are you in a position you can get out of or where you can excuse yourself for a minute? Or is all the attention focused on you in such a way that you are stuck and simply must collect yourself and persevere?

Short term: Can you arrange ten minute breaks (maybe your wife or friend can agree to call during them to check in on you) so that you have smaller targets? As in "I only need to get through the next hour(s) and I can rest"... take breaks Before you need them.

I tend to write it out in Google docs (Do Not Send, do not write in any work program!). Like journaling, but I prefer typing.

Stay hydrated, and get basic blood work done if you haven't already... make sure you're otherwise healthy. No need having this exacerbated by a simple vitamin D defeciency or something!

Check out the TED talk on 'SuperBetter'... there's two videos. The online game is simple, but it REALLY helped break things down into small, very achievable steps... things I could do at work. it also helped me think about and list other things that worked for me, and celebrated small achievements.

Watch kitten videos on YouTube. Seriously.
I also highly recommend the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee. Your brain shifts gears when you show it babies.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:01 PM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @jessaymn - I am off caffeine, and little sugar intake so that has indeed helped. And I like @jrobin276's Google Docs as I am trying to work more in cloud based docs anyway among other suggestions...and the wife rocks. She has been doing the super-healthy cooking, vitamin/Omega therapy and is just a peaceful presence along with other things. And yes, I need to watch my own Youtube videos of dachshunds on a treadmill more often. I think partly i need to get a system in place. Things are rather scattershot, perhapps ADD, but as I get things into habits, well....it gets better. I knew someone who has BPD and she told me to go hold some ice cubes. Ice cubes aren't always around but man, do they short circuit the angry brain for me...and I look down and laugh "Shit, I'm holding ice cubes..."

I am still taking in everyone's input, so thanks. I am sure in the long term I will get this sorted out one way or another, and for the best.
posted by snap_dragon at 7:52 PM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of the interesting insights I've gotten from therapy is that irritability is more a sign of depression than anxiety (though the two are often linked).
posted by rhizome at 7:54 PM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have been looking at some of your other posts.
I would certainly discuss your meds with your therapist. As was mentioned by Jessamyn, meds can cause or exacerbate things. The anger component can also be depression related and I note that you have wrestled with that before. So once again, let your therapist know.
I was struck with the way you worded your question and wondered if you were claustrophobic. Requiax made an observation related to that. Once again, that feeling of things closing in on you might be depression.

I suggest you go outside for your coffee breaks and for lunch. Get some fresh air and natural light. (I am wondering about SAD but getting outside is good for you in any case.)

As far as physical activity is concerned, I find things like ping pong, where you cannot think of anything else, other than the ball is much better than something like the treadmill or swimming laps: solitary activities offer too much time to ruminate.

You mentioned an either/or: being aggressive or swallowing things. If you can manage it, read a book called "Your Perfect Right" which is about techniques of assertiveness. I noticed that you had a run-in with a nasty woman making barbed comments, to the extent that you got knocked out of your "zen state" and ended up fuming. That is an assertiveness issue. I like the book a lot since it explains things like how so much of communication is non-verbal, so when somebody goes aggressive, the "listeners" aren't really hearing the words but wondering when to duck. Anyway, lots of good suggestions there.

You meditate so perhaps you have explored some of the Buddhist ideas. I found quite a bit of overlap with the stoic philosophers. I got a lot out of "The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius" many decades ago. It helped me gain some perspective. I find some of the Buddhist ideas helpful too. I like Pema Chodron but you can google metafilter to find lots of other good suggestions.

Please let your therapist and doctor know how you are feeling. Rule out physical causes (some things can cause adrenaline surges) and med side effects. And if you are coming off other meds, rule out withdrawal.
Good luck.
posted by PickeringPete at 7:57 PM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't tend to get angry quickly but I am highly emotional and discovered three useful things for me:

1. Learning that I do not have to respond immediately even when I am being asked for a response. Stalling tactics give me time to calm down. I practiced in advance saying different things such as, "Good question. I need some time to get back to you with a thoughtful response." Or "Excuse me, be right back" (as I dash to the bathroom) or "I don't know yet, I'm still thinking it through" or whatever. YMMV.

2. Jumping jacks. My family teases me but I have done jumping jacks on a sidewalk outside of a restaurant (because the service was super slow and I wasn't angry but antsy), in an airport, outside of my office and once on a jumbo jet that had all the toilets downstairs and there was enough space for me to move. Supposedly folks need 30 minutes of exercise to calm down but not me. 50 jumping jacks are great but only 25 can make a difference in my mood.

3. Ice. Putting a plastic ice thing on a safe place (back of neck, arm, leg) for a few minutes gives my brain a physical sensation to focus on and helps me regulate my emotions.

I just happen to be the kind of person who doesn't give a fig what other people think about me, so I'm happy to do jumping jacks anywhere. And once I took a frozen camping ice things with me to a situation I knew would be super emotional. But these tactics may be useless for you at work. Apologies if that's the case.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:02 PM on April 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I feel really small and like a loser and strangely scared of being around people.

I think I know what you mean, and if I'm getting you right, then this feeling may be both cause and effect in an unfortunate cycle -- cause because when someone does something rude, you don't think, e.g., "how rude," but get torn between "they think they can do that to me because they think I'm inferior, everybody does; I should try not to draw attention to this and hope nobody notices" (or whatever your worried mind fears) and trying to stand up against that concept, e.g., "you can't treat me like that!" Then, neither of those options leave a person feeling very confident and proud.

If I'm under a lot of stress and get sleep deprived, I can sometimes end up in a mode similar to that. The best thing, for me, is to reset and let go of the stress, like taking two days off, or going to some beautiful forest or ocean place or something. It can be a difficult groove to get out of because you become sensitive and reactive, so every little thing constantly reactivates the sense of alarm and fear, so I find I have to step away for a bit to break the cycle.

But when I am in that mode and can't take a break, I try to realize that I'm in this kind of sad-mad sensitive kid headspace. I try to keep myself off on my own. A "bemused but sympathetic" internal adult steps in and tries to give myself all the sympathy I need until I get to the weekend or whatever without taking anything I think TOO seriously or letting myself do anything stupid.

The other thing that works is to try to break that cause-effect cycle. I try to catch myself when I'm interpreting something like "they think they can do that to me because..." Then I imagine how one of my mentors would interpret whatever rude thing happened, and how they would react. It's like asking "how would a very confident person take this, and what would they do?" It's a nice way to "fake it till you make it" and get yourself on a cycle of confident interpretations and actions.
posted by salvia at 8:22 PM on April 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: One thing I find helpful is...I'm not sure if mindfulness is the right term, but take a minute to figure out what you're actually mad about. Like are you mad, to borrow jessamyn's examples, because the projector broke (which is annoying but is probably not worth a rager about) or angry because you work with careless people who don't take care of things (which is annoying but hey if they don't give a shit no sense complaining about it because if you do then you're just mean ol' dad/mom and everyone hates you)?

And then the usual: Are you hungry, are you tired, are you cold, are you comfortable? In my case, when I haven't eaten in a while it's not usually my stomach growling that clues me in, it's the fact that I want to sink my fangs into everyone.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:36 PM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Anger doesn't affect me like that, but I had a panic attack for the first time a few months ago. The racing heart part completely freaked me out. Looking for tricks to slow the thing down led me to the mammalian diving reflex. Sticking my face in ice cold water did, actually, help, and it makes sense to me that literally cooling down could help with anger too. (For emergencies, obviously.)

Also if you regularly refer to your workplace as a "submarine" (for some reason I can imagine this), it might be an idea to try to move away from connecting that metaphor and other thoughts that connote enclosure or entrapment with your environment. Try to see your physical space differently - focus on pretty things, get a plant.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:12 PM on April 2, 2014

Best answer: People have spoken about mindfulness already. I want to add that mindfulness is not a silver bullet. Imagine if you said you felt lethargic and people recommended you start running.

Running is damn HARD and takes a tooonnnn of practice to become good. Mindfulness is surprisingly--in my opinion--not much different. Mindfulness can be a solution in the same way running can. It works very well, but it is not even close to easy and takes tremendous effort.

Best of luck.
posted by jjmoney at 3:32 PM on April 3, 2014

There was a low wall which caught a bit of sun a few metres from the entrance to my office building. At least once a day, more if it was a difficult day, I would take a cold can of coke and sit on that wall for five minutes just enjoying my drink. It's surprisingly nice to take five minutes just to yourself.

I probably worked longer and harder knowing I had that to look forward to. And I like to think my bosses would rather I spent a few minutes taking a short break each day than weeks off by burning out. No-one ever complained, at least. I worked that particular job for several years.
posted by danteGideon at 5:26 AM on April 4, 2014

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