Ask DadPad, Mental Health
Ask DadPad: How do I keep calm?!
Posted on 4th December 2020
This week is the British Association of Anger Management’s 20th annual Anger Awareness Week.
As a new parent, coping with exhaustion, the relentless crying and general feelings of anxiety and inadequacy can sometimes get a bit much. Add in the stresses and strains of 2020, combined with the usual high-pressure run-up to and expectations of Christmas, and you can find yourself in a potentially explosive situation.
That’s why, for this week’s blog post, we’re delighted to have persuaded DadPad founder and CEO, Julian, to share with us some of the knowledge and experience he gained working in the Probation Service to give new dads tips and advice on anger management and control.
But rarely do we stop to also ask ourselves: “What about?”.
More often, we just act upon the emotion, without understanding, recognising or exploring the thoughts and deeper feelings that have given rise to the anger. Usually, this ends badly and with damage caused, either to the angered person and/or those witnessing their behaviour or being on the receiving end of it.
Let’s face it, emotion control ‘in the moment’ can be hard, and is hard to discuss.
Why is that?
In my personal experience, which spans 46 years of living and – more pertinently – 12 years of working on Probation Service rehabilitation groups with men with all manner of emotion management and cognitively-distorted thinking, beliefs and attitudes, the self-control element of how we manage our emotions boils down to one single word… choice. I expect people here to feel frustrated at me with this apparent over-simplification, but let’s explore this further together…
First, let’s start with a story, which will hopefully allow us to discuss how sometimes our personal narratives – the rules which we live by – can lead us to act in desperation, or to be all-consuming, making us feel so ‘right’ and so entitled to act in a certain way that we do it, and feel justified to our core in doing so.
There was a snake that was cut as it crawled over a sharp saw. In anger, the snake wrapped its thick body around the saw, and proceeded to squeeze the life out of it.
With each angry squeeze, the snake felt more pain, but continued because it wasn’t going to let the saw get away with the pain that it had caused to the snake. The snake carried on squeezing until it eventually died, not knowing that what it needed to do was to let go of the initial pain, focus on the future and where it was going. Instead, the snake unfortunately lost its life, and didn’t even see it coming.
Now, removing the more gruesome parts of the above picture and story, I feel we can look at what we are trying to boil it down to: the fact that, sometimes, we don’t see it coming. We don’t see that our beliefs, values and attitudes determine our thoughts and, in turn, our choices and actions. The snake – and we as individuals – all have pasts that have filled us with all kinds of persuasive, but apparently perfectly acceptable and normal, reasoning that drives our current behaviours.
“What does all that have to do with what I do now?”, you may well ask at this point. Well, when I became a new dad, I realised very quickly that I only brought me and who I was to the table. Having a child and all that he brought with him was entirely new to me and I knew that, inside, I was fragile. I lacked both baby-care skills and a plan as, after all, when you have a child, the future is hard to plan for, isn’t it?
This left me grappling with ideas and notions, memories of my own upbringing, as well as well-meant advice from friends and family; advice for which I was entirely grateful but, nevertheless, they weren’t there when I was on my own and faced with my next challenge, were they? I guess that’s when your resilience kicks in. Resilience is something that we all hope to have enough of, that we have built through facing up to adversity and challenge, having succeeded against the odds, or from experiencing failure and learning from it (well, in my case, ‘them’). Ultimately, this has all stood me in good stead.
But… there are times when we are unprepared for our emotions getting a hold on us, because – somewhere in our past – we have written a rule for ourselves that allows us to behave in a certain way or to a certain degree, or even to give up on ourselves and behave in a destructive way because we have hit the “screw it!” button.
Here’s a word to the wise: we are solely responsible for how we manage our own behaviour.
No-one else is.
So we’re back again to that word: choice. We have to learn to choose our behaviour, or our anger or poor emotional control will rule us, and cause harm to others. We can do this through learning to recognise and admit our fears and beliefs to ourselves, and to keep our rising emotions at bay long enough to be able to make a different choice than the one we would make without stopping and thinking.
So what is the most important thing to do when you start to feel yourself moving towards anger? Stop. And. Think.
“Easier said than done!”, you might say.
That may well be the case, but what I suggest you do is to start by saying “STOP”.
In that moment.
Couple that with moving away from the situation for a few minutes, to get your temperature down, but also – most crucially – to give yourself the time to think things through differently.
And, in my opinion, it does get easier.
And it’s also the only option… if you want to change the record, that is.
To make this easier in the world in which I now work, we at DadPad have recognised that the lack of information available to dads-to-be has limited the choices that new dads have when making the transition to fatherhood, and we hope that – within our guides, our app and our blog posts – we look at the touch points, where there might be a gap in knowledge that could give rise to overwhelming feelings, and we have broken down what can legitimately (evidence-based) be done to support, empower and calm dad enough to make choices that are positive for himself, his baby and for his whole family’s future.
Examples of these range from letting dads know about their role and the many ways in which they can attach to and bond with their babies and partners, through to coping with specific situations where it can be easier to feel emotional control slipping, such as when babies or partners are unwell, the effects of lack of sleep, or when baby’s crying becomes hard to deal with. At each of these points – and many more – DadPad aims to be there to talk you through ways of upskilling, gaining confidence, feeling involved, and taking action to support yourself, your baby and your partner, along with introducing strategies to help you calm your situation, so you don’t get angry and/or do something that you will later regret.
Links to useful resources:
The British Association of Anger Management‘s Anger Awareness Week 2020 webpage, which includes links to useful additional resources including:
- Keep Your Cool Over Christmas kit
- A to Z of Surviving Christmas
Their website also includes lots of useful information, podcasts and blog posts on anger and anger management, as well as free online tests.
The NHS Anger webpage also includes lots of useful information on symptoms of anger, key dos and don’ts, and a mood self-assessment.
The ICON Cope webpage sets out key advice and information for new parents struggling to cope with their crying baby. Their parents advice webpage contains links to short YouTube videos with ideas on ways to cope, to keep calm and to relax.
Finally, the Mind mental health charity website has a page dedicated to anger and anger management, including sources of support for those who feel that they may need additional help with their anger problems.