I’ve stopped checking the news first thing in the morning. In fact, I don’t look at any social media (and only occasionally go through my email) before I’ve checked off a long morning to-do list that sets me up for a productive day. I make my bed, eat breakfast, take my vitamins, squeeze in a bit of exercise, spend some time with my kids and write out the things I want to accomplish for the day.
Why I stopped checking my phone in the morning
This isn’t simply so I start my day with healthy habits—though that is a part of it. It’s not even that I want to avoid screen time in the morning—also not a bad idea. The reason I steer clear of my computer and smartphone? To avoid the anger and frustration that used to shade my mornings after reading yet another dreadful political headline or seeing the outpouring of rage and cynicism on Facebook. Having that kind of negativity confront you first thing in the morning is no way to wake up. It felt like the whole world had their fists up at 6 a.m. Even if I didn’t lace up my own gloves, the adrenaline still surged through me.
In fact, even long after the anger-inducing clickbait had left my mind, its effects were still noticeable. I would be irritable throughout the day. I would make poor food choices even when I knew full well that I would later regret it. I’d snap at my kids without warning, surprising myself with the outburst. I could never pinpoint what was making me feel so off until I decided to take a social media break. It wasn’t that I had been waking up on the wrong side of the bed. It was that I had been rolling over to my iPhone and scrolling before I was even fully awake.
The negative effects of anger on your day
This anger can affect you a lot more than you think. Missing your alarm in the morning, scrolling through the news, sitting in rage-inducing traffic on your commute. There are plenty of things that have the potential to set off anger. That anger can impact the kinds of decisions you choose to make.
A 2021 study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience looked at the effects of anger and sadness on intertemporal decisions (decisions that “require people to trade off between costs and benefits that occur at different points in time”). In it, researchers found that anger did not drive people to prefer immediate rewards. Rather, it prompted them to delay gratification for higher rewards. Researchers considered that “the sense of certainty and high coping potential induced by anger can make people combat the temptation of immediate rewards, in preference for delayed rewards,” a certainty that may lead to problems down the road. If anger motivates your choices and you seek higher rewards that will be fulfilled at a later time, how long will you be left to deal with the consequences. What might those consequences be?
Avoiding the effects of anger
Of course, there’s no way to avoid anger or its effect on our decisions completely. A 2019 NPR article cites a “NPR-IBM Watson Health poll” that found “some 84% of people surveyed said Americans are angrier today compared with a generation ago.” Not only that, but “42% of those polled said they were angrier in the past year than they had been further back in time.” A total of 71% of those participants were angered by the news at least sometimes, and 18% of participants under the age of 35 were “often angry when using social media.”
So if triggers for anger are all around us, how do we fight the force of anger so it doesn’t potentially harm our decisions—and our day?
We can start by exposing ourselves to less anger-inducing elements. Hit that unfollow button if you need to. Get off of Twitter for a while. Mitigating our consumption of media that makes us angry is important. But when anger strikes without warning, it helps to take a break in order to calm yourself down. Mindfulness meditation (a method I use) can be a total game-changer in keeping the lasting effects of anger at bay. You can use an app like Headspace or simply bring awareness to your breath for a minute or two if your emotional state is still shaky. Getting back to the present before you go forward can clear your mind and help you make sure you’re making the best decisions in the long term.
This article was published in January 2018 and has been updated. Photo by gpointstudio/Shutterstock