Dealing with High Stress Triggers in Personal Interaction

This will be quite a rambling post, and for that I apologise; it’s being written at about 6am by a man who woke up a couple of hours earlier and has been unable to return to sleep in the intervening time. So, ya know… Bear that in mind.

As someone who suffers from Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and a person with a great deal of anger – repressed, suppressed, misplaced, misunderstood, bitter and confused – I regularly seem to experience situations in which my temper rapidly reaches a stage where I can no longer control it and I erupt. Much like Vesuvius, but thankfully minus the lava. Whereas others may have a ‘boiling point’ for their rage – in rows they will reach a level of heat that will remain more or less constant over the course of the dispute – I unfortunately will simmer, with the temperature almost imperceptibly rising, until *BOOM* there’s an explosion…whereupon I will verbally lash out at what seems like maximum volume, while making for the nearest exit.

This is, essentially, a tantrum. For whatever reason, my behaviour can best be described as that of a child throwing a class A strop. As a kid, such behaviour was treated as perfectly normal, or at least nothing particularly out of the ordinary. However, the older I have gotten without curbing the tendency, the more repercussions have arisen…partly because of how it negatively affects my own mental health, but also how if terrifies the victims of my ire. In my head, I’m still just a frightened little boy trying to defend myself – but for the recipients, it’s apparently terrifying. That’s the thing I find hardest to believe and come to terms with, incidentally. So why am I still doing this? Why did these tantrums not end when my childhood did? Did I just never develop beyond that stage?


Certainly, my history is full of these outbursts…even if they have become rarer (and, perhaps exponentially, more dramatic). When I was a child, the youngest of seven, I think I was quite well-known in my immediate family for throwing tantrums and storming off to ‘sulk’ etc. In secondary school, one source for my bullies’ desire to tease me was the endless pleasure they derived from winding me up and eventually seeing me lose the plot. After switching secondary schools, the triggers I had experienced faded away for a very long time – or at least, that’s how it seems in retrospect, given that I would not ‘blow up’ for quite a long time after that. However, in university, towards the end of my studies – unless there are some fits I’m forgetting while compiling this personal history – the problem reared up once more…and I’ve had one or two a year since then, more or less. Why is it that I never learned how to channel these feelings in a healthy manner?

There’s nothing significant in the content of the conversations to indicate that a sudden roaring departure is approaching. In fact, the subject matter is often embarrassingly anodyne; disagreement over the sincerity of the then-fresh presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, questioning of my empathy with regards to a friend’s suffering, differing views on the validity of national identity as opposed to local community, dressing down over inappropriate workplace procedure, debate on the value of ethnic heritage DNA tests… Looking over these now, I’m ashamed that I could let such innocuous discussions develop into a scenario in which my nerves were so frayed that I felt I had to violently let rip in order to defend my position.

The uniting factor isn’t what was being talked about, nor with whom; it was the way in which it was being conducted, and how my psychological warning-system, warped as it is by years or even decades of trauma, interpreted the signals being received. Simply put, in every case I felt increasingly attacked, put down, patronised, dismissed, not listened to, given no value, belittled and, ultimately, helpless. Note that this was not down to the behaviour of the person or persons who then had to face my uncontrollable wrath; these were just the feelings my mind and body were processing during the encounter, and would lead to the crescendo of vituperation. (I hope I’m using that word right, I don’t think I’ve ever used it before)

So how am I going to deal with these stressful situations, going forward? I can’t possibly avoid them; there is no way of knowing which interpersonal communication might trigger me. My fiancé and I have discussed some strategies for taking myself out of the situation before it gets to the critical stage, and hopefully these will help, but there will be times when she isn’t there to assist me – and, in any case, for reasons that are obvious, I need to be self-reliant as much as possible and not be looking for her to ‘bail me out’ whenever I’m reaching fever pitch. The big problem, as far as I’m concerned, is that whatever I come up with just won’t come to mind when I’m in the crucial moment; in those high pressure situations, with all the feelings and emotions bubbling up, with all the heat and anger and defensiveness beginning to take over, there’s very little of the brain that can be relied upon to coolly think about strategies and methods and whatnot. I worry that at these times I won’t be able to bring to mind the ways of dealing healthily with my anxiety, anger, fear and escapism. After all, if I could rationally think in those moments, surely I would realise that none of it matters anyway, wouldn’t I? These things, objectively, are not worth getting in a tizzy over…

If anyone reading this has any suggestions, or has suffered similarly, please leave a comment.

I could do with the help.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

About Seba Roux

Gooner, Socialist, Historian, Slacker. That's pretty much all you need to know.
This entry was posted in Autobiographical and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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