Life is full of minor (and, let’s face it, major) annoyances and, if you’re like me, you have precious little patience to deal with them.
So how do you stop the everyday Drama Llamas from driving you to drink… and divorce?
Here are a few tricks I’ve learned along the way.
(Truth time: even while writing this post I repeatedly had to use these tips because my 6 year old apparently believes she’s a decade older.)
You can’t throw a temper tantrum lest they revoke your adult status, so how can you become a zen master when confronted with life’s (or your husband’s) little messes?
1. Look in the mirror
Any time I feel irked by something, I ask if I’ve contributed to it in any way or if I’ve ever engaged in that type of behaviour.
When I see a pile of dirty dishes and immediately consider divorcing my husband, I look a little closer to see if anything belongs to me. Even if it doesn’t, I ask if I’ve ever left an untidy pile somewhere in the house that I didn’t quite get a chance to clean up as quickly as I would have liked.
When someone is short with me, I ask myself if I’ve ever been in a situation where, for whatever reason, I forgot my manners and took my frustrations out on another.
When I feel myself gearing up to read the riot act, I remember all the regretful things I’ve done and the many mistakes I’ve made.
Usually once I’m done with this little “Have I ever” exercise, I thank my lucky stars I still have so many good people left in my life.
And those dishes don’t seem like quite such a big deal after all.
2. Examine your needs
Very often the reason we’re so frustrated is not because of the problem itself, but rather it’s the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.
Isolated instances are much easier to deal with calmly, especially when you still have reserves of energy and goodwill towards your fellow man. But when you’re cold and hungry and your tank is running on empty because the kids kept you up half the night?
It’s a chain reaction that leads to a nuclear explosion.
Now I’m not saying, “Just get a good night’s sleep and all will be grand.” I understand I’d (rightly) be the target of your temper. But what I am saying is to top up your tank as often as you can.
- Have you had a chance to eat something, even if it’s just a quick snack?
- Are you cold, or thirsty, or just generally uncomfortable?
- Do you need a bathroom break, or a quick breather?
What would make you feel better in this moment so you can recharge your reserves and show up as the calm, collected person you know you can be?
Find a way to interrupt the buildup and you won’t blow your top.
I’ll be the first to admit that I make mountains out of molehills. So now, when I feel righteous in my rage, I take a step back. I put some distance between myself and the problem – both physically and temporally – and let myself settle.
For some things, this just means walking away, taking a few deep breaths, and counting to ten. I may even meditate, allowing myself to calm my racing thoughts and boiling blood.
Other times, it involves sleeping on it, because there’s very little I don’t feel better about in the bright morning light.
So when you feel your anger building, press the pause button and remove yourself from the situation. By only returning when you feel calmer, you’ll have a lot less mess to clear up.
4. Do some digging
What are you really mad about? It’s probably not that the guy who cut you off in traffic is going to get home before you, it’s that you’re out here minding your own business, being a law-abiding citizen, and he comes along thinking he deserves better than you.
And you’re not necessarily upset that there are a few dirty dishes in the sink, it’s that you feel unloved and under-appreciated. You feel like a slave in your own home.
Obviously I’m not saying that should make you feel better, but it at least allows you to get to the root of the problem. Once you better understand it, you’re more equipped to face it.
It’s unlikely you believe that the dirty dishes are your partner’s way of disrespecting you, so it gives you a little perspective. Thus, though it initially seemed like the seed of frustration was strong, when you get right to the root you might realise how weak the argument really is.
Other times it can help you deal with a problem head on rather than just continually scratching at the surface. By digging down to the real issue, you can hopefully resolve it once and for all.
5. Go for the good
When someone sleights you, it’s easy to believe they’re on a personal mission to make your life a misery. It can seem like they’re purposely running late or being rude or obtuse or messy or patronising.
And yes, sometimes people suck.
But the truth is, rarely are they actually trying to f*ck with you. They’ve got their own sh*t going on and their current irresponsibility is not a reflection of their feelings towards you.
I have to remind myself on a regular basis that my husband doesn’t go out of his way to wind me up. (Well, not always, anyway.) He just doesn’t see the same dirt I see. He doesn’t think in the same perfectionist way I do. He doesn’t leave his socks on the floor to spite me.
We all have bad habits and at least one aspect of our personality we’re not proud of, so allow them their faults and then outweigh them with all the things in their favour.
6. Choose your battles
Ask yourself if this is a hill you’re willing to die on. After all, if you were to vent your frustration at every little thing that caused your eyes to twitch, you’d quickly erode any feelings of goodwill towards you.
Make a list of your non-negotiables – the things you absolutely will not put up with under any circumstance – and refer back to it regularly.
I’m not saying you need to ignore all the dirty socks lying around, but understand where they sit on a sliding scale of injustices and react accordingly.
Don’t waste your snipes on insignificant things; instead, save them up for the egregious violations that require all-out war.
7. Imagine others’ needs
It’s easy to lose your cool when someone cuts you off, or when a loved one suddenly snaps at you. I mean, how very dare they!
But in those instances, it helps if you imagine they’re under a lot of pressure (even if it’s not immediately evident).
Sure, when a salesperson is abrupt with you, your gut reaction may be to silently scream and swear at them. (Or maybe not so silently.) But ask yourself if there are any circumstances that might explain that person’s actions.
Here’s a good example: I once shopped at a store where the young man behind the counter took a personal call while ringing up my purchases. I fought my instinct to be annoyed and simply bagged up my shopping in silence.
Just as I was done, he hung up, handed me my receipt, and explained that his father was in hospital and his family were calling with updates.
So before you snap at your spouse, or even the stranger on the bus, stop and ask yourself if it’s possible they’ve got personal problems you can’t see.
That Dollar Tree teenager just wanted to make sure his dad was OK.
I think of him often.
9. Maybe it's a mixup
There have been many times in my life when someone misunderstood something I said or did and then gave me both barrels.
I’ve also worked with a gentleman whose sing-song voice was often misinterpreted as being condescending. His overt positivity and optimism was the cause of skepticism for some.
And I’m guilty of it too – assuming the worst and wading in with criticism, only to discover I got the wrong end of the stick and now look like a sh*thead.
It will always be a judgement call because, frankly, some people are just assholes and there’s nothing you can do about it. But look at that email or that text message, or the context and tone of what’s being said, and ask yourself if there’s another, less anger-inducing way of interpreting it.
Better to be a Pollyanna than put your foot in it.
10. The troll test
We’ve all heard of keyboard warriors – people who hide behind the anonymity of the internet where it’s much easier to leave nasty comments for others.
And I bet we’re all a little guilty of it ourselves.
We’re all that bit braver when we know we can’t be touched. We’ve all said things online or over the phone we’d never say to someone’s face.
That’s why, before I lose my cool with a customer service agent or anyone else, I ask myself if my response would be the same if I were speaking face-to-face with my best friend.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve edited my words based on this little test and, though I can’t say for sure, I’m confident it’s led to more positive outcomes than if I’d taken the alternative tone.
I’m almost ashamed to admit that I use these tips on a very regular basis (even, as I said, in the process of writing this post). I’m quick to anger and go on the offence. More times than I can count, I’ve been embarrassed by my behaviour.
But I’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way, which I’ve distilled above for you. I hope they help you avoid World War III when a snarky side eye would have sufficed.
If you've committed to calming down and getting your mind right, these other posts will have you well on your way: