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Anger Management 101: Keep Your Cool This Election Season

Good news: A recent study offers a new, easy technique to help you your cool.

time keeping your cool … or just not stomping around in a rage and saying @#$&^!! a lot in conversation. You know, like Charlie Sheen (ironically, now starring in a TV show called “Anger Management”).

But now, new research has a way to help you manage your anger. Using a technique called “self-distancing,” you can act like you’re a fly on the wall of all your interactions. Rather than becoming enmeshed in every little drama, you can sit in the audience and watch. In the heat of the moment, you can just be chill.

At least, that’s the way it worked in the studies done by Dominik Mischkowski, M.Sc., a doctoral candidate at Ohio State University, and his colleagues. They deliberately raised the ire of college students whose “lab partner” -- actually one of the researchers -- berated them for not following directions. The students who applied the technique of distancing themselves from the situation and analyzing it intellectually were less aggressive and angry than those who took it to heart.

And yes, admits Mischkowski, the researchers took precautions in case “a 6-foot-tall football player with a nasty temper” decided to take a poke at them. “We always had two research assistants in the lab just in case,” he says, laughing.

How to Keep Your Distance
What people normally do in a heated situation is turn up the temperature. They focus on their angry or hurt feelings. But, says Mischkowski, “when you ruminate, you make things worse.”

By taking a step back -- essentially having what I’ve always called “an aerial view” of your life -- you can see what’s really going on without having your emotions clouding your perspective. “If what you’re thinking is, ‘This person is really annoying,’ you could become more angry,” says Mischkowski. “If you ask yourself, ‘Why do I feel this way,’ you may think, ‘Well, this person really annoys me, but it’s not really important,’ so you can reduce your negative emotions.” (Read more about the study here.)

Believe it or not, the technique is easy to learn. The college students in the study picked it up in minutes. The key thing is to be self-aware enough to practice it when the circumstances arise, says Mischhowski.

It’s just a few months until the presidential election. That should give you plenty of opportunity to practice.

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Photo: Corbis Images