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Frazzled parents across the globe give timeouts as a way to manage the tantrums of their children. Although some critics may disagree about whether they are an effective motivator of change, a timeout gives both parents and kids a chance to cool down and think about a better response to whatever is frustrating them.

By the time we become adults, we may imagine that we have learned to control our feelings and emotions but you only have to look around the modern world to see that it isn’t always so. Maybe we could all do with a timeout now and again.

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Dealing with Anger

Anger is simply an emotion, we all have them and there’s nothing inherently wrong with being angry from time to time. In fact, anger can sometimes be a good thing. Historically, anger has had positive ramifications in areas of social justice and can be seen as a sign of strength in business negotiations. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes anger as having an “alerting function” which “tells others it is important to listen to us – that we feel agitated and it is wise to be alert to our words and actions.”

Anger is normal and healthy, but controlling our anger is just as important as letting ourselves feel it.

Problems can arise, however, when our anger gets out of control or becomes too frequent. Road rage is an excellent example of grown-ups behaving badly. Drivers will scream at, curse and even initiate physical altercations with complete strangers over a perceived slight or the breaking of a road rule. We have become desensitized to this sort of behavior and people often laugh about incidents of extreme anger on our roads. In fact, it’s worryingly common; the Psychiatry Journal found that a third of participants in a 2010 study admitted to being perpetrators of road rage.

The Mental Health Foundation produced a report with similarly disheartening conclusions. Titled “Boiling Point,” it revealed that over a quarter of people surveyed (28%) say they worry about how angry they feel sometimes.

Timeouts Can Help Us Control Our Emotions

The next time you find yourself losing your temper, take a few minutes to cool off before going back to the problem you’re having.

Even though many of us admit to struggling with feelings of anger it is within our power to change. Shae Vian, a psychologist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, says, “Managing and controlling anger is very possible as this is a psychologically driven process and not biological.” Vian says we have to change how we react to a situation.

One way to do this is to give ourselves a “timeout” when we feel like we’re about to lash out in anger. For example, if someone doesn’t use their turn signal while driving, it is likely not because they are inconsiderate and selfish. Instead of getting angry over an assumption, we can pause, consider that it might have been an honest mistake, and let it go.

Losing our cool can be detrimental to our health. It doesn’t feel good to be on edge and the feeling of losing control of ourselves can be frightening. The APA says that anger manifests both emotionally and physically. If left unchecked, it can be deadly, leading to an “increased risks of hypertension and stroke, heart disease, gastric ulcers, and bowel diseases, as well as slower wound healing and a possible increased risk of some types of cancers.”

So what can you do if you feel yourself losing control?

Relaxing with a cup of tea can make anything better.

Look After Yourself

Sometimes, it really is the simplest things that make the biggest difference. Just ensuring you get a good night’s sleep every night, are properly hydrated, and eating enough healthy food can make a world of difference for our mindset. When we’re well-rested and feeling good, our stress tolerance levels are much higher. Things don’t get under our skin so easily. We can think clearer and make better decisions. So, the next time you feel out of control of your emotions, make sure your basic needs are being met. You might be surprised to see that they’re not!

Talk About it

Sara Stanizai, a licensed therapist and the owner of Prospect Therapy in Long Beach, CA says that anger is a sign of an underlying negative emotion which needs to be addressed. “Toxic anger develops when those underlying emotions go unnoticed, and we layer more and more anger on top of them. Anger becomes toxic when it builds to the point of being explosive.”

She recommends that, when we begin to feel angry about something, we confide in a close friend. Venting our frustrations helps us release those emotions and calm down.

Reframe Your Experiences

Being unable to control things in our lives can be a big source of frustration and anger for us. Changing our mindset can help to ease these frustrations. Focus on the things you can control. If you have a delayed flight, for example, don’t get mad. Take the time to catch up on some emails or read a good book. You can’t control the plane, but you can control how you spend your time waiting for it.

Remove the Stimuli

Maybe your anger comes from one specific source, like a grouchy worker. Next time you find yourself clenching your fists, go for a walk and try to still your thoughts. Put on some relaxing music or white noise. Physically separate yourself from what’s making you angry. In other words, if dealing with anger means giving yourself a timeout, do it!

Anger is a normal human reaction but it can be emotionally exhausting. If you feel out of control give yourself permission to have a timeout when you need it.

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Willpower is overrated and you can’t always rely on it to change your habits. This is what you should do instead.

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