It’s one of our most basic and fundamental emotions. It triggers the release of stress hormones which is a part of the fight, flight, or freeze stress response people have evolved to use for self-preservation. However, prolonged release of these stress hormones is harmful to our own health. ‘Stuffing’ anger is a very unhealthy way to cope – but unleashing it in the moment can also be very harmful.
Maybe it’s the client in the veterinary clinic accusing us of ‘only caring about money’ while refusing to bring in the sick cat who hasn’t eaten in a week. Maybe it’s the member of the public who feels they can doctor Google how to raise the baby squirrels they found and refuse to bring it in to your wildlife rehabilitation centre (even though you know they’ll drop it off at the door when the poor babies are deathly ill and it’s too late for you to save them). Whatever it is, the feeling of anger can quickly arise.
In the animal care world, often our anger is related to the fact that sometimes animal suffering is out of our control. It’s difficult knowing you have the ability to help, but for one reason or another, your hands are tied. So what are we to do when there is nowhere to put our feelings? When our options are unleashing it on the client or member of the public (definitely not recommended and may even cost you your job) or ‘stuffing it’. We generally choose the latter. This unleashes stress hormones in our body which are there as long as we hold our anger. We need to let it go by finding healthy ways to express our anger. ‘Being angry doesn’t give you permission to be cruel’ whether this is towards other people in our lives or ourselves. We need to stop stuffing the feelings that come with the work that we do.
It’s also important to keep in mind that anger is very good at masking other feelings. Feelings of hurt, sadness, anxiety, stress, etc. often show up as irritability or anger. So working on anger also tends to unleash some of the emotions that it’s masking. Expressing anger in healthy ways allows us to explore the feelings that are hidden underneath the anger and can be a positive and constructive practice. Here are some ideas of how to express anger in healthy ways when you’re faced with a difficult situation:
Things that can be done immediately:
- Take a deep breath (or ten!)
- Pick a calming word and use it or imagine a calm place. Even if for a short few seconds this can be very helpful.
- Remove yourself from the situation if possible.
- Reflect – ask questions about the situation that may help you gain perspective. “Is it worth it for me to get angry?” “Will this matter tomorrow, next week, next year?”.
- Imagine the situation from all angles, what may be the other person’s GOOD intentions?
- When calm, address your anger or concerns with the person if possible using ‘I’ statements. “I’m concerned about X, Y, Z,” or “I felt that…________ what are your thoughts?”. By addressing your side while also being non-confrontational you will get a better idea of what the other person’s perspective was.
- Trust your team’s intentions. It might be difficult to have things not go or be done your way, but trust that you and your team are always working towards the same goal.
Things that can be done when you have more time:
- Journal! Write out exactly how you feel and why you feel that way. Sometimes getting it all out on paper is enough for us to process the situation and helps us to gain perspective. Once you’ve written everything out, it sometimes help to set some goals on how to help something positive come out of the negative experience.
- Exercise! This helps get all of our pent-up energy out, gets the blood and endorphins flowing, and helps us blow off steam. Pro Tip: You don’t have to be a runner to blow off steam. Turning on some of your favourite music while singing at the top of your lungs and dancing (complete with finger pointing and singing to pets) is very therapeutic.
- Create! Painting, drawing, crafts of any kind can help us focus on the current moment and allows us to concentrate on something other than our anger.
- Therapy! Having a professional guide you through managing your stress, anxiety, and anger can be one of the most rewarding things we can do for ourselves. Very often, we learn so much about ourselves in therapy that the benefits flow into various areas in our lives.
The work you do is difficult. You need to take care of your mind, body, and soul ❤︎.