It’s not every day your 11 o’clock interview turns into a stress management course, but how could I say no when expert Mike Fisher asked to show me his ‘shaking the apple tree’ theory? Five questions later, I could identify the stress I had admitted to feeling as a symptom of the repressed worries in my mind. By far my most interesting interview to date, Mike is humble, passionate and one of the most insightful people I’ve ever met. If you need a helping hand with anger, anxiety and stress issues, this is an expert worth his weight in gold.
So Mike, these days you are CEO of the British Association of Anger Management, but where did your passion for anger management come from?
It comes from being very damaged, very lost, very depressed, very insecure, very angry and realising that I needed a huge amount of help. It comes from reading books like ‘The Road Less Travelled’ (by M. Scott Peck) and realising that there was and there is a huge amount of solutions to my problems. As soon as I finished reading that book 30 years ago, I enrolled onto a five year training course in counselling and psychotherapy and I haven’t looked back.
What other qualifications do you think you need to do your job?
Well life really, life experience. I got accepted onto my course on the basis that I was interested in psychotherapy, I was passionate about it and I was very curious about the different models available.
How did you come to set up your business stress experts?
The problem I identified is that stress is a phenomenon people don’t take very seriously. Essentially what we’ve done is take the word ‘fear’, watered it down and called it stress. We’d rather talk about stress than fear. When someone asks ‘how are you?’ you don’t say ‘oh my God I’m terrified, I’m scared, I’m absolutely overwhelmed by terror and I’m panicking’, you say ‘oh my God I’m so stressed.’ I realised I needed to take the terror in my life seriously and understand how this terror affected people. On the basis of that, I developed a model and wrote my first book ‘Beating Anger’. I’ve been teaching that model for the past five years.
That’s so interesting. How do you see stress and anger to be related?
Stress fuels anger, that’s the problem.
What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?
That is a great question. The problem I face is that I’ve been practising for 28 years and it’s hard not to become de-sensitised. People still come to me when they are in crisis, when their life is falling apart, when they are seriously ill and there is no need for it. However my whole life is a life of service, I care very much about my community and I hate to see people suffer unnecessarily. I find that heartbreaking, so when I see somebody have a breakthrough, the closest word I can probably use is grateful. When I see people transformed and start to embrace this thing called living and being alive, I feel gratitude in humanity.
That’s a great answer. Do you think there is a stigma behind going on a course and admitting you need help?
30 years ago I would have said yes, but these days therapy is the new black, yoga is the new black even though it’s been around for thousands of years. I don’t think it’s about a stigma, I think it’s about not wanting to show any sort of weakness or vulnerability. It’s about someone presenting to the world they’re OK. If you ask how they are feeling they tell you they couldn’t be better, meanwhile they are so overwhelmed in a state of shock and distress. How do they cope? More alcohol, more drugs, a gambling addiction, a work addiction, medication – it’s insane.
How do you help these people cope?
In the context of stress, I’ve identified that there’s the superficial stress; the family, the mother in law, the ex-wife, the children, the traffic, the debt and the job – the usual clichés. These are a symptom, that’s all they are. Through my research and reading, I’ve identified five core stresses – seeking approval, not feeling like I’m in control, not trusting the unfolding of my own life, not making myself a priority and most importantly, putting myself under unnecessary pressure. The idea is that when you start to recognise this is what is causing the stress, the questions we ask are designed to find defence mechanisms. So in order for someone to stop putting themselves under so much pressure, we ask what do you need to give up? What do you need to let go of? What do you need to accept? What do you need to acknowledge? The person starts to answer these questions and the penny starts to drop. They see how they create their own suffering and with this knowledge, they are able to choose their own suffering.
If someone is stressed they are not happy, they are constantly over compensating. If you want to increase your happiness quota, you’ve got to learn how to manage your stress. You’ve got to appreciate what you’ve got in life; you’ve got to show gratitude, you’ve got to show humanity. The point I often make to people is choose your suffering – don’t just suffer for the sake of suffering, that’s insanity. Identify what you are willing to suffer for and get on with it, (e.g. if you are ambitious and driven by work, but find it stressful) but also be aware of how that impacts you.
That’s incredible and after trying it for myself, I can truly support the idea that the stress you blame is just a symptom of the underlying issue. How then, does this translate into anger?
The shaking the apple tree theory looks something like this; if I can manage my stress more effectively, I can manage my anger better. I am constantly monitoring my stress levels, so as soon as I sense high levels of anxiety and fear, I stop everything and do this process, I stop everything and shake the apple tree. Once I reduce my stress levels, it’s easier for me to manage my anger. Stress fuels anger.
Thanks Mike, this has been amazing.
If you want to learn more about shaking the apple tree you can read about Mike’s work here. For more anger management courses, why not change your life today and take a look at the various courses on the site? Good luck!