How to Cope When You're Mad as Hell at Work
Three expert tips for managing your anger like a pro.
Kelly Ripa fans (including us) were eagerly awaiting her return to Live! With Kelly and Michael this week, to hear what she would say. Ripa was returning from a short hiatus following Michael Strahan’s announcement last week that he was leaving the show to become a co-anchor on Good Morning America. (Ripa was reportedly blindsided when she learned about his departure minutes before the announcement on April 19.)
“I needed a couple of days to gather my thoughts,” Ripa told the Live! audience on Tuesday. “After 26 years with this company I earned the right … I always speak from the heart so I didn’t want to come out here and say something I regret.”
We were impressed to say the least. Ripa handled the drama like a pro, and also noted that the events at ABC started a conversation “about communication, consideration, and most importantly, respect in the workplace”—which may be why her experience is resonating with so many people.
Who can’t relate to feeling hot under the collar at work? “Colleagues don’t always act the way you want them to act, and situations don’t roll out the way you want them to,” says Alexandra Levit, a workplace consultant and co-chair of DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board. But it’s important to keep your cool to protect your reputation, she says. Here, a few anger coping tips from Levit and other experts to help you channel your rage in a productive way.
Take a breather
Ripa took a few days off to gain perspective. But even a few minutes can help when you’re about to boil over. Say, “I need to run to the restroom and I’ll catch up with you in a couple of minutes.” Even if you’re in a meeting. “It’s better to get out and look weird, than be somewhere you can’t control yourself,” Levit says.
Losing control is a risk you can’t afford to take, as Brad Bushman, PhD, a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University, explained to Health in an earlier interview. "Angry people are highly aroused and when people get aroused, they do and say things they later regret.”
After you’ve left the scene, call a trusted friend to vent, suggests Levit. Or simply count: Counting—slowly—to whatever number seems appropriate gives your blood pressure and heart rate a chance to return to normal. The way Bushman put it: "As time passes, arousal diminishes."
Then, head back in. “The situation might be the same, but you got the emotion out of it, reducing the likelihood that the scenario will escalate,” says Levit. Because flipping your lid is never a good idea. “Even if you’re in the right, no one will remember that. All they’ll remember is that you screamed,” she says.
Know your triggers
Gretchen Rubin, best-selling author of The Happiness Project, recommends doing some self-reflection to assess what fuels your fury. In a prior interview, she suggested, “Is it because work seems meaningless? Because you can never get all your tasks done? Or because you have a conflict with a co-worker?”
When you can anticipate your anger, you can practice coping in advance, says Levit. For example, you might imagine your boss criticizing you in a meeting. In front of a mirror, practice exactly how you’d respond while remaining calm.
Tune into what triggers you to feel stressed, too. “Stress can lead to anger, which can make you lose control,” Levit points out. So if you know that tight deadlines freak you out, for example, try to work ahead so you’re not racing against the clock.
RELATED: Best and Worst Ways to Cope with Stress
Look for the positive
When your expectations haven’t been met, try to spin the scenario so it’s less painful. Instead of thinking so-and-so should have done this or that, rephrase your thought train, Levit suggests. Start by stating how you have liked things to go down, and then name something you appreciate about your job:
I would have liked if my colleague did such-and-such. But since she didn’t, I have to remember I [have a great job/get paid well/love what I do/make a difference]. So I’m going to figure out how to get past this.
Team members who can “make lemonade out of lemons” are usually well-liked and valued in the workplace, she adds. “People who can come back from adverse situations have better reputations.”