I started my day out with a man silently cursing me out in the third lane of a highway.
It was sort of like something out of The Exorcist because his head spun around to yell at me over his shoulder, but it definitely wasn’t The Exorcist at the same time because we were both driving to work on a dreary Monday. (Oh, and there was no pea soup.)
And while I understood his frustration and even admit that maybe half of those curse words could have been warranted, I had a weird reaction to it all. I sort of guffawed while trying to choke down my anger.
One side of me said that it was absolutely ridiculous to get that angry inside of a car. I mean, it’s sort of like space, isn’t it? No one can hear you scream, and you’ll use up your oxygen for nothing? Besides, there are plenty of things to focus your anger at besides cute bloggers who drive poorly. (Like why we haven’t solved homelessness or revived the Wishbone series for kids.)
But of course, then another part of me decided she was angry, too. My blood pressure started to rise when I realized that this man was aggressively shouting at me because I was going the speed limit. I felt like defending myself, loudly, to no one. What do you want from me?! The black pedal next to the gas is called the brake, and contrary to popular belief, it will NOT hurt your car if you press it from time to time.
Of course, neither of these reactions were truly appropriate. So, I took the rest of the car ride to think about how I really needed to feel.
And this is what I’ve realized: when you’re angry, you need to think about the bigger picture. But when you’re anxious, you need to focus on a single moment.
Believe me. I tried every way ever presented in the media to calm myself down after this encounter. I took deep breaths, counted to ten, then twenty, then thirty. I even turned up the radio to drown out my thoughts for awhile. But I found myself to be angry still. Pissed, actually.
And that’s when I realized that I wouldn’t even remember this encounter when I got home that night (and this was true. Sort of.) And that tomorrow, I certainly wouldn’t recall what had happened. And the day after that, well, I daresay the whole thing will have been forgiven and forgotten. (You know, if I wasn’t documenting it on this blog…)
In essence, I realized that I had to focus on the bigger picture, if only to figure out that my anger was completely worthless in the smaller one.
And I also decided during my drive that anxiety should get the inverse remedy.
Personally, I get anxious when I’m thinking about too many things at once. And it happens all the time. I could be simply enjoying my Wednesday afternoon when I feel a punch in the gut over what I did four weeks ago, or what I need to do tomorrow. I break out into a cold sweat and hyperventilate about the lack of time I have. But this is where you need to focus on your breathing. For me, it works to separate everything into “moments” interspersed with deep breaths. It helps to make everything a bit more manageable.
But weirdly enough, we tell people to take deep breaths when their angry instead of looking to the future (calm down? CALM DOWN? CAlm dOWn?!) and broaden their thinking when they get anxious instead of telling them to focus on a single moment (Don’t talk about the “what ifs.” Think about what could go right in addition to wrong.) Somewhere along the way, we got this mixed up.
Of course, your therapist has probably been telling you this for years. This isn’t new or ground-breaking information about anger and anxiety.
It’s just your general reminder to be aware of yourself and what you need. Take a time-out or a walk before anything gets too serious. Before, you know, you yell at a stranger. Any stranger, whether they have a weapon or not.
After all, it’s time that we took better care of ourselves. But it’s up to us all to start.