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July 05, 2001

Not so long ago raging was something that took place on a dance floor when you felt happy to be alive, but today the word has far more serious implications. Wendy Champagne investigates.

No matter where rage is expressed in our society, according to Leslie Charles, author of "Why is Everyone so Cranky?" it is the direct result of our lifestyles getting out of control. "It's not what happens on the roads that triggers your anger," says Charles, "it's that bundle of unresolved issues you're carrying around.

If you find yourself extremely agitated towards drivers who behave stupidly, understand that your anger is pointing you toward personal issues you need to address. It's not the other party; it's you!"

No one is exempt from outbursts of road rage according to studies conducted by Dr Leon James at the University of Hawaii. "For the first time in human history," says Dr James, " we have discovered that every driver behind the wheel has murderous thoughts." Apparently younger drivers in any car are the most aggressive drivers.

Men are more aggressive than women when they're behind the wheel of a sports car or a pick-up, but women become more aggressive than men in luxury cars and 4-wheel drive vehicles.

But what are we angry about? The two biggest stress factors in 21st century living are time and technology. As the pace of life quickens we feel required to move faster and faster just to keep up; and technology has not delivered on its promise to create more leisure time.

Cell phones, pagers and high-tech devices allow us to be interrupted anywhere, any time, and this constant accessibility - and compulsive use -fragments what little free time we do have, compounding our sense of urgency, emergency and overload.

"Thanks to our constantly accumulating stress load," says Leslie Charles, "when little glitches happen - the computer goes down, the supermarket line is too slow, traffic ties up when we're running late, or the driver in front of you does something stupid - instead of taking these things in our stride we get mad! Technology has made life so convenient we have lost our tolerance to inconvenience."

Rage in the office

A recent survey of 1300 workers commissioned by Integra Realty Resources in the United States revealed that one in ten people work in an environment where physical violence has occurred due to stress. If verbal abuse and shouting are taken into consideration that figure jumps to 42 percent. A further 14 percent admitted to damaging office equipment through acts of aggression.

Uncontrolled outbursts at the office, desk rage, affects one in four workers in Britain according to a study of 4200 workers conducted by computer firm Novotech. Apparently having to respond to a daily deluge of emails is a contributing factor to stress levels in every office. Termed "in-box tyranny" by UK think-tank, the Industrial Society, workers report feeling increasingly under the control of their computers.

There is clearly enormous pressure on many of today's workers to reach outrageous deadlines and be more productive, which commonly involves skipping lunch and putting in longer hours on the job. To make matters worse those same office workers are very often squeezed into cubicle spaces that leave them vulnerable to workplace noise and disturbance.

A recipe for stress

So you drive to work in peak hour traffic, encountering the usual frustrating delays on the freeway. At the office carpark someone has taken your car space - you swear, honk your horn and end up parking in the bosses spot, you pray he won't arrive before you find the culprit.

Seething with anger you reach your desk, turn on your computer and the network is down - the presentation you finished late last night was due to be forwarded to your London office first thing this morning. Instead of taking a deep breath, you pick up your computer and hurl it against the wall of your cubicle. Then you turn to your nearest co-worker and swear at him for staring at you.

You definitely need a break! Take yourself for a walk somewhere green. Breathe. Make a reality check: Is time managing you rather than the other way around? Are deadlines more important than your health? When you return to the office make a formal apology to your co-workers and your computer and take stock of the situation more clearly.

Steve Kaufer, co-founder of the Workplace Violence Research Institute in Palm Springs, believes that anger is contagious. "If someone acts against you in anger you're more likely to snap at someone else," he says.

Mandated downtime during the day is being offered as an antidote to accumulated workplace stress. At the Irish office of computer giant Hewlett Packard, fresh bowls of fruit are laid out daily for every employee, and weekly neck massages are supplied for free.

Leslie Charles believes that anger has become our default position - the chronic rush puts us in a blanket "react mode" where we lose perspective. Her suggestions involve hourly internal check-ups to review feelings and thoughts. Also, "boosting your emotional immune system" by learning top classify irritation. Is this a small, medium or large annoyance?

"People are going to do things that irritate you, count on it!" she says. "You occasionally have to let someone else's emergency take precedence over yours. Accept it!" she says.

Reduce your frustration by taking a "reality bite" when you need it. "Keep your perspective and get on with your life."

References: Why is Everyone so Cranky; C. Leslie Charles Integra Realty Resources Workplace Study, New York published June 2001 Overworked, Overwrought: Desk rage at work, Beth Nissen CNN. The Industrial Society, London 2001

By Wendy Champagne

Reprinted with permission from Editforce

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