Decompression: don’t take your bad days out on people you love

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They were not good days. I’d leave for the office early, while it was still dark. By the time I got home in the early evening, I was angry, frustrated, and stressed. I knew it was taking a toll on me. I didn’t realize how much it was affecting people I cared about. Until one afternoon.

As usual, I roared into the driveway and slammed the door when I got out of the car. I got to the front door, and just before I opened it, I heard one of my children inside shout, “Shields up!”

It didn’t register right away. I went into the house, growled a greeting to the kids, and went upstairs to change clothes. I thought about, “Shields up!” I wondered what it was. What did it mean?

I went back downstairs and asked my kids, “So, what’s with ‘Shields up!’?” I asked, trying to sound casual.

Dead silence greeted me. They looked at each other, and at me, and at the floor, and at the ceiling, but nobody said anything.

I took a deep breath. “It’s about me, isn’t it?”

Then one spoke up, and the others chimed in to support, and we had a very uncomfortable (for me) conversation. The exchange that brought everything home was this:

“You’re angry all the time.”

“But I’m not angry at you guys.”

“Then why do you act like you are?”

I apologized to the kids and promised that I’d do better. The problem was that I didn’t know how. I called a couple of mentors and a couple of friends who were counselors. They all told me I had to find a way to decompress so I didn’t take my bad day out on my family.

I was lucky. I had kids who would talk to me and mentors and friends who would tell me the truth and give me good advice. Maybe you can benefit from what they told me.

Assume You’re the Problem

I was fortunate to hear my kids pet phrase for the times I came home angry. If I’d been just a couple of seconds later to the door that day, though, I wouldn’t have heard it. If you have a lot of stress at work, or anywhere else, assume that you’re taking it out on everybody else.

Remember, all these other people did nothing to make you angry. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a perfectly good reason to be angry, they didn’t do it.

Develop A Decompression Ritual

It pays to have a simple routine you can follow whenever you’re especially angry or stressed. If you use your routine, you won’t take that anger or stress out on people you care about. Here are routines I followed and that friends of mine have followed.

Do something before you head home. This might be a chat with a coworker you like. Taking some time to write in your journal or plan your next day are good, too. I recommend against doing anything that involves alcohol. A couple of drinks may sound like a good idea, but usually alcohol plus stress or anger doesn’t lead to good outcomes.

Exercise. Exercise is a great way to get rid of stress and work off anger. A furious bike ride or a challenging run will leave you tired and calmer.

Take a break before you get home. Do something calming after you leave the office but before you get home. Go for a walk in the park. Sit on a bench by a lake. Just sit in your car and meditate.

One friend of mine does something I’ve never gotten to work for me. He has a “coming home ritual.” He slips in the side door of his house and goes upstairs to where the family has a game room. He claps on a pair of headphones, picks up a game controller, and plays non-violent video games until he’s calmed down. It takes him about half an hour.

A Wee Bit of Science

If you’re angry enough that you dump adrenaline into your system, remember that it takes adrenaline about an hour and a half to process. After an adrenaline dump, it will be very hard to calm down for at least an hour and a half. Find something quiet and solitary to do during that time.

You’ll calm down a lot faster if you make use of one feature of your magnificent brain. The human brain processes different kinds of activity in different places. Logical, step by step, activities are great for using the part of your brain that doesn’t get angry. Writing can do the same thing and help you process your emotions, too.

Boss’s Bottom Line

There will be times when you are stressed and angry. Spare people you care about the effects of that anger and stress.

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