Anger and Your Health
I had a therapist years ago helping me with my anger issues. If you know me now and have been on the receiving end of my wrath, the passive aggressive or entirely straightforward variety, you may wonder where she went wrong. Trust me; she did not go wrong.
This, this Jules is a better, less severely angry Jules than the old Jules. Linda had me visualize my anger as a mountain that I was ascending on a ski lift. Having never skied this was a challenge, but, ok. As I become angry, I should think of climbing that mountain. There is a point on the lift where I would have an opportunity to get off and head to “the lodge”.
A lodge is a place where skiers stop, take a breath, have a cup of cocoa, and sit by the fire. The lodge is diffusing my anger. If I do not get off of the lift at the lodge, there is a higher than likely chance that I will lose it. If I reach the top of the mountain, I will fall off of the other side in a spectacular display of anger and will metaphorically break every bone in my body.
Ever since I have thought in times of anger, “Get off at the lodge.” Even friends and family have told me the same, “Jules, get off at the lodge.”
Anger as a Hijacker
Anger is not abnormal. Everyone gets angry when they are frustrated or hurt. It is when anger hijacks who you are that it becomes dangerous. Dangerous for your body, and dangerous for your relationships.
Anger hijacks your central nervous system by way of your amygdala. When you become angry you are flooded with adrenaline.
“Blood flows to your hands, making it easier to grasp a weapon. Your heart pumps faster. You breathe harder. Pupils dilate. You sweat. In this hyperadrenalized state, aggression mounts. You may raise your voice, point accusingly, stare him down, grimace, flail your arms around, verbally intimidate, barge into his personal space.” (Judith Orloff, MD)
According to Dr. Orloff, because we have been taught to hide our anger, anger has become the least acceptable emotion we have. Studies indicate that the ability to correctly identify, label, and talk about your negative emotions helps to dissipate that emotion. The psychological and physical state that the anger created goes away along with the anger, and the hijacker is gone.
Anger And Your Health
Suppressing your anger can cause anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and skin disorders. We know that showing anger can be dangerous when we let that anger mount to a level that is hard to dial back.
Those of us with chronic illness have been shown to express greater discomfort and have more symptoms of illness when we are angry
There is a strong likelihood that chronic pain patients who attempt to inhibit their angry feelings have a stronger chance of feeling greater pain.
That puts us back where we started: getting off at the lodge.
Getting Off At The Lodge: Safely Expressing Anger
How do we recognize anger as it is rising, own and label it, then work through it in a healthy way to avoid the pitfalls that are dangerous to our health?
- Slow Your Roll: when anger strikes we may also be quick to do the same. Adrenaline (part of the fight or flight system) is racing and neurotransmitters are kicking into high gear. This is creating responses in our central nervous system and autonomic nervous system. Our balance is off emotionally, and we are feeling the impact physically. This is why we have always been told when we are angry to pause and count to (whatever). I like 5. Just take a deep breaths and slow that chemical reaction down.
- Shhhh!: Collect your body before you speak your mind. If you go off half-cocked while all of the chemicals and pain of anger are still fresh in your body you are going to stoke the anger in you and start that process all over again.
- Time-Out: Take a walk or a time-out. Get away from the situation and get a fresh perspective. Put yourself in the position of the other person.
- Catch Some Z’s!: Many of us have the idea that we should never go to bed angry, however, being angry can sabotage your ability to properly manage whatever situation it was that caused the anger to begin with.
When you are chronically awesome it is important that you do what you can to keep the parts of you that are in your control, in your control. Anger is something that you can work with. Communication, deep breathing, mindfulness, and a commitment to keep yourself in check in order to keep your symptoms under control take practice. Finding that thought-stopping technique like ‘the lodge’ or using one of the examples above to keep you from entering the ring are important tools for your emotional and physical health.
Like we always say on Chronic Chronicles, “Keep calm, and, be Chronically Awesome.”
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Sources: WebMd, Psychology Today, J Behey, MD., Judith Orloff, MD.