If you get angry when people talk with food in their mouth, cut you off in line or tailgate you, you’re not alone. Understanding the science of anger can help you manage it.
Pet peeves — those small, everyday annoyances that make us angry — serve to remind us that we are human. Our reactions demonstrate that we are more alike than we are different.
Here are four of the most common transgressions that can set us off. Let’s recognize that getting angry isn’t the solution.
1. Poor Customer Service
Front-line customer service is a tough job. It takes a strong but engaging person to deal with the public every day. As consumers, we expect that person to be friendly, personable and professional, too. When you pay for a product, you expect good customer service. When you fail to get it, you feel cheated.
You have an expectation. You expect to get what you pay for. Your expectations could, however, lead to your frustration, all part of the science of anger. When you don’t get what you want, in this case a product or service, you get frustrated and your anger flares up, according to the frustration-aggression hypothesis.
Imagine this: You pick up a drive-thru order. When you get home, you realize half your order is missing, or they forgot to give you a straw or your burger has onions when you said no onions.
Here’s another one: bad grocery store baggers. In what world is it OK to put ground beef next to your toilet bowl cleaner? If you’ve ever had the urge to smack a bagger’s hand or tell them to move over and you’ll bag your groceries yourself, join the club.
2. Bad Parking
It’s bad enough when people don’t park within the lines, or they park so close to the lines that you can’t open your car door. You get angry, and for a moment you play out all the ways you can get even. This is normal in the science of anger.
What about when you have an empty parking lot to yourself? You pick the perfect spot, and then someone parks in the spot right next to yours — as if there aren’t 100 other parking spots to choose from.
3. Invasion of Personal Space
How about the people who stand so close behind you in the checkout line that you can feel their breath on your neck, or their shopping cart a half an inch from your backside? Not to mention personal-space invaders who break the unspoken every-other-chair rule when choosing where to sit at the movie theater or lobby at the doctor’s office.
Any breach of etiquette is enough to throw you into a fit.
Your notion of personal space stems from activity in your amygdala and parietal cortex. Your amygdala controls how you respond when you feel threatened, such as when someone steps inside your perceived safety zone. Also at work during a space invasion is your parietal cortex, which is activated when you witness, fantasize about or anticipate someone touching you. As a result, you may feel more anxious, or intimidated, which can escalate to anger.
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4. Mean People
No one likes to be belittled, scolded or talked down to. You’re taught to treat others the way you want to be treated, but it’s hard to be nice when all you want to do is take a stance and defend yourself. When your heart starts racing, your face turns red and you break into a sweat, you might even want to retaliate or plan your escape. Fight or flight is a normal response.
Can You Manage These Anger-Inducing Moments?
When you’re angry, you might feel more aggressive or frustrated — but these responses can be managed. Your frustration is the result of not being able to achieve some goal. Some thing or person has blocked your progress.
The good news: Frustration isn’t always bad. Your frustration doesn’t have to work against you. You can manage it with the right tools.
- Identify the triggers: Know what sets you off. You won’t be able to avoid triggers altogether, but you will learn to expect them and know what circumstances bring them about.
- Understand your body: You know your body better than anyone else. Your body sends you signals when it perceives a threat or danger. Whether it’s muscle tension, sweating or shaking, pay attention to your body’s physical changes.
- Accept what you cannot change: Think beyond the cliché here. You can’t change the way people drive, but you can change how you react to bad drivers.
How well you handle your emotions says a lot about who you are, both personally and professionally. Since you can’t avoid anger and frustration, learn to manage them.
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