‘ I’ve always had a short temper and don’t mind that
– I think it’s good to clear the air. But I’m getting increasingly frustrated – how do I know whether it’s a fair reaction to a stressful time at work, or whether my moods are getting out of hand? Any tips on not letting things get to you?’
My first thought was: how do other people react? What does ‘clear the air’ look like in day-to-day situations? After an outburst, do you perceive those around you to be feeling the same sense of relief that something has been ‘dealt with’? The way you behave has an impact. People’s reactions may indicate whether that behaviour is fair.
As our conversations about mental health become wider and less stigma-heavy, a potential side effect is that it becomes easy to label every bad mood as ‘wrong’. This is known as ‘pathologising’. But while it’s healthy to recognise what is and isn’t normal for us as individuals, we should remember that our moods and emotions fluctuate all the time. If we are feeling low, frustrated or unmotivated, it does not automatically mean we are mentally unwell.
Everything from arguing with a partner, having a disagreement with a friend or even having a runny nose can affect our mood. This is what it means to be human. We’re sensitive creatures. Work stress can have a bigger impact, as it relates to somewhere we go and people we see every day. Maybe your reaction is ‘fair’, in that sense, if there are high demands. However, feeling ‘increasingly frustrated’ isn’t comfortable for you or, I’d wager, those around you.
Stress obviously manifests as irritability for you. It’s wise to accept the impact this can have on other people, but you can’t blame yourself. Think of yourself as a very full cup of coffee. You’re walking around trying to contain your hot insides; the slightest knock and it spills over. If your general level of discontent wasn’t so high, perhaps you wouldn’t be so reactive.
This means looking at those boring pillars of good health: sleep, exercise, diet, etc. We know regular exercise positively impacts serotonin levels in the brain, so can you walk or cycle to work? Unstable blood sugar has a marked effect on mood, so try to eat at regular times, increase your protein intake and cut down on refined sugars. Look at guided meditation exercises to do at home – I always recommend the Jon Kabat-zinn body scan (find it on Youtube). Hopefully, with gentle self-analysis and commitment to looking after your mindbody machine, you’ll feel more resilient.
Increasing frustration suggests that you may be feeling stuck or blocked in some way. Sustained frustration can negatively affect your mood, leaving you stressed and angry. If the mind perceives a threat, the body releases chemicals in response, preparing for fight or flight in order to protect you. Being in this state of mind can be detrimental to your physical and emotional health. If you’re prone to a short temper, you’re more likely to be in ‘fight’ mode, which may also result in lashing out first and thinking later. Disrupt angry thoughts by counting slowly to 100. Stop and think – what’s the specific source of your frustration? Reframe the problem and look at possible solutions – talk to your boss, for instance, if you feel overloaded. When calm, express your feelings in a clear, specific way. Instead of starting with ‘You’, start with ‘I’ statements. Exercising is great – it releases endorphins, makes you feel good and is an excellent distraction. These techniques will help you express yourself in a healthy and constructive way.