5 ways to turn feelings of anger into empowerment

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Feeling stuck? Releasing rage could be the key to clarity and empowerment

5 ways to turn feelings of anger into empowerment

When Jenny* began counselling, she felt stuck. She used to know what she wanted from life, but now found herself feeling lost and unsure of herself. Mike* entered therapy with an anxiety that kept him up at night. During the day, he felt invisible, overworked, and teetered on the edge of burnout. Samira* had a sense of hopelessness about the world. She often talked about oppressive social systems that left her with fewer opportunities than her husband, but felt as though there was nothing she could do about her future.

All of these clients came to therapy with different symptoms, histories, and relationships. What they had in common was that concealed anger was underlying their presenting issues. They each wanted to feel more alive, empowered, and capable of living the lives they wanted. Perhaps surprisingly, the key to this is learning how to access and use anger to solve our problems and achieve empowerment.

What is anger?

Anger is a natural and appropriate emotional response to something external that is in conflict with our personal values. It arises when our boundaries have been crossed, when someone does something we disagree with, or treats us in a way we dislike. Anger is a powerful sign that our needs are not being met.

Yet, anger is perhaps the most misunderstood and frequently denied emotion. I hear many clients make statements such as “I’m not really an angry person,” suggesting a cultural misperception that feeling anger is a fixed and inescapable part of our identity, rather than a transient emotional experience.

In reality, if we acknowledge anger and express it appropriately, it will resolve, like any other emotion. It is actually when we disavow anger that it becomes detrimental to our wellbeing.

Why do we push anger away?

Expressing anger often involves confrontation with others. If we are in any doubt that the relationship can withstand such a rupture, denying our anger becomes a way to avoid relationship breakdown. In the moment, it seems far simpler and less frightening to pretend we are not angry, so we turn anger inward, hoping it will subside. However, this only internalises the conflict; creating anxiety, low mood and a sense of being stuck.

5 ways to turn feelings of anger into empowerment

What is the difference between anger and violence?

Another reason anger is denied, particularly in men, is because it is confused with violence. However, whereas anger motivates us to problem-solve, violence is actually a passive behaviour. When people are unable to express anger in a safe, healthy, and productive way, they are more likely to discharge angry energy with violence. This may feel like a temporary release, but it fails to address the problem which created the anger in the first place. Expressing anger healthily is about active problem-solving, not violence.

How can we recognise repressed anger?

Anger is a powerful emotion that, when left unexpressed, takes up a lot of energy. Physically, it can leave us feeling drained and exhausted, but sleep does not help, because anger is not relieved by rest. Restoring our capacity requires an appropriate release of the pent-up angry energy.

Clues that ang

How to let go of people-pleasing and overcome the fear of not being liked

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Our natural desire to get on with others is no bad thing, but what happens when people-pleasing starts to hold you back?

How to let go of people-pleasing and overcome the fear of not being liked

As human beings, the need for social connection is hard-wired into our brains, so it’s no wonder that most people place huge importance on being liked. It’s a normal, healthy response to value relationships with others, and what they think of you.

As therapist Kara Nassour points out: “It’s in our genetic makeup to need approval from others. Throughout history, humans have survived cooperatively, and being expelled from your community would usually lead to death. Even today, our brains process social rejection in the same way as physical threats, and try to protect us by making us pay attention to other people’s opinions of us.”

However, in our modern society, life is not so simple, and sometimes the desire to be liked can manifest in unhealthy ways, getting in the way of goals and dreams, and using up precious energy that could be spent elsewhere. Many of us were brought up to be ‘people-pleasers’, to think of others not ourselves. While this has its benefits, taken to an extreme we can lose touch with what our own needs and interests are. It can stop us from knowing ourselves.

Ultimately it’s when we nurture ourselves, and ‘put on our own oxygen mask’ first, that we can be better resourced to care for others. Counter-intuitively, we need to liberate ourselves from the need to be liked by everyone in order to fully show up in our relationship with ourselves, and others.

How to let go of people-pleasing and overcome the fear of not being liked

So how can we do that? Here are some essential ideas to help you break free from the people-pleasing cycle.

What do you want?

What do you want in life? Are there any areas where needing to be liked is holding you back? Perhaps you want to launch a new business, but are nervous about promoting yourself on social media, or handing in your notice to a job you’ve worked in for years.

Here’s a simple exercise to explore what you really want to do, and who you really want to be:

1. Write the ‘naughty’ version of yourself. Don’t hold back.

What would you do, who would you be, if you could be free of worrying about what people will say? Exaggerate and really go for it, even if the persona you create is someone you’d never actually be in real life. This can really help to get liberated from your conventional, everyday self and any expectations of others.

2. Read back over what you have written, and look at it more realistically.

Some of what you have might be completely wild and unobtainable, but you may find that there are some dreams and goals that you could really go for. Is it possible that other people’s potential reactions are holding you back? Is there anything you can do to take a step towards your goal? Journal your thoughts.

What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Try this writing exercise to explore wha

What is therapeutic writing (and is it for me?)

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We explore the benefits of therapeutic writing and how it could support you

What is therapeutic writing (and is it for me?)

My days tend to have the same bookends. My mornings start with a 10-minute meditation and they end with a 10-minute journaling session. Writing in a journal is something I’ve been doing since I was 12 and, during a particularly tough time when I developed an eating disorder, I believe it was one of the tools that kept me afloat.

Back then I had never heard the term ‘therapeutic writing’ but, when I reflect, I realise that is likely what I was doing – using the humble pen and paper to explore the chaos I was experiencing internally, in a bid to free it from my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I still needed support from mental health services and a therapist, but it certainly helped.

Now we’re all a little more aware of mental health and what can support it, some of us have likely seen the term therapeutic writing tossed around. But what exactly is it?

What is therapeutic writing?

“I passionately believe that any form of writing can be therapeutic and that creative writing for therapeutic purposes encompasses a huge spectrum – from single words to lists, letters, poems, journals, and even the writing of entire books,” counsellor and creative writing for therapeutic purposes (CWTP) practitioner Hazel North tells us.

“Writing is a very safe way of allowing us to explore our thoughts and emotions; our relationships; our life stories; our dreams and aspirations. It can support us to make sense of things, to overcome trauma, to make changes in our lives, to find our voice and to understand ourselves better.”

Hazel goes on to note that therapeutic writing is not about producing work of literary merit. Instead, it’s about freedom from constraints like spelling, punctuation and grammar (though, she explains some therapeutic work may well be crafted and edited for publication).

"Essentially, therapeutic writing is about personal writing to support your own wellbeing. In therapeutic writing it is the process of writing which has the potential to heal not the end product."

Is there a difference between journaling and therapeutic writing?

When I think back to the way writing supported me when I was struggling, there were two methods that stood out to me; journaling (writing whatever was on my mind) and more structured writing (for example, writing a letter to my eating disorder as advised by my therapist). This led me to question Hazel about any differences between journaling and therapeutic writing.

“Journaling is of course therapeutic and most journaling includes writing. It comes under the huge umbrella of what is known as creative writing for therapeutic purposes (CWTP),” Hazel explains.

“How they may differ is that writing is about words; journalling may also have a strong visual element with pictures, photographs, textiles.”

For me, both forms helped. With more general journaling, I was able to untangle thoughts and scribble visuals, and with the writing exercises given by my therapist, I could find ways of coping with the specific issues I was having.

Is therapeutic writing right for me?

If this all sounds intriguing to you, Hazel’s advice is to pick up a pen and give it a try. “It’s very importan

5 powerful tips for managing conflict in social situations

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Whether it’s a meeting at work or a family dynamic that conjures up concern around the possibility of clashes, here are five effective ways you can proactively manage tough conversations and situations

1. Assume the best

5 powerful tips for managing conflict in social situations

It’s easy to talk ourselves into fearing a situation, and expecting the worst, even when we have no evidence that things will play out as we imagine. However, by catastrophising and anticipating conflict we’re telling ourselves that we’re about to be in danger, and our mind and body will then react as if that is true.

Intercept anticipatory negative thoughts as they enter your mind by asking yourself: ‘Do I know this to be true?’ If the answer is no, ask yourself how you would like the conversation or event to play out instead.

2. Set intentions

You can’t manage how other people will communicate or react, but you can present yourself in a way that you are proud of. By writing down how you will behave and communicate, you’re setting positive intentions that will help you manage your interactions. Read through your intentions again before your meet-up, so they’re fresh in your mind.

3. Put in a pause

If you believe that the situation is going south, you don’t have to passively slide down the slippery route to conflict! Putting a pause in the middle of proceedings can really help.

This is situation dependent, but if things feel like they’re escalating into unproductive territory, simply say: “I really want to continue this conversation. I just need to go to the bathroom/grab some water/blow my nose, and when I get back, let’s talk about this further.”

While you’re away from the discussion, slow your breathing down, making each exhale longer than the inhale, and remember the intentions you’ve set for yourself. When you re-enter the discussion, thank the person for waiting for you – hopefully, tension will have dissipated and tempers will calm.

4. Stay grounded

If verbal conflict should arise, physically ground yourself by placing both feet flat on the floor, and by keeping your breathing steady. Avoid interrupting the other person, and take a breath before you speak, both of which can help to prevent the conversation from escalating into a rally of positional points.

If you believe that the situation cannot be rectified at that moment, say so, and be clear about how you wish to be treated and proceed. This doesn’t have to be combative. You could try: “It seems that we disagree on this. I respect you, and I think it would be great for us both to have some time to think about what we’ve shared. Shall we give each other a bit of time and space to process the discussion, and chat again in a couple of days?”

5. You’re safe and loved

Conflict, or even the anticipation of conflict, can make us feel shaky and off-centre. Take some time to ‘come down’ after your interaction. If you can, take a walk outdoors and use the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding method – focus on five t

What is secondhand stress and how do I get rid of it?

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Studies have shown that stress can be contagious. So, how do we get rid of – or avoid altogether – secondhand stress, before we start to feel overwhelmed?

What is secondhand stress and how do I get rid of it?

Stress. It can be overwhelming, can’t it? As a nation, as many as one in four (74%) of us have felt overwhelmed and unable to cope in the past year, according to figures from the Mental Health Foundation. With feelings of stress often surrounding financial worries, relationship difficulties, and feelings of being overworked and underappreciated, unfortunately, it’s not just our own stress that’s keeping us up at night.

Research has shown that thanks to emotional contagion, it’s possible for us to ‘catch’ stress, anxiety, and other emotions from others. Just watching someone else showing classic signs of stress can be enough to trigger a stress response in us, which can lead to further feelings of exhaustion, worry, and even starting to avoid certain colleagues, friends, family, and loved ones.

So, what can we do to spot the signs of secondhand stress before it starts to take hold of us? And how can we get rid of secondhand stress for good?

What is secondhand stress and anxiety?

The terms secondhand stress and secondhand anxiety refer to when you feel stressed or anxious because someone else is showing signs of stress or anxiety. Essentially, our minds and bodies are wired to keep an eye out for potential danger or threats. When we see someone else having a stress or anxiety reaction, we unconsciously can end up mimicking this, as a natural form of self-defence.

We’re able to pick up secondhand stress by seeing others’ facial expressions, hearing their voice frequency, and even picking up on specific scents or touches. What’s more, we’re more likely to experience secondhand stress from someone we know, rather than a stranger – meaning our colleague’s stress levels, and how they react to and express those feelings of stress, can have a serious impact on us.

How do you know if someone is stressing you out?

There are a number of different signs and symptoms of stress that we can keep an eye out for. These can include emotional symptoms (feeling frustrated, quick to anger, anxious, overwhelmed, teary, or avoiding others or social situations) or physical symptoms (trouble sleeping, feeling dizzy, excessive sweating, chest pains or palpitations, digestive problems, or seeking comfort from food, drugs or alcohol). But there are also signs you can keep an eye out for, that can indicate that being around someone else may be causing you secondhand stress.

These can include:

  • Stress eating or drinking when they are around (e.g. eating more when you’re around someone, as a way to self-soothe or cope with how you are feeling).
  • Checking your phone or avoiding eye contact while talking to others. This can be a sign that you are feeling uncomfortable with what is being shared, or are experiencing feelings of stress and overwhelm (though it’s worth noting that not everyone is