April Fools’ Day is a day marked by the carrying out of practical jokes of varying degree on friends, enemies, colleagues, and neighbors. While most April Fools’ Day pranks are taken in stride, there will always be some that elicit very strong emotional reactions. Feelings of shame and embarrassment can in some cases lead to explosive outbursts of anger.
So what can you do to avoid coming unglued as the result of an embarrassing April Fools’ Day prank? As the saying goes, An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Rather than wait for a prank to occur, give yourself a stress inoculation prior to April Fools’ Day. By mentally preparing for a potential stressor or anger trigger, you will be ready to handle whatever comes your way.
So take some time before April 1st to imagine some worst-case scenarios regarding possible pranks and rehearse your response. Then step back and analyze how you appear. Are you comfortable with your reaction? Do you feel that your response will be well received by others? Will it result in greater understanding and empathy or might it make matters worse? If in doubt, now is the time to modify your response. Use this opportunity, while calm and relaxed, to prepare and practice how you will respond. Keep rehearsing and critically examining your own reaction until it feels right.
While your stress inoculation, if performed correctly, should prepare you well, there is always the chance of getting caught off-guard by an embarrassing practical joke. In such a case, the emotional part of your brain will likely activate before the thinking part does and put you at risk of overreacting and lashing out inappropriately. Thus, in the heat of the moment, you will be more apt to act on impulse than to think things through about the consequences of your actions. Although you may be completely justified in how you feel, it is imperative that you find a way to allow the thinking part of your brain to catch up to the emotional part. Otherwise you risk acting upon your aggressive impulses and possibly saying or doing something that you will later regret.
So the first thing that you need to do is to remove yourself from the situation and take a personal time-out. It is amazing what even just a few minutes can do to help clear your mind. Use your time wisely by working on your breathing and trying to modify your thoughts. Breathe deeply into your abdomen and then pause before exhaling. Repeat this several times and as your breathing slows, you will notice your mind and body beginning to relax.
Further relaxation can be achieved by replacing your angry thoughts or images with those that are peaceful and tranquil. Use your imagination and let it take you to a happier time in your life or a more peaceful setting. Allow yourself to relive a proud moment from your childhood or to visually experience the vacation of your dreams. Whether you are hitting the game-winning home run in little league or lying on the most beautiful beach in the world, it is extremely difficult to feel angry while feeling so at peace.
Another very powerful anger management technique is to change the inner conversation that you have with yourself (also known as self-talk). It is a very normal daily occurrence for people to have an inner dialogue that can either get them more worked up (i.e., If he even looks at me the wrong way, Im going to explode.) or put them in a calmer frame of mind (i.e., Relax. Stay calm. I can get through this.). The words we say to ourselves are very powerful and can definitely influence how we feel and how we subsequently behave.
Even saying a phrase like Serenity Now, popularized by Frank Costanza on the classic sitcom Seinfeld, can actually have a positive impact on how you feel. Since our emotions are influenced by our thoughts, any words that can conjure up peaceful images can put us in a better emotional frame of mind. Thus by repeating a pleasant phrase or mantra, we can shift from feeling angry to feeling relaxed. The key is that relaxation and anger are incompatible emotions.
So whether it is April Fools’ Day coming up or you are planning to get together with your prankster buddies, give yourself a stress inoculation and don’t forget to bring your other anger control tools. After all, you never know when you might need them.
Copyright © 2008 Dr. Lyle Becourtney, http://www.AngerManagementGroups.com
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