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How to Recognize Stress Before it Turns Into Anger

After a stressful day as a computer programmer, Jim pulled into his driveway. The children's toys were scattered on the walkway to the house.

He immediately began noticing slight tension in his muscles and apprehension in his stomach.

Entering his house, his wife ignored him while she talked with her sister on the telephone. His heart started beating a little faster.

Looking around, he noticed disarray; nothing was picked up, the house was a mess. Irritation and frustration started to settle in. Finally, as his feelings grew, he exploded and began yelling at his wife and children.

Stress may trigger anger:

Stress is often the trigger that takes us from feeling peaceful to experiencing uncomfortable angry feelings in many common situations such as the one described above.

Stress is most easily defined as a series of bodily responses to demands made upon us called stressors.

These 'demands' or stressors can be negative (such as coping with a driver who cuts in front of you on the freeway) or positive (such as keeping on a tour schedule while on vacation).

Stressors may be external to you (like work pressure) or internal (like expectations you have of yourself or feeling guilty about something you did or want to do).

Whether the stressor is external or internal, scientists have discovered that the major systems of the body work together to provide one of the human organism's most powerful and sophisticated defenses; the stress response which you may know better as 'fight-or-flight.'

This response helps you to cope with stressors in your life. To do so, it activates and coordinates the brain, glands, hormones, immune system, heart, blood and lungs.

Avoid Jim's destructive behavior toward his loved ones. Before your stress response turns into anger or aggression, use these strategies to get it under control:

Read your personal warning lights: Becoming aware of your stress response is the first step to managing it. This means listening to your body, being aware of your negative emotions, and observing your own behavior when under stress.

For instance, notice muscle tension, pounding heart, raising voice, irritation, dry mouth, or erratic movements.

What you see is what you get: For a potential stressor to affect us -stress us out 'we have to first perceive it or experience it as a stressor.

Gaining a new perspective on the stressing situation can often drastically change the effect it has on us. Our stress response can indeed be a response (something we can control) instead of a knee-jerk reaction (which is automatic).

Examples: Cut off on the freeway? 'It is not personal. That guy has a problem. I will stay calm.' Bullied by a co-worker? 'If I react, he wins. Later, I will privately let him know how I feel about what he did. If that doesn't work, I'll discuss it with our manager.'

Stress-Guard your life: You can also make many life-style changes to reduce or minimize feeling stressed-out, even if you can't change some of your actual stressors

For instance, manage your time better, establish priorities, protect yourself from toxic relationships, and find a way to manage your money better, or consider changing your job or occupation.

Other stress-guards include those you have probably heard before, but maybe need to do more frequently such as:

  • getting adequate rest,

  • eating a healthy diet,

  • avoiding excessive alcohol intake,

  • living in a way consistent with your core personal values,

  • developing social networks of friends and support.

Stress is most easily defined as a series of bodily responses to demands made upon us called stressors.

It's important to recognize these stress responses and develop techniques to lessen the impact.

Dr. Tony Fiore is a So. California licensed psychologist, and anger management trainer. His company, The Anger Coach, provides anger and stress management programs, training and products to individuals, couples, and the workplace. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter "Taming The Anger Bee" at and receive two bonus reports.


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