Daily Herald April 25, 1992
One common suggestion, often given about coping with an anger-producing or stressful situation, is to count to ten. Well, it doesn't work very well, as most of us can attest to, by personal experience. It doesn't work for several reasons. Ten seconds isn't enough time to put a rein on your anger, and direct it in a more positive direction. Although a computer can do a tremendous number of calculations in such a short time, people can seldom even get in touch with their need to control their anger in that time period, yet alone do anything about it.
Trying to control your anger when you are standing right in front of what is making you angry, is impossible. Although part of your brain is trying to convince yourself that you don't need to feel upset, your eyes and ears are flooding your brain with upsetting information and images. In order to calm yourself, you have to get away from the upsetting situation. Sometimes you can't move away from a problem, physically. For example, you're sitting in the inside seat of a plane and the person in the outside seat is very aggravating. In that case, remove yourself away from as much of the aggravating situation as you can. For example, you could close your eyes, and focus your mind on something else. But, if possible, also physically remove yourself from the source of the anger, even if this means only going to a different room.
Finally, you have to allow yourself sufficient time for your anger and irritation to settle down. First, remove yourself as far from the source of anger, as possible. Next, start counting down, from 100, slowly. You start at 100 because it is going to take you much longer to calm down, than you think it will. You count backwards for one reason. Your goal is to lower your anger, not to increase it. If you count up to 100, you remind yourself of how the numbers are increasing. You can't focus on increasing numbers and decreasing anger at the same time. It may seem strange, but counting down will also calm you down. As you say the numbers aloud to yourself, you are thinking about a decrease in the size of something. And your mind will, also automatically, help you to focus on decreasing your anger, if you are willing to let it do so. Also, by starting at 100, you provide yourself with the possibility of becoming bored with your anger.
Think about the song, "Ninety Nine Bottles of Beer On The Wall". Although children often have the stamina to continue, until they finally reach zero, most of us adults give up singing that song, way before we get anywhere close to zero. The less attention you give your anger, the less it will bother you. The more you start to see your anger as a nuisance, rather than as a catastrophe, the easier you will be able to give it up. If you want to test out this theory, pretend you are very angry at me, for writing this column. Then, slowly and calmly, count backwards, from 100 to zero. I can guarantee you will feel different at the end, even if you don't make it all the way to zero.