Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ways to Deal With (Our Own) Anger and Irritability

Before I became a mother, I rarely got angry and I almost never lost my temper.  Motherhood, with it's accompanying temper tantrums, lack of sleep, and near-constant demands, has shown me that I still have some work to do when it comes to dealing with negative emotions.  I struggle with irritation and anger much more often than I'd like. While I still have a long way to go, the following methods have really helped me in learning to keep my irritability and anger in check. 

  • Paying close attention to my own emotions to see when I am starting to get irritated. It is amazing how hard it can be to recognize the signs in myself that it is time for a break, and to be willing to actually take a break. When I don't pay attention to the escalation of my internal emotions, I may end up at the point where I boil over, resulting in two crying kids and a regretful mom. When I can recognize that I am starting to get irritated, taking a quick break can keep me from getting to my boil-point. My kids are getting old enough now that I can tell them why I need a quick break and they are okay with that (as they know it is better than the alternative of me losing my temper and yelling at them). *Fortunately*, I get plenty of opportunities to practice this every day. 
  • Ringing the peace bell. In our dining room/kitchen, we have a bell that makes a beautiful sound when you strike it. Whenever I (or the kids) are starting to feel grumpy, frustrated, or irritated, we can ring the peace bell. The idea is that, when the bell is rung, everyone else will be quiet for a moment and take a nice, deep breath. My 6-year-old daughter, especially, likes to use the bell, particularly when she notices that I am getting grumpy. (I'm pretty sure the idea of using a peace bell came from a Thich Nhat Hanh book I read a few years ago.)
  • Daily afternoon quiet time: I absolutely could not survive without our daily quiet time. Every afternoon, we have quiet time for about 2 hours.  Each kid goes to a separate room with some quiet toys to play with, and I have time to de-stress through meditation, prayer, yoga, reading, or even folding laundry in blessed solitude. My 3-year-old can usually last 30-45 minutes playing on his own during this time, and then I help him settle in for his afternoon nap (and take a quick snooze myself since he is still wakes during the night). My 6-year-old daughter spends her quiet time reading, playing, coloring, or listening to music.  This time is essential for all of us to recharge and relax.
  • Accepting rather than rejecting negative feelings. One thing it took me a long time to realize (and that I still struggle with sometimes) is that I have to accept my negative emotions.  Trying to deny these feelings or ignore them is a sure way to set myself up for a big blow-up. Realizing that it is okay to have negative feelings has made a big difference for me. This doesn't mean that I welcome negative feelings, but it does mean that I don't need to feel bad for having them.  I try to keep in mind that, although I may have negative feelings, I am not these feelings and I don't have to act them out.  Often, just being willing to acknowledge these feelings is a big outlet for me.
  • Remembering my kids at their best. One good technique I learned while reading Simplicity Parenting is to think about my kids at their best. Payne writes,"remember the ordinary moments of the day, the moments with your children that meant something to you.  This simple exercise is like a spiritual corrective lens.  In your vision of your kids, it helps to restore the prominence of 'who they are' over 'what they need to do' or 'what they need to work on.'... Relive those moments and give them their due." I find this technique to be particularly beneficial on days when my kids have been especially difficult to live with. Remembering good moments from the recent past (and even their younger years) can help me keep perspective on my kids and establish a more positive tone.
  • Limiting my screen time. I find that I am more likely to snap at the kids when I am interrupted while trying to read something or finish one more thing on the computer.   We are all happier when I can impose restrictions on my own screen usage. Limiting my computer usage to those times when the kids are otherwise actively engaged or in quiet time can help me keep from becoming so easily irritated.
  • Communicating with the kids about the "Red Zone" and "Quiet Zone". When I am having anger issues, I tell the kids I've reached the "red zone". They know this means that an eruption is imminent, and that they can help prevent it by playing nicely and being polite instead of whining. I also declare "Quiet Zone" in whatever room I am in at those times when I start to get overwhelmed by the constant kid noise. Anyone in the Quiet Zone has to talk in whispers and be very quiet. The kids are are allowed to stay in the Quiet Zone with me if they can abide by those rules, otherwise I ask them to go to another room. The kids have gotten so used to this now that they will often happily run along together to play somewhere else whenever I declare Quiet Zone.
  • Constitutional homeopathic care. My irritability and anger were actually some of the main reasons I decided to undergo constitutional homeopathic care for myself.  Both of these problems developed about midway through my second pregnancy, and it is clear to me that there was some sort of shift at that time because I never had issues with anger and irritability prior to then. Through constitutional treatment (which is still ongoing), I have seen some light at the end of the tunnel and I am hopeful that I will one day return to my old, cheerful self.  I have already seen some big gains in my irritability and anger, but I still have a ways to go.  (Constitutional treatment is not a quick fix solution; it takes months or even years for the treatment to be completed.)  Because constitutional treatment allows the body to heal itself on the physical, emotional, and mental levels, it is an amazing way to come back into true health on all levels of the body.  
  • Being willing to change my plans. It helps me to keep in mind that there will be bad days (or weeks), and that it is okay on those days to slow down and relax.  I periodically need to just throw away the to-do list for a day, and hang out with the kids instead.  This often will actually turn a bad day into a good day instead.   
Some more ideas on dealing with anger are here and here.

Do you struggle with irritability and anger?  Are there any techniques that help you deal with it effectively rather than losing your temper?


Unknown said...

I really appreciate your transparency! The human person has so many facets and all of them are interconnected. It's a real balancing act.

Anonymous said...

I have celiac disease. I find it nearly impossible to control my irritability when gluten is around. Avoid gluten if you need to. Also avoid other things you are intolerant of. I once grew suddenly angry when holding cheese. Later I found that I had a severe problem with cheese.

I still think we are responsible for our own actions and can not emphatically blame my behavior on food.

Margaret said...

This was great. Thank you for posting. I have had an anger issues since I was little and now that I have 3, soon to be 4 kids, it is something I still struggle to deal with. I grew up in a broken family, lots of anger, divorce, abuse, etc. This is not what I want for my children. My faith helps, my husband helps (he is super calm), and reading posts like these help. Thank you.

Nicole said...

love this post! having children is both amazing and incredibly demanding! for me, it has brought up a lot of repressed emotions from my own childhood. our culture is quick to diagnose these emotions (and sometimes that's true too) but working through the stuff that comes up with a counselor has really helped me. love your idea for a Peace Bell.

Unknown said...

When I start to feel irritable, I have to check in and see what's going on.

Sometimes it's physical, and I grab the old standby, a multiple B vitamin with valerian and hops that I get here: http://www.amazon.com/Natures-Sunshine-Nutri-Calm%C2%AE-100-tabs/dp/B000WQCSAW This may not be a good solution for nursing mothers, but stress depletes B vitamins, and I find the valerian and hops help to smooth out the rough edges of the day.

Sometimes I find I am unintentionally holding my breath; either I'm stressing about something and avoiding it, or I haven't forgiven and forgotten something, something connected with my spirit that I'm ignoring. So of course, I remember that it's best to resolve issues NOW, rather than put them off, as putting them off makes me unhappy and stressed. And then I resolve the thing, realizing (again) it's never as bad as it seems, once on the other side of it.

Of course, I don't have little ones and so my stressors come from different sources; being an elder in a local assembly can really take up a lot of your attention. It's not unusual for me to take on extra stress when dealing with issues that come up with our families and their struggles, and sometimes I just have to sit down and have a good cry because life is so stinking hard for a lot of people. At times like that, I enjoy just being outside, in the fresh air, being PRESENT in nature. That helps immensely, once the tears stop. Tear ducts are also a design feature I'm not afraid to use, but am mindful not to overuse them ;-)

Sarah Smith said...

Lori, thanks for shaing your tips! Being present and checking in with our breath are so important to staying calm!

Anonymous said...

I have found that upping my fat intake (especially coconut oil) helps to even out my mood.

Anonymous said...

I recently started taking 5HTP and L-Tyrosine. I have seen amazing improvements in my irritability.

Eileen @ Phoenix Helix said...

Wow, there's so much wisdom here. I especially love the peace bell, and the fact that you have quiet time. Most parents go straight from nap time to no time. What a wonder ritual you've created instead, not just for you, but your whole family. Thanks for sharing.

Barb @ A Life in Balance said...

I struggled with postpartum depression twice and found that St. John's Wort helped me enormously. I'm also learning my stressful times like walking into the house from grocery shopping with 4 children.

Unknown said...

I love your site! Just happened upon it while adding pins to my pinterest. We have alot in common! I'm a homeschooler, into Nourishing traditions and greatly appreciate homeopathy! I also have anger and irritability problems. I realize they are more intense during PMS so I know there is a hormonal connection. I've noticed a difference taking Evening Primrose Oil and 5HTP. I have 5 children from 6-16 years old. I haven't incorporated quiet times and this was a good reminder to not get too engaged with electronics. Thanks for the great recipes and posts!

Sarah Smith said...

Welcome, Caryn! We sure do have a lot in common. I'm glad you are finding some useful information on my blog.