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Monday, 10 June, 2002, 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK
Temper, temper
Eastenders punch

Anger management sounds like an ideal antidote in these days of road rage, air rage and just about every other rage. Or could it be just another slice of Californian psychobabble?
I'm 50 minutes late for my meeting with anger management counsellor Mike Fisher and I don't even apologise.

Yet he betrays not an ounce of irritation when we meet. Quite the opposite, in fact. There is a relaxed sway to his shoulders as he walks across the office to shake my hand.

"We're a bit pressed for time, I've got to see a client in 10 minutes," he says.

Mike Fisher
Mike Fisher: "Bend like a reed in the wind"
It turns out that when we fixed the interview on the telephone for "10 to 11" he meant between 10am and 11am. I, in retrospect rather absurdly, had interpreted it as 10 minutes to 11.

As founder of the British Association of Anger Management, Mike Fisher's feathers are reassuringly unruffled.

"It's not a problem, not a problem at all," he assures me, "I'm sure we can work something out," and turns to his PA to make some urgent adjustments to his diary.

Anger management has been the talk of therapy circles for some years now, initially taking root in the United States.

Road rage
83% of motorists said they had acted aggressively on the road
59% had flashed their lights in anger
Source: Mori, 2002
And if you believe the buzz, then it looks distinctly like a panacea for the ills of modern life.

After all, supporters of anger management have touted the technique as a way of resolving all sorts of conflicts, from petty office quarrels upwards.

The government wants to send unruly school pupils to anger management classes. Mr Fisher believes he could work some magic between the divided communities of Northern Ireland.

Peace plans

Even the BBC has got on board, with plans to quell tempers in its television newsrooms.

Road rage
Don't take it personally
Where will it end? In a Nobel Peace prize perhaps. General Musharraf, Prime Minister Vajpayee: are you paying attention?

Within these shores though, the issue most likely to get people all hot and bothered is invasion of personal space, says Mr Fisher.

"We live in cities which are bursting with people. It's very difficult to keep yourself to yourself on a packed Tube train or out shopping on Saturday afternoon."

Whether or not you tend to lose your temper - the notoriously reticent British tend to suppress their anger, which can lead to hypertension and depression - the trick is to recognise your "anger barometer is increasing".

And at that point, says Mr Fisher, you've got to apply the rules of anger management.

These basically amount to that old sentiment of "get a grip" although with the association charging almost 300 to attend one of its introduction courses, there is obviously going to be more to it than that.

Pen biting
Write it down (before you chew your pen to bits)
"First, you've got to look at the big picture. You've got to know how to flow with a situation, like a reed in the wind, focus on your breathing, breathe slowly and observe the situation rationally."

Other principles include listening to the other side, realising that it's ok for other people to have a different opinion than yours and "journaling" your anger.

"The process of writing it down is cathartic," advises Mr Fisher.

Golden rule

The techniques for "anger management" are not radically new, but based on established psychological theories.

Tips on anger management
Look at the big picture
It's ok to have an alternative opinion
Listen to your tormentor
Have friends you can turn to
Commit your feelings to paper
Don't take it personally
And much of it makes perfect sense, at least to anyone not in the throes of an anger attack. When you've been waiting 20 minutes for a bus and five have gone past in the opposite direction, it makes no sense to stand there and fume.

But by that stage you are not thinking rationally.

"If you want to reduce your anger by 80% the golden rule is don't take it personally," Mr Fisher advises.

Practical steps

But anger has been a fact of life since the advent of fire and brimstone. Why do we now need to manage it? Or is it that we are actually confusing anger with stress?

Mr Fisher seizes the point with glee. "We are all selfish. Stress is the brother of anger. People have forgotten what it means to be patient, to be still.

"If you are irritated, stressed, frustrated, feeling impatient they will all trigger your anger."

The Office
Anger management is finding favour in the workplace
And the solutions can be logical as well as psychological. In Mr Fisher's case, London's gridlocked traffic raised his ire to such a point that he took a very practical step.

"I traded in my car for a motorbike. Now I get around in half the time and it's great."

You might argue that trading four wheels for two in a gridlocked city is simply common sense, but then how many frustrated motorists actually take the plunge and give up their car?

With all the evidence showing that modern life leaves us more irritated and angry than ever, Mike Fisher clearly believes his skills make him the right man at the right time. And when it comes to feeling foolish about turning up late for future interviews, I won't take it personally.

See also:

25 Jan 02 | England
22 Apr 02 | Health
13 Jan 02 | Health
21 Nov 99 | UK Education
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