‘ 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?’

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ELEANOR SAYS:

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.

AN­JULA SAYS:

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.

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