Understanding and Mastering Stress: A different approach

Nearly everyone has experienced “stress”.  It is an overwhelming feeling that:

  • Things are not going right for you
  • You are being asked to do too many things at one time
  • You do not feel qualified or equipped to handle what is being asked of you

You have heard others, or have said yourself, that you are “stressed out” and that chronic stress can, over time, damage you physically.

But, have you ever wondered what stress is?

Mechanical stress

Think about what happens when a physical support on a bridge is overstressed or fatigued.  It breaks and the bridge collapses.  Put too much physical stress on a wooden pencil by bending it and it snaps.

Psychological stress

Psychological stress is, by analogy, similar. When you perceive that too many demands, or expectations, are being placed on you, your capacity to handle the load is surpassed and you feel overwhelmed.

Now, here is something you may not know.

You need a certain amount of stress in order to function.  Think about a clothes line.  If it is too loose, you can’t hang anything on it.  Too tight and it snaps.

I. The Yrkes-Dodson Law and Overwhelm

The Yrkes-Dodson law captures this relationship between too little and too much stress.  The graph below was copied from wikimedia

On the left, you can see the word “Performance”.  Another word that could be used here is “effectiveness“.  On the bottom, you see “arousal”.  Another word that could be used here is “stress“.

In order to understand the Yrkes-Dodson Law, think about being asleep. If your arousal level is too low, as when you are asleep, you can’t effectively do anything except, perhaps, dream.  As you wake up, your arousal level increases.   Perhaps, you need a cup of coffee to get you going.  You get to work, check your schedule, set your priorities and you are ready to go.

Being ready to be productive is “optimal arousal” on the curve.  You don’t feel stressed but  you are energized.

If  your boss, or circumstances, begin to pile more responsibilities on you, you will move  past your optimal arousal level and your performance (effectiveness) begins to drop.   You are feeling anxious or stressed.

Anxiety is another word for stress.  Three of my earlier posts directly address the emotion of anxiety and I have a chapter on anxiety in my book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not your Feelings


There are a few ways you can deal with this type of stress:

1. Take a deep breath.

Taking a breath lowers your physiological arousal so you can go on to step 2.

2. Prioritize.

Look at all the tasks facing you and prioritize them in any way that works for you (most to least important, easiest to complete to most difficult, time involved to complete the task from least to most, actions you can take from delegate through postpone to eliminate).

Having a plan  brings order to the tasks facing you.

3. Make a plan.

Once you set your priorities, make a plan to deal with the issues one at a time, and execute your plan.

This step moves  you back on the curve into your optimal range.

Eustress vs Distress

Stress that is enervating and moves you into your optimal zone is called eustress.

Stress that moves you past your optimal zone and lowers your effectiveness is called distress.

II. A definition of psychological stress.

Stress ==> Expectations ≠ Reality

Stress happens when what  you expect to be  taking place(your expectations) is not the same as what is actually going on (your perception of reality.

This approach to stress fits into Yrkes-Dodson but can be applied more broadly.  In many situations in which you find yourself, you will have an expectation regarding the way things should be.  You have expectations:

  • about work,
  • about your relationships,
  • about how your computer should work,
  • about your kids
  • and so forth

While you may, or may not, be aware that you have expectations and they won’t become an issue unless they don’t pan out, you do have them.

It is only when the reality of your situation violates your expectation that you feel stressed and you become very aware of how you think things should be (your expectations).

Handling psychological stress.

There are two possibilities here, both of which are designed to reduce stress by aligning your expectations with your perception of reality.

  1. You can reassess your expectations and adjust them to match reality.
  2. You can reassess and adjust your perception of reality to match your expectations.

In the first strategy, your assessment may tell you that your expectations were unrealistic.  You believed the other person would do more or act differently than they did but you either did not do your due diligence, did not carefully read the contract, or misunderstood what was supposed to happen.  When you realize that you have erred with unreasonable expectations, you make an adjustment, your expectations match reality, and your stress is gone.

In the second strategy, your assessment might tell you that you have misperceived reality.  The other person is doing exactly what you expected and you incorrectly judged them, reacted inappropriately, or just misunderstood.  In this case, you adjust your perception of their actions, the match between expectations and reality is reestablished and your stress is gone.

You now have a more adaptive view of stress and some suggestions for mastering it.

Thanks for reading and I welcome your comments.


How can you look into the cause of your own anger?

This is similar to a question that I was asked on Quora.com.  I thought it was a good question that you, my readers, might enjoy so I decided to post my answer here.

To whomever asked this question.. I really like the fact that you did NOT ask “What makes me angry?”

While it may seem like the two questions (What makes me angry? and What is the cause of my anger?) are the same, they are not.

When one asks about what “makes” me angry, they imply that the source, or cause, of their anger is outside of themselves. Not only does this change their relationship to their emotions but it gives away any power their emotions provide them to deal with their surroundings and the challenges they face. I mention this because you will hear people question what makes them angry or, worse, blame someone else for making them angry.

In order to understand the cause of your emotions, you have to know what emotions are and how the emotional process works.

There are 6 primary emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust, and surprise). This number will vary depending on whose list you read but 6 is representative. The emotions in bold are primitive threat detectors and focus our attention on a threat that could hurt us. The other two emotions focus our attention on an activity we might like to engage in. All emotions are adaptive.

Here is how the emotional process works today and has worked since we lived in caves. You are hard wired to unconsciously scan your surroundings for any threat. When our ancestors lived in caves, there were many threats all of which wanted to kill them. These are called survival threats and the emotional process developed in response to these threats and helped us survive as a species. The problem is that today, while survival threats still exist, most of what we face are psychological threats such as traffic jams, difficult deadlines, and exasperating co-workers. While the nature of the threats we face has changed, the emotional process has not.

Once you perceive a threat, your senses alert the emotional center in your brain (the Amygdala)which unconsciously prepares you to deal with the threat. This is the fast track message. Your body does not distinguish between types of threat. It just reacts. Your body’s reaction to the perceived threat informs you that you are experiencing an emotion. At the same time, a slower message goes to the thinking part of your brain (the cerebral cortex). This slower message gives you the opportunity to examine the “cause” or your feeling and choose a response.

So, let’s look at anger and directly address your question.

Each of the emotions has a unique message.

The message of anger is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it. Your body is prepared to go to war and you have unconsciously determined that you can win the war. Your anger prepares you for battle.

Once you know how your body reacts when you are angry (which muscles tighten, how your breathing changes, the thoughts you have about to eliminate the threat), you are on your way to finding out the cause of your anger.

Your next step is to take a step back from the situation and take a breath. This gives you both physical and psychological space between you and the threat. It also can stop you from reacting and later regretting what you might have done.

Your third step is to assess the nature of the threat. This is the cause of your anger and is the information you are seeking. You can ask yourself, “What is the threat that I am reacting to?” In most cases, it will involve a challenge to your beliefs in right/wrong, your values, the way things should be, your goals, your finances, and so forth. When you identify the perceived threat, you know the cause of your anger.

You master your anger when you take the fourth step which is to choose how you want to respond to the threat. My book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool discusses the anger cycle and anger mastery in more detail.

I welcome your comments.

Does Sadness Transform Into Anger

I contribute to a website where people ask questions.  Several people noted that their sadness seemed to transform into anger and they wondered why this happened.  I wanted to address this issue as you, my readers, might have experienced this (or know someone who has). Note: For those of you who have read all of my posts, some of this post will be a review.

To begin, sadness does not “transform” into anger. Sadness and anger are both primary emotions which exist in nearly all human species and some subhuman species. The number of primary emotions varies depending on whose list you look at but most writers in the field agree that the main primary emotions are mad (anger), sad, glad (happy), fear, disgust and surprise. If you have kids, you will have noticed these emotions appear early in your kid’s development.

Here is how the emotional process works… you are constantly and unconsciously scanning your surroundings for any threat. When your senses (eyes, ears, nose) sense a threat, a fast track signal goes to the emotional center in your brain (the Amygdala) which then sends out signals, through the Thalamus, to the body to prepare for a fight or flight REACTION. This is all done very fast and totally outside of your awareness. If you were facing a Sabre-toothed tiger or a marauder from another village who wanted to kill you, you would want this process to happen without you having to think about it. Humans have done this since we, as a species, lived in caves or roamed the Savannah. The emotional process evolved to protect us and keep us alive.

I discuss the emotional process (and the primary emotions) in my book Emotions as Tools: A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings (Amazon)

At the same time as the fast track message goes out, a slower (still quick but relatively slower) message goes to the thinking part of your brain (the cerebral cortex) which allows you to assess the nature of the threat and choose a RESPONSE.

You can begin to understand all emotions by looking at the message of the emotion.

The easiest way to start this learning is to look at the primary emotions. The message of the emotion alerts you to the threat that you have perceived to exist. The messages of the primary emotions are as follows:

Mad: you perceive a threat you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it. You are prepared to go to war

Sad: you have experienced a loss. Your body slows down, you want to be alone so you can mourn your loss, tie up loose emotional ends, and, when ready, resume your life.

Glad: you are engaged in an activity with is enjoyable and which you want to continue to do.

Fear: you have a perceived a threat which will kill you unless you either escape from it or freeze in place and hope it will go away.

Disgust: you have experienced a threat which totally turns you off and which you want to get away from. It might be bad food, a nautious smell, or a person whose company you no longer want.

Surprise: you have encountered a new experience that grabs your attention and which you want to know more about.

While it may seem that sadness morphs into anger, they are, in fact, two separate emotions. What is probably happening is that anger replaces sadness.

Anger might replace sadness in this way. You are sad because you have experienced a loss. You become angry when you begin to focus on something either you did, or did not do, that led to the loss. The perceived threat indicated by the anger is to your sense of right and wrong, your belief that the loss could have been, but was not, avoided, and so forth.

Let me give you an example. My wife and I have been friends with the Smiths (a pseudonym) for over 30 years. Recently, Mr. Smith passed away. Mrs. Smith was understandably sad.

As it later turned out, Mr. Smith’s death might have been prevented if he had gotten some recommended tests that he chose to avoid.

When this information came out, Mrs. Smith found herself highly conflicted. Being angry at a spouse who recently died is not a feeling you expect to experience in these situations and she wasn’t sure how to handle it.

She was very sad about losing her husband and she was angry at her husband for “leaving” her by not getting the test that could have saved his life. As you can see, her sadness and her anger reflected two different perceived “threats” and the body’s emotional reaction to those threats.

When I explained the emotional process to her, Mrs. Smith was able to master her emotions and proceed through the process of grieving (being sad about) the loss of her husband.

By the way, you can learn to master your emotions and strategically apply them to improve your life. Emotional mastery involves understanding the message of the emotion, assessing the validity of the message, and choosing an adaptive response. I cover this process in depth in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool (Amazon).

Thanks for reading and I welcome your comments.

It’s 2 AM and you are wide awake. What you might be feeling and what you can do about it.

When questioned about the possibility of Donald Trump being elected as POTUS, many non-Trump  voters expressed grave concerns for the future of America.  I must admit, I was one of those voters.  After the election, I found myself awake at 2 AM worrying (or being anxious) about the future of America and the World. This post is the result of that experience.

Anxiety is another word for worry.

Anxiety is the speeding thoughts, the churning stomach, and the inability to sleep because you are thinking about something that has happened, that is happening, or more likely, that might happen and your brain is trying to sort it all out and keeping you awake while it does this.

It is very important for you to to be able to identify that you are anxious as opposed to having a stomachache or just plain insomnia.  Knowing how your body expresses anxiety will enable you to do this.

For me, anxiety presents as my stomach churning, a focusing of my thought/attention on a specific issue which gets replayed over and over. Sleep is elusive because my brain is churning.  Your physical correlates might be different.

It is important to note that anxiety is always a future based emotion.

Anxiety is worrying about some outcome that hasn’t happened yet.  If something has already occurred or is in the process of taking place, it is what it is.  Your worry is about where it might go or what might happen as a result of what is going on.  That is a future based concern about a current situation. Mr. Trump is the President-Elect. That is a fact.

As I mention in my book Emotions as Tools, the message of anxiety is: There MIGHT be a threat out there and that threat MIGHT kill me.

While the focus of your anxiety can be on anything, you can experience anxiety in two different forms.  You can learn to master anxiety so that it doesn’t control you regardless of the form in which you experience it.

The most common type of anxiety is distress.  This is the anxiety that keeps you up at night.  It is worrying about an unwanted future outcome to which you react as if it were inevitable, you are unable to to prevent it, and its consequences to you will be disastrous.

Another way to look at distress is the process of catastrophising.

You catastrophise when you take an unwanted situation and project it into the future in its worst possible form and then react in the present as if this future outcome is inevitable.

As an example, when I was in college, a med student jumped off the roof of a building.  He survived and when questioned about why he did it, he noted the he got a “D” in an Organic Chemistry class.  The interviewer could not understand why one bad grade could lead to a suicide attempt and questioned the student further.  The student’s reasoning was as follows:

  • A “D” grade would keep him out of med school,
  • if he could not get into med school, he would never be a Doctor
  • If he could not be a Doctor, he would not be able to support a family
  • If he could not support a family, he would be a failure
  • Since he is a failure, he had no reason to live any longer (emphasis added)
  • In summary, the “D” grade meant that he was a failure and his life, as a failure, was not worth living.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that the logic is flawed in that

  • it leaves out a whole lot of other possibilities,
  •  it focuses on the worst possible outcome in each situation and
  • it treats that outcome as if it is the only option.

The other face of anxiety is eustress.

Anxiety as eustress looks at a future outcome and uses the upcoming occurrence of that outcome as motivation to take appropriate action to change the nature of the future and thereby eliminate or minimize the occurrence of the unwanted consequences.  When my students study for an upcoming exam about which they are anxious, this is using anxiety as eustress.

The antidote to the 2 AM anxiety based sleeplessness is as follows:

1.Correctly identify that you are anxious.

2.Identify the issue about which you are obsessing.

3.Evaluate and rate the probability of the the future outcome on a 0 to 10 scale with 0 = I can’t really say, 1 = highly unlikely and 10 = very likely.

4. Determine what other outcomes are possible besides the unwanted future you are thinking about.  In other words, is a different future possible?

5.Identify if the anxiety is distress or eustress by assessing whether or not you can do anything to prepare for, minimize, or eliminate the undesired future outcome.

  • if you can do something about it, then it is eustress.
  • If you cannot do anything about it, it is distress.

6. Use the above information to make some choices all of which begin with the letter “D” which should eliminate the anxiety and let you go to sleep.  The three choices involve…

  • Deciding what you can do and writing down the steps you will later take
  • Delegating by writing down who you need to contact for help or what new information you might need to get or
  • Dismissing the situation and moving on because you can’t do anything about it.

The serenity “prayer” comes into play here and goes like this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The logic, behind this approach is this.:

  • If you can’t identify, determine the probability of, or do anything to prevent or minimize the undesired outcome or you can’t identify any alternative futures, you are catastrophising, your thinking is flawed and you need to decide to Dismiss or let it go.  With practice, you will learn to turn off the anxiety by focusing on the catastrophising process and realizing the futility of it.
  • If you decide that an alternative future is possible, you can break the catastrophising process and the anxiety that goes with it by focusing on the possibility that another outcome is possible so you can wait and see how the future unfolds.
  • If you can do something to eliminate or minimize the unwanted future outcome, you can Decide or Delegate and  take some notes to remind you to go back to the issue at a future time.  You can then let the anxiety dissipate and you can go to sleep.
  • As you are not able to get to sleep anyway, so you might as well get up, get out a pad of paper, and take some notes.  It may take you 20 to 30 minutes but you will be able to to back to sleep once it is completed.  You are ahead of the game in the long run.

This process is not easy but it is doable with practice.

Oh, and about Donald Trump.. While my worries about future war, the uprising of Russia, China and Iran, and what can happen when an easily angered Narcissist gets real power are possible, it is also possible that Congress might unify, Trump might modify, and cooler heads might prevail. I’ll just have to wait and see.

I welcome your comments.



What type of “angerer” are you?

Let me start by saying that I made up the word “angerer”.

Think of the word anger-er in the same way you use the word driver (drive-er) or writer (write-er) or speaker (speak-er).  The driver drives, the writer writes, the speaker speaks and the angerer gets angry.

Nearly everyone gets angry sometime and is, therefore, by definition an angerer.  For most of us, our anger fits the situation in which it is expressed.  For others, not so much.

With this in mind, I will discuss  three types of angerers. I should note that this list is meant to be representative and not exhaustive.  Other types of angerers most likely could be identified.

Type 1: The master angerer. This is the type of angerer you most want to interact with or you want to become (if you are not already there). This person gets angry but realizes that anger is a tool.  He (or she) has learned to master his anger. He is emotionally intelligent, understands what anger is and the anger mastery cycle.  While he (or she), accepts responsibility for causing the anger, he realizes that the threat he perceives may, or may not be legitimate.  If there is a legitimate threat, he uses the energy of his anger to develop and implement a plan to eliminate the threat.  If the threat is due to a misperception, he changes his view of the situation and lets the anger dissipate.

Two basic definitions:

  • anger:  (a primitive threat detector)
  • anger mastery cycle: (unconscious sensory scanning, unconscious perception of threat and the body’s initial angry reaction,  conscious awareness of the anger, validating and assessing one’s anger, lowering one’s arousal, and choosing a response).

Type 2: The managing angerer.  This person gets angry but tends to view anger as a negative emotion that must be controlled.  He controls his behavior, lowers his arousal and attempts to eliminate his anger.  This is the individual who may be referred to Anger Management groups for treatment.  This individual may attempt to learn what his triggers are so that the situations which elicit his anger can be avoided.

Type 3: The primitive angerer.

   Subtype A: The Blamer.  This person, when he (or she) gets angry, tends to blame others for “making me angry” or  tends to lash out without much forethought and later blames the anger for any maladaptive things he may have done. He has a sense of entitlement, feels totally justified in being  angry and lashing out at others because his anger is controlling him.

Subtype B: The Suppressor.  While this person does not show anger outwardly, he (or she) is angry on the inside.  The reasons for not showing anger will vary and may include a concern about retaliation, a belief in the anger myth that anger is dangerous and should not be displayed, or a past experience in which the anger was displayed and an unwanted negative outcome occured. The problem for the suppressor is that anger is a response to the perception of threat.  As long as the threat exists, there is a real possibility that the held-in anger may become chronic and lead to either unwanted physical illness or an uncontrolled angry outburst that exceeds the situation in which the outburst occurs.

Subtype C: The Substituter.  This individual (usually male) is not comfortable experiencing or expressing feelings such as vulnerability, anxiety, guilt, jealousy, etc.  He is, however, quite comfortable with anger.  Consequently, when he experiences an uncomfortable feeling, he replaces that feeling with anger.  The cover-up works to shift his focus away from the situation as it is but does nothing to resolve the issues which exist and which elicited the uncomfortable feeling.

Subtype D: The Displayer.  This person uses anger instumentally to achieve a desired end result.  This person displays anger (looks like they are angry) eventhough they are not angry.

Two possible outcomes the Displayer desires are:

  1. Creating space.   Anger, as an emotion, tells people to back off.  This, by the way, is what anger, as a primitive threat detector, is supposed to do and may have helped our cave ancestors survive.  By displaying anger, the Displayer, can get people to back away and give him (or her) some physical and psychological space.

2. Manipulating others.   Another desired outcome might be to manipulate people into doing what the Displayer wants.  When anger is displayed, other people might want to appease the angry person by giving in to them.  When this occurs in the context of a relationship and the anger is legitimate, understanding, validating, and responding to the anger by “giving in” may be totally justified.  When the anger is used instrumentally to manipulate another person, the anger is primitive, dishonest and inappropriate.

If one of these subtypes of angerers is you, and your anger is working against you and making your life more complicated, you might want to take some time to assess whether your anger is working to improve your relationships and get your needs met. I have three recommendations for you.

  1. Scoll back up to the “Welcome” entry on this blog and download the first chapter of my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.
  2. Click on this link which will take you Amazon and buy my book.
  3. Leave a comment below that you want more information and I will attempt to provide it for you.

If you have to deal with any of these angerers (except the suppressor), the initial approach is the same.   The main idea behind approaching these people is that they believe their anger is appropriate to the situation. You will use the principles of anger mastery to deal with the angerer and the emotion being displayed.

Note: There is not a whole lot you can do with the Suppressor as he is not showing any anger.

The process of anger mastery involves validating the initial feeling, assessing the nature of the threat, and choosing a response that fits the situation.

Your first intervention is to take a step back from the.  Your second intervention is to validate their anger.  When you do this, you are NOT saying that you agree with their assessment of the situation or of you as a threat.  Remember that the message of anger is that the angerer perceives a threat they believe they can eliminate if they throw enough force at it. They believe that anger is the best emotion for the situation and you are not challenging this.  All you are doing is acknowledging their “right” to be angry.  Whether or not the anger is indeed, valid (appropriate to the situation) will come later.

Once you have given them some space, you can then ask for clarification regarding anything you may have done which led them to be so angry with you.

If you receive some information about the threat they perceive, you can choose how you want to respond to it.

I welcome your comments.


The application of the Emotions as Tools Model to Business Part 2

Last week, I discussed the Emotions as Tools Model, the concept of threat, and anxiety. In this post, I discuss anger.


Anger is a here-and-now emotion the message of which is: I am facing a threat that I believe I can overcome or eliminate if I throw enough force at it.  While you can get angry about something that has already happened (the past), or about what you expect to happen (the future), you are always angry in the present concerning a threat you are motivated to do something about now.

My book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool specifically addresses the emotion of anger.

As an entrepreneur, you might get angry at suppliers who do not fulfill the terms of a contract, at employees who are irresponsible or fail to deal appropriately with customers, your computer for not working right, yourself for not doing something you “should” have done, and so forth.  Now, you might rightly say that getting angry at a computer makes no sense. And, you would be right.  But, I did not say your anger had to be appropriate for the situation.  I only indicated that the message of anger is that you perceive a threat you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.  Ever heard of someone destroying a computer?

Employees can get angry at you for a perceived injustice, angry at each other, or angry at a customer.  I know of an individual whose job is technical support.  While she is technically very good and can answer any question that comes up, she does not do well with customers who “blame” her for advice they don’t like or unwanted results due to their not following the advice that was given, who direct their frustrations with the company or its policies at her, or who become “belligerent” for reasons unknown.  Notice the highly subjective nature of the words in quotes.  While she does not express her anger at the customer, she carries it with her and chronic anger can lead to physical issues for her or her leaving the company.

Customers can get angry at you or your employees for any number of reasons.

I recently had some landscaping done and the employee assigned to manage my “project” did a horrible job.  I was angry at both this staff member and the company for the poor work that was done.  The company was “angry” with the employee who they chose to fire because his “failure” could have negatively impacted an otherwise very good and hard won reputation. Fortunately, the company sent out a different employee who handled my concerns and alleviated my anger.

Understanding what anger is and how to master both one’s own anger and anger directed at you could benefit you, your employees, and your customers.

You can download a copy of The Anger Mastery Cycle for free by scrolling up to the Welcome  post.

When you perceive a threat you decide that you can eliminate or, in other words, that is less powerful than you, you label the emotion as anger. If you are naïve about your anger, you probably will react and later, if inappropriate, will regret what you did.

If you know what anger is and the message of anger, you can move into anger management and protect yourself by taking a step back from the issue (physical space) and lowering your arousal by taking a deep breath (psychological space).

You can then move into anger mastery which involves assessing the nature of the threat and choosing how you want to respond.

If the threat is genuine, you can use the energy of the anger as motivation to make a plan and deal with the threat.

If you, or someone else, are still angry and the threat is not “genuine”, there are three possibilities:

  • The first possibility is that there is no threat and you (or they) have misunderstood what is going on. For example, you thought your provider was intentionally messing with you only to find out that the delivery was delayed by an event beyond the provider’s control.
  • The second possibility is that the anger is being used as a secondary feeling. Anger, as an emotion, is both familiar and “comfortable” to men specifically. Anger is an energizing emotion and  elicits a feeling of being “powerful”.  Because of this, anger may be substituted for another feeling such as vulnerability, embarrassment, or hurt, which is less familiar and leaves a man feeling “weak”. An employee may express anger as a cover-up and substitute for feeling “dumb” due to a poor decision.
  • The third possibility is that anger is being used The individual isn’t really all that angry but knows that anger leads others to back off from or give in to the demands being made.  Instrumental anger is deployed as a tool to bring about a desired outcome. This can happen in an office (or other) setting.

While both secondary and instrumental anger are “dishonest” anger, they still appear to be anger and must be managed and mastered.

With the above knowledge, if you are angry, you can evaluate your perceived threat and your angry reaction to it and choose how you want to respond so that you can effectively deal with the situation in which you find yourself.

With another person’s anger, you can use your knowledge about this emotion to begin to manage (help them resolve) their anger.

Three steps are involved in dealing with anger that is directed at you:

  1. First, you need to validate their anger and their right to be angry because the emotion follows from their perception of the event and they are correct in their perception until helped to see otherwise. Once you have accepted their anger, you are no longer a direct threat to them. The reason for this is that they are angry at you (or what you represent) and assume you will act in a threatening manner which they are prepared to counter.  When you validate their anger (acknowledge their right to be angry not that they are right in their anger), you change the equation.
  2. Secondly, you can now assess the validity of the threat they perceive.
  3. Thirdly, once you have done this, you can choose how you want to respond to them and resolve whatever issue they have reacted to.

This is what happened with me in the example I gave above.

In parts 1 and 2 of this post, I introduced you the Emotions as Tools Model and how it can advantageously be applied to a business. I also specifically addressed the emotions of anxiety and anger.

For additional information, you can download, with no opt-in, the first chapters of both of my books by scrolling up to the Welcome post.

Finally, I welcome your comments and if you would like me to address any specific emotions related topic in a future post, or as a speaker,  please send me an email (TheEmotionsDoctor@gmail.com).

Thanks for reading.

The application of the Emotions as Tools Model to Business Part 1

If you own a business, have employees, or interact with customers, you know that dealing with emotions (or feelings as the two words are essentially the same) is an important element of what you do.  Sometimes, your own feelings are problematic and at other times, it is the emotions of others that demand your attention.

And, if you are like most people, while you experience feelings all the time, you do not really understand what feelings are, how they can trip you up, or what you can do to get your feelings to work for you rather than against you.

I developed the Emotions as Tools Model is to demystify the topic of feelings so that:

  1. Anyone could access and understand their feelings and
  2. Anyone could learn to master rather than be controlled by his (or her) feelings.

In contrast to other approaches which tend to view emotions as negative and which advocate controlling one’s emotions, the Emotions as Tools Model views feelings as innate tools which, like any other tool such as your TV remote, you can learn to use and master to take back control of your life and improve your relationships.

I have written two books on the subject of emotions both of which are available on Amazon:

  • Emotions as Tools: A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings
  • Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool

You can download the first chapters of each of these books if you scroll back to the top of this page.  Both of these links are in the “Welcome” post.

It is important to note that contrary to the way some feelings are portrayed or experienced, there is no such thing as a negative emotion.  All emotions are adaptive.

There are at least three “arenas” in which emotions can impact a business:

  1. You: your own feelings, as a business owner, about your business, your customers, or your staff
  2. Your staff: the emotions of your employees directed at you or at your customers
  3. Your customers: the feelings of customers directed at you, your employees, or your business.

Two emotions that are likely to surface in business are anxiety and anger.

While both of these emotions alert you to a perceived threat, each has its own message and time frame. I will address anxiety in this post (Part 1) and anger in Part 2.

A threat which elicits an emotion is defined as any situation, action, event, or transaction which challenges, calls into question, or negatively impacts one’s beliefs, values, survival, finances, important goals, family, and so forth in such a way that the threat must be dealt with, eliminated, or avoided at all costs. Minor mistakes, disagreements, and unintended consequences, while inconvenient, usually are not perceived as threats.

In applying the Emotions as Tools Model in business, the goal is to master the emotion and either strategically deploy the energy of the emotion to further the pursuit of business goals or constrain and let go of the feeling if it is impairing the completion of important goals.


Any time you worry about whether a decision, situation or outcome will work out to your advantage or create a disaster, from which you will have to recover, the emotion you are experiencing is anxiety. I have a chapter on anxiety in my book Emotions as Tools

Anxiety is a future-based emotion the message of which is: There may be a threat facing me and that threat may “kill” me.  The word “kill” is in quotes because I am not talking about physical death but about an outcome that could have serious consequences.  The word “may” is in quotes to reinforce the idea that the threat, or negative outcome, about which you are concerned or worried, has not occurred and is, therefore, in the future.

Anxiety often ignores the possibility that the threat might not occur at all.

There are at least two subtypes of anxiety based on how you experience the emotion, the response you make to it, and the extent to which you master the emotion or it controls you. I discuss emotional mastery below.


In this form, anxiety can be debilitating and result in your “freezing” in place and not taking any action at all regarding the perceived (possible) threat.

This is the most common form of anxiety and occurs when:

  • you ask yourself the question, “ What if (the threat) happens and I fail.”,
  • you assume the future (unwanted) outcome will occur, and
  • you act as if it is a forgone conclusion, you can do nothing to prevent it and the negative consequences are inevitable.

This is the type of anxiety that most people think about, experience, and want to avoid. It is also an example of an emotion controlling you.


There is a second way to conceptualize, relate to, and experience anxiety.  This second type of anxiety is called Eustress.  You master anxiety as a tool when you relate to this emotion as Eustress.

Mastering an emotion involves:

  • accepting the emotion as representing your initial perception of your situation,
  • understanding the message of the emotion regarding the nature of the perceived threat
  • assessing the validity of the message (How real is the threat?)
  • choosing an appropriate response which either dismisses the emotion or uses the energy of the emotion to counter the threat.

Anxiety, as Eustress, accepts the valid probability of the possible threat and uses the energy of the anxiety as motivation to both prepare for the future threat and minimize any unwanted consequences. When my students study for an upcoming exam, about which they are concerned, they are validating their anxiety and mastering the anxiety as a motivator to prepare for and, thereby, minimize the impact of the exam. The entrepreneur uses anxiety to plan for and develop contingencies regarding future complications.  This is mastering anxiety.


A third option is to maximize the desired impact of the upcoming event.

You might think of this as positive thinking but it is more than that.

Maximizing the impact of an upcoming concern involves asking yourself the question, “What if the (exam, negotiation, meeting) turns out well and everything works out?” When you ask yourself this question, you engage the flip side of anxiety, the emotion you experience is anticipation, and the energy that consumes you is excitement.

Positive thinking is a “Pollyanna” point of view that assumes life is rosy and everything just works out for the best.  It, often, does not.  Turning anxiety into anticipation uses the energy (worry) of anxiety to make and execute a realistic plan for the issue about which you are anxious and then choosing to act as if your plan will be successful. If the Plan doesn’t work out, you can change your plan.

As a business owner, you can master your own anxiety to push your business forward and you can use your knowledge of anxiety to help your employees master their anxiety when it involves changes in policy or procedures, new responsibilities, dealing with difficult clients, seeking new business and so forth.  Knowing that anxiety is a future based emotion which focuses on a perceived threat, you can anticipate the anxiety and allay that threat with information, training, calculated roll outs of new programs and so forth.

I welcome your comments.

I will discuss anger next week.

The 3M approach to feelings. Part 2

In my last post, I introduced you to the 3M approach to feelings and discussed the first M: Management.  In this post, I will talk about the second and third M and conclude with how you can apply the 3M approach to the emotions of another person.

The second  M ==> Mindfulness

When you are mindful, you are present in, and aware of, the moment.

While we experience an emotion in the moment, our  perceptions of the situation we are facing may be impacted by extraneous information. As these perceptions elicit our feelings, “irrelevant” information can lead to misunderstandings and misperceptions.

This irrelevant information can involve:

  • any experiences we have had in the past which are similar to, but not the same as, our current situation,
  • our tendency to project ourselves into some unwanted future, or
  • our tendency to overreact for a number of reasons.

When we talk about our “buttons” being pushed or “jumping to conclusions”,  we are referring to these three sources of misinformaiton.

Examples include:

  • getting anxious (a future based emotion) because we didn’t do well in a previous interview and we react “as if” our next interview will turn out the same way
  • getting angry (a present based emotion) because we misinterpret the actions of another as mistreatment without getting all the facts
  • becoming jealous because our spouse seems to be giving attention to someone else without really understanding what is going on

Mindfulness says that you should stay in the moment and fully understand what is actually taking place before you “interpret”, “judge”, “draw conclusions about”, or take action concerning the perceived threat your feelings are telling you exists.

When you are mindful, you ask questions about what is going on, you gain the information you need to decide what actions you will take, and you reserve to yourself the option of choosing what you will do.

The third M ==> Mastery

The anger mastery cycle, which applies to all emotions including anger, can be downloaded from this website and involves the third M or Mastery of the feeling.  Mastering an emotion picks up where Managing one’s emotion ends.  Once you have lowered your arousal, you can remain mindful, or in the moment, and assess or validate the threat you perceive exists.

The process of assessment involves:

  • gathering information about what is happening by asking questions,
  • learning about the process and intent of the other person with whom you are interacting,  and
  • evaluating your own perceptions.

Assessment sets you up to make a decision about how valid your emotion is and how you want to respond to what is happening.

If the perceived threat is genuine, mastering your emotion dictates that you use all the energy the emotion provides to develop and execute a plan to eliminate the threat.

If the perceived threat is not genuine but is due to a misperception of what is happening, mastering the emotion dictates that you change the thoughts which are giving rise to the feeling and, by so doing, change the feeling or let the feeling diminish and go away by ignoring it.

The same three M’s can also be applied when you are dealing with someone else who is directing their emotions at you. The process involves lowering your own arousal (managing) so that you don’t react and escalate the interaction, (This can also result in the other person “powering down” somewhat.), remaining mindful so that you gather information about how the other person perceives you as a threat (mindfulness), and mastering their emotions by assessing how they see what is going on and responding to their perceptions (if they are open to this) by acknowledging or validating their emotion, apologizing (if appropriate), and suggesting a resolution.

I have a whole chapter on dealing with someone who is angry with you in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

I have covered the entire 3M process and I welcome your comments.



The 3M approach to feelings. Part 1

In previous posts, I have talked about the Emotions as Tools Model which

  • takes all the mystery out of the topic of feelings  (Remember that the words emotion and feeling are interchangeable.),
  • reminds you that you can learn how to use your feelings to improve your life and your relationships in the same way that you learn to use your computer or TV remote (gain knowledge about the tool and practice), and
  • ultimately, gives you back control of your life.

I introduced the Emotions as Tools Model in my first book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings.  If you haven’t already done so, you can download the first chapter of my book for free with no opt-in by scrolling up to the top of this page in the Welcome entry.

I also addressed using anger as a tool in last week’s post.

In this post, i would like to give you a quick way to remember and implement the Emotions as Tools Model: The 3M approach to feelings.

As you continue to learn more about the message of each emotion, how your body informs you about a feeling by the way you experience each feeling in your body (your physical correlates), and the thoughts which both inform you about how you perceive your surroundings and which elicit each emotion, you can break the emotional process into three steps, each of which begins with the letter M.  The three steps involve Management, Mindfulness and Mastery.

The 3M approach works both for your own feelings and when you are interacting with the emotions of another person directed at you.

The ultimate goal is to master your emotion so that you can strategically apply it to any situation in which you find yourself.

I will talk about the first M in this post and the second and third M next week.

The first M ==> Management

The emotional cycle is always working and begins with the process by which we all unconsciously and continuously scan our surroundings for any threat. This process is hard-wired in our brains and is a primordial survival mechanism that allowed us to survive as a species when we lived in caves.  Once a threat is perceived, the Amygdala (emotional center in the brain) sends a fast track message to the Thalamus to prepare the body to fight, flee, or freeze (the fight or flight response).  At the same time, a slower message goes to the cerebral cortex (the executive part of the brain) which allows us to make a decision about the threat.

We become aware of an emotion in one (or both) of two ways.

One the one hand, we need to learn to identify how our bodies react emotionally.  In my books, I call this one’s physical correlates.  Secondly, we should learn to identify the thoughts which accompany and elicit each emotion.

As soon as you become aware of an emotion, you should begin to manage that emotion. The process of managing one’s emotion involves lowering your arousal level.

There are at least two reasons you want to do this.

The first is so that you can take a physical step back from the “threat”. This is the establishment of physical space.

The second reason is to give you some psychological distance between you and the “threat”. This psychological space gives you the opportunity to respond rather than react to the threat.

The Amygdala “assumes” that all perceived threats are genuine and will kill us. While this was true when we lived in caves or roamed the Savannah, it isn’t necessarily true now.  Indeed, being stuck in rush hour traffic or being given the “one-finger salute” may be exasperating but is not fatal.  While we have evolved as a species, the Amygdala has (at least in this aspect) not evolved. The Amygdala just reacts and prepares our bodies to take action.  Our bodies being prepared for action is experienced as heightened arousal, muscle tension, and other physical correlates.

When you are energized and ready for action, you are more likely to react to the perceived threat.  While this may be okay if the threat is genuine, if there is no threat, you may do something you might later regret. Lowering your arousal reduces the likelihood that you will react.

There are a variety of ways you can lower your arousal.  You can take a deep breath. You can learn relaxation techniques.  You can remind yourself to slow down.  Taking a physical step backwards can act as a reminder to “take a breath”.

While the process of managing an emotion applies to all of the “threat detector” emotions, the field of “anger management” specifically has tended to focus on the process of management as a desired end result. Because I believe that one can go beyond managing one’s anger to mastering one’s anger (the third M), I tend to take issue with many anger management approaches.  I talk about this in my second book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

Once you have lowered your arousal, you can continue the process of emotional mastery by assessing the nature of the threat.  In order to do this you must be “mindful”.  Mindfulness is the second M.

I welcome your comments.


Anger Mastery – Using Your Anger As a “Tool” Allows You to Take Control of Your Life

The Tools We Use on a Daily Basis

In your daily life, you use many different tools.  Some are task oriented tools such as a sewing machine, the TV remote, and a screwdriver.

Others are “set point” tools which make your life easier by automatically maintaining whatever “status quo” or set point you choose.

Examples of set point tools include:

  • The thermostat in your home or car that controls the temperature.
  • The spell checker on your word processor that monitors your document as you type.
  • The cruise control on your car that keeps you going on the freeway.
  • Your brain which encourages you to keep doing the same habits in the same way.

Okay, this last one may sound a bit strange but, if you have ever tried to change a habit like trying to lose weight or start an exercise program, you know how difficult it can be.  Old habits seem to take on a life of their own. This is true because habits are actually behaviors that have become automatic because they become hardwired in your brain. Habits save energy and allow us to multitask. Habit trained into first responders equip them to react quickly in crucial situations.

Emotions are hardwired “habits” designed to unconsciously react to any perceived threat and prepare your body to insure your survival.

In most cases, our tools work fine and there is no problem. The house stays warm (or cool) and comfy. Our documents come out great. We merrily move along on the road at a chosen speed and get to our destination.

The tool does what it is programmed to do. It is not able to make adjustments for unique situations. In other words, it does not think about or take into consideration “exceptions” to the norm.

This is where problems can arise. Consider your cruise control.

You set your cruise control to 69 mph (so you can get there faster and not get a ticket). It then monitors your speed and auto- corrects for any deviation.

As long as there is no traffic that is going slower than you, everything is fine. If traffic slows down, however, your car will plow into the one in front of it unless you disconnect the cruise control by stepping on the brake.

Your “tool” is happy to keep you going at 69 mph. It is doing its job.

In order to avoid an accident, however, you will need to assess the situation, decide that there is no “threat”, and override the cruise control.

Anger as a Tool.

Your anger is a tool that is designed to help you survive. Your anger is turned on when you experience a threat that you believe you can handle if you throw enough power at it. When you get angry:

  • You have perceived a threat to your life, your goals, your ego, your values.
  • Your brain has sent chemicals all through your body telling it to prepare for battle.
  • You are ready to size up the threat and take effective action to overpower it or run away from it.

(This is called the fight or flight response. When we were cave people, this response kept us alive every time it was turned on. This is because a threat was always a threat!)

You have a built-in “cruise control” that automatically turns on your anger. Your definition of threat is your set point. Just like the cruise control in your car turns on when your cruising speed is “threatened”, your anger turns on when your “normal” life is threatened.

The problem is that nearly all of the threats we face today are psychological and not survival based. Consequently, what may seem to be a threat may, in fact, only be a misunderstanding.

Unfortunately, your anger does not know the difference between a survival based and a psychological threat and you automatically go into self-protection or go-to-war mode.

If you lash out and say, or do, something you later regret, it is just like plowing into the car in front of you at high speed.

This is where the Emotions as Tools model and anger mastery come in.

Just as you should constantly monitor the traffic when your cruise control is on, you should constantly monitor your surroundings when you become aware that your anger has been turned on. Once you become aware that you are angry, you should manage your anger by lowering your arousal and master your anger by assessing the threat and deciding whether to let your anger move you forward to take action (if the threat is real) or override the anger and shut it down.

The same idea works for other human emotions such as anxiety, sadness, guilt and shame.

The point, here, is that your anger “cruise control” should always be set on automatic (as it was designed to be to insure your survival) but, before you react, you should always evaluate what is going on (when your anger is turned on) and decide what you want to do. This is called choosing a RESPONSE rather than REACTING to the situation and your anger.

Responding rather than reacting could save..

  • Your relationship (if you “explode” on your significant other)
  • Your job (if you “explode” at work)
  • Your freedom (if you physically “explode” on a cop or a citizen who presses charges)

I welcome your comments.