From The Guardian and mentioned on the Ki Health org homepage.http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2008/sep/22/healthandwellbeing.pressandpublishing
When her colleagues suggested she would be a perfect candidate for anger-management therapy, Elle editor Lorraine Candy was surprised. Four treatments later, she feels calmer - but not cured
The Guardian, Monday 22 September 2008
Ask anyone to keep count of the number of times they get angry in one day and my guess is the figure would head towards double digits pretty quickly. If you're a woman with a stressful full-time job, three children under six, a diabetic Airedale terrier, a pregnant nanny, a partner who also works full-time and a staff of 35 other women to manage then, believe me, that number easily surpasses double digits by lunchtime. But given our time-poor (and now cash-poor) "have-it-all" lifestyle, isn't a simmering level of female fury understandable? To be expected even? I thought so, until my colleagues suggested I take an anger management course.
Let me explain. I wanted to commission a debate on how cross women seem to be today - from the media-hyped explosion of aggressive girl gangs to the observation that the women taking part in the BBC's Apprentice seemed to get so much angrier than the male contestants. "Let's get someone to test anger-management solutions," I said. Ten minutes later my features editor popped her head round my office door and suggested I was the perfect candidate.
The good news? My team weren't too scared to suggest anger management to me in person; I mean I'm not Tony Soprano for goodness sake. The bad news? When quizzed, a friend confirms I do spend a ludicrous amount of time getting angry about everything and nothing, barely keeping a lid on the "mean reds" as Holly Golightly called them in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Let's be clear, I am not the female equivalent of Gordon Ramsay. I never shout at people, and I cope well in a crisis. No cover for the October issue? I'm as cool as a cucumber. Mobile phone lost at bottom of handbag? Steam is coming out of my ears.
It's the small stuff that infuriates me. I'm prone to checkout rage, bus-stop rage, taxi rage, and changing-room rage, but it's mostly white-goods rage that takes up my time. Other significant fury flashbacks include the time I beat my non-starting VW Beetle Basil Fawlty style with a branch, the day my husband hauled me off the broken dishwasher, as I attacked it with the business end of a Louboutin, and the toaster with a fork permanently rammed in it, like a piece of mad modern art. But I am not alone. A recent study by the Mental Health Foundation concluded Britain is becoming an angrier nation, with women finding it harder to control their rage. Ultimately, I don't like feeling this cross: it's tiring and my children have started to mimic my Marge Simpson-like growling.
I set out to try four treatments that each offer a different ethos of tackling anger and stress. First up is an appointment at the Hale Clinic to see Dawn Templeton, a counsellor and psychotherapist. She explores the emotions behind my angry outbursts, and the learned behaviour of the sufferer. She asks how anger was dealt with in my family as a child. My recollection is that it was fine to show anger, usually quite loudly.
"There is a difference between expressing anger and understanding the origin of the anger," she tells me. "By attempting to understand the feelings behind the anger, and often normalise them, you feel heard and hopefully understood. Once a person feels understood, they can access the feelings underneath the anger, which are often those of sadness, disappointment and grief. The anger masks those feelings and acts like a protective blanket around us.
"So, if you have had parents who are freely able to express anger this may have given you permission to express your own anger, but - and this is a big but - until you understand your own anger and why it leaks out everywhere, you will stay in a frustrated place, any additional stress on top will cause it to leak out," she tells me.
Templeton likens my anger to a glass of water, which keeps spilling over the top but needs to be emptied from below. Counselling is a lengthy process and she recommends six one-hour sessions, which I don't have time for. She uses a simple technique, which can help in the meantime. The TRAIN acronym: "T", talk to someone; "R", relax in a way that suits you; "A" for activity - keep fit; "I" for interest, find one; "N" for nutrition, take care of what you put into your body. This makes sense to me. Sometimes I think tiredness may be the reason for most of my anger. My youngest wakes at around 6am every day.
Next I try laughter yoga. The theory is that you learn to fake laughter and thus fool your body into releasing feelgood chemicals that boost your immune system and help you deal with stress better. Laughter can lower blood pressure and produce endorphins that promote wellbeing. It is used in hospitals, especially with children, to boost immune systems and generate a positive attitude.
Julie Whitehead, a laughter trainer dressed top to toe in pink, teaches me how to laugh spontaneously, at nothing. We sing a song (All my cells are well), we "ho ho ho" while waltzing around the room and we try "humour aerobics", which is literally forcing your face into a smile. There's not much yoga, but apparently that would be included in follow-up sessions. I love the idea of laughter yoga (just thinking about it makes me, well, laugh) but I'm far to uptight for this kind of stress relief. Though I do try forcing out a spontaneous smile every now and again - it's especially effective in a tense meeting: weirdly if you smile everyone else does too.
Now for hypnotherapy. Steve Burns, of the Therapy Lounge in London, explains how he will help me "relearn" my reactions to things that make me angry. He will programme me under hypnosis. I respond well. It normally takes a person three sessions to go into as deep a "sleep" as I do, he tells me after 30 minutes of hypnosis which feels like five seconds to me. I recall very little. Frankly I'm just grateful to be lying on a couch for 30 minutes during the day. His advice is useful: if you can recognise that you cannot control many situations you are in, your reaction to them is calmer. It is also about the language you use with yourself. "I must get that bus." Really? You'd like to but in reality you may not; you have no control over this. "Must"/"need"/"have to" are harsh words to use. I now keep a 30-minute session on my iPod. It all makes sense, but it takes time and patience.A little disheartened, I try some ki energy treatment. Tired, irritable, with the words of South Park's Cartman ringing in my ears -"bunch of tree-hugging hippy crap" - I reluctantly head off to see Master Oh (yes, that is his name). But I tell you, if you haven't had a small Korean man in nicely ironed linens belch, yawn, hiss and grunt at you as he painfully pummels your abdomen, you are missing out on something quite extraordinary. The theory is that ki - or energy - flows through us all. When it flows freely it keeps us healthy and happy, but when there are blockages the energy slows down and turns toxic, making it difficult to deal with stress and harming the immune system. This treatment unblocks the blockages. The ki master re-vibrates your energy with the noises he makes so it flows more fluidly and massages your energy knots. He also gives you his energy. I'm not sure how.
Master Oh tells me I have a fiery energy and a very sensitive system; this makes me creative but volatile. I use all my energy up immediately, he says, and it is all in the upper part of my body, which explains the weakness of my kidneys (he's right, I do get kidney infections). Three sessions down the line I feel a lot calmer and a lot less stressed. This has made a real difference. I am also sleeping well.
So what have I learned? The basic problem is one most working women with young families face - I don't have enough hours in the day and this makes me impatient and frustrated. The female ability to multi-task is not a godsend, it is a curse, and I think it makes women secretly furious. Oddly the ki energy treatment seems to have made me feel physically less stressed and less wired on a day to day basis. I have slowed down and begun to accept that I cannot control every situation. Buses will be late, four-year-olds will insist on wearing odd shoes to school, gadgets will defy me.
Being able to show your anger, according to Templeton, is a skill, not a problem. Keeping it inside is damaging and, she believes, can often lead to various forms of depression. Counselling is probably the key treatment if your anger is really affecting the way you live. But I think anger like mine is part of the female condition. There is a line in the Simpsons movie that sums it up for me. Lisa tells her mother she is so full of anger she doesn't know what to do about it. "Lisa," says Marge, "you're a woman, you can hold onto it for the rest of your life"
· Lorraine Candy is editor-in-chief of Elle magazine