That Chronic Chip on Your Shoulder is Wrecking Your Health: Here’s How to Get Rid of It

Does that massive chip on your shoulder weigh you down? Do you wake up angry, frustrated, or bent out of shape? If so, you may need to increase your tolerance for the small hiccups in life that are dragging you down. The good news is, getting ahold of your quick-to-fire-off tendencies can have dramatic impacts, for the better, on your emotional and physical health. 

Life can be rough, really rough, and how you respond to the valleys in life or even the small road bumps can have dramatic and lasting impacts not only on the relationships in your life but also on your health and the health of those closest to you.  

According to Zen master  Thich Nhat Hanh, anger is “like a blazing flame that burns up our self-control.”

Chronic aggravation is linked to numerous health conditions, including overeating, depression, and insomnia. Rage induced outbursts are related to both an increase in heart attacks and stroke. 

What pushes your buttons?

For some, it might be the driver in front of you that doesn’t seem to know how to push on the gas. For others, it might be the annoying and nosey neighbor who is always poking his head over the fence and telling the whole neighborhood your business. Still, others seem to boi over because of the chatty person on the plane or the checkout girl that can’t seem to stop smacking her gum. 

Whatever it is that triggers you, there seem to be millions of people living in a state of high tension – like a volcano ready to burst. Being chronically annoyed appears to be a much larger problem than most of us would acknowledge. 

The good news is, there are simple things that you can do to calm your inner fire before it has a long term negative impact on your health.

According to Dr. Mark Crawford, a clinical psychologist, 

“We all have a ‘fight or flight’ trigger. It is adaptive. Some of us have a more sensitive one than others. However, the good news is that we can almost ‘reprogram’ this by techniques like breathing and particularly mindfulness meditation.”

Here are ten simple things that you can do when you feel yourself approaching boiling levels. These are progressive, so start with the first and only progress down the line if the first step does not bring you back into balance.

Step one: Just breathe

It sounds too simple to be effective, but just becoming aware of your breath and bringing it under control can help you calm down. As soon as you become aware of your annoyance meter rising, stop and take ten deep belly breaths. When we are annoyed, we tend to breathe in a shallow way that does not correctly oxygenate the body. Bring your focus to your breath, and be sure to find that breath first deep in your belly. Belly breathing effectively delivers more oxygen to the body, which helps to reduce blood pressure and invoke an innate relaxation response. With each breath – send your anger away into the wind or envision yourself filling up balloons of frustration and sending them high into the air.

Step two: Talk to yourself

If the breaths don’t cut it, try talking to yourself. Ask yourself why you are annoyed. Speaking this out loud to yourself may even bring you to laughter once you realize that your anger is really a useless emotion that does not accomplish anything good. 

Step three: Put on someone else’s shoes

If our frustration is directed at another person, it is essential to realize that everyone has a story. Taking off your shoes and putting on theirs can be a big help when you become annoyed with someone. Work very hard to see the situation from their eyes. For instance, if someone cuts you off in traffic, think about all the reasons why they might be in a hurry. Perhaps they are transporting a sick child to the hospital, perhaps they just lost someone that they loved, perhaps they are otherwise occupied by something tragic in their life. Truly, walking a mile in someone else’s shoes helps to calm frustration. 

Step four: Show grace, lots of it

Grace is a gift meant to be shared. When you become frustrated with someone, stretch your mind beyond anger to find a place of grace. It takes a much bigger person to have a spirit full of grace and forgiveness than anger and annoyance. Be that bigger person as often as life gives you the chance. Remember, people are watching you – your kids, your spouse, and your friends. Model grace, not anger…It’s best for everyone!

Step five: Remind yourself of the temporary nature of the situation

Yes, it is true that all things, even frustration, pass. Remind yourself that people will put lots of “gifts’ at your feet – you don’t have to open them! Simply choose not to open a box full of frustration, and you will be much better off. The experience or person that is making you annoyed can not enslave you forever unless you let it.  In other words, let it go before it gets you!

Step six: What things really matter?

There are many weighty things in life that deserve our full attention. Getting cut off on your way home is not one of them. Be careful what you put your energy into – feeding frustration results in a lack of energy for those things that deserve your attention. When you become annoyed, ask yourself if in the big picture it really matters? You will probably be surprised at the answer you speak back to yourself.

Step seven: Laugh more

Although it may be the last thing that you want to do while the massive chip on your shoulder is growing…It’s great to see how laughter trumps anger. Make a joke about your situation, think about something funny, or watch your favorite cat videos. Whatever it takes to bring a laugh, do it! You will see – the more you laugh, the less angry you become until laughter squashes frustration.

Step eight: Be proactive in trying to make the situation better

If you have reached this step and no steps before have helped tame your frustration, it is time to put some energy into trying to make your situation better. Be proactive and positive as you become your own agent of change. Remember, growing angry often paralyzes us. Break through this by working through a solution. You have more control than you give yourself credit for. Again, do you want to fuel your anger and frustration, or do you want to fuel a solution? Ask yourself this fundamental question, and then you will be able to move forward.

Step nine: Remember that time heals

If you are still angry and frustrated, remember that the passing of time is an excellent medicine to fight the disease of anger. Look back at other times when you have been frustrated and acknowledge that the frustration got easier with time. If you trust that time will indeed work against all ill feelings, this help get you through a difficult situation.

Step ten: Call a friend

If walking around with a chip on your shoulder is starting to become excessively burdensome ( which it will), reach out to someone that you trust to chat about your feelings. A true friend will listen, offer honest advice when asked, and provide a great deal of support. 

If you are still angry and frustrated, it might be time to write down everything that bothers you and toss the pieces of paper into a blazing fire. This will help free you of the burden of anger and frustration that can eat at you!

Remember, life is too short – embrace joy when you can and walk in the assurance that being joyful and grateful are weapons against anger that work if you allow them to!

-Susan Patterson

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