I’ve stopped checking the news first thing in the morning. In fact, I don’t do 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: making my bed, eating breakfast, taking my vitamins, squeezing in a bit of exercise, spending some time with my kids, and writing out the things I want to accomplish for the day.
This isn’t simply so I start my day off with healthy habits—though, that is a part of it. It’s not even that I just want to avoid screen time in the morning—also not a bad idea. The reason I steer clear of my computer and smartphone is to avoid the anger and frustration that used to shade my morning after reading yet another dreadful political headline or seeing the outpouring of rage and cynicism on Facebook. Being confronted with that kind of negativity is no way to wake up. It felt like the whole world had their fists up at 6 a.m., and even if I didn’t lace up my own gloves, the adrenaline 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 it was that 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.
Getting angry first thing in the morning can affect you a lot more than you think, even when you’re no longer upset. 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 in the morning. You may take a deep breath and dive into work, assuming those negative emotions were left behind, but research shows that residual anger can guide our decision-making long after we’ve been provoked.
A study from Harvard found that residual anger can color our perspective even when we’ve moved onto a completely unrelated task. Perhaps you go into work and have to report about some less-than-stellar results on a team project. If you’re still riding the wave of anger, chances are you’ll attack those around you before taking responsibility for your part. Anger is the primary emotion of justice, so we tend to have a desire to blame others in a very punitive way when we’re mad. But being a poor team player isn’t the only downside you’ll experience.
The study also found that we make reckless decisions in many ways when we’re angry. We feel overly confident and often take risks we otherwise wouldn’t. These snap choices can range from making uncharacteristic health choices to impulsive online shopping. We become trigger happy with our decision-making. So the fact that you want that fast-food burrito right now (even though your stomach will hate you for it later) is justified in your mind because your gut desire feels right. We don’t stick around for sound reasoning to come into play because we don’t want our choices questioned, even by ourselves.
Of course, there’s no way to completely rid your life of anger. The Harvard study cites another study that found that “most people report becoming mildly to moderately angry anywhere from several times a day to several times a week.” Even my method of no morning media doesn’t quite absolve my life of anger; it simply delays it. So how do we fight the force of anger so it doesn’t sour our whole day?
We can obviously 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 will make us angry is important, but when anger strikes without warning, it helps to take a break before moving onto the next part of your day. Mindfulness meditation (a method I personally 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 while your emotional state is still shaky. Getting back to the present before you go forward can help you move back into your day anger-free.
This article was published in January 2018 and has been updated. Photo by @SMDavis/Twenty20