The High Cost of Anger, Part II
What was originally intended as a two-column series on the high cost of anger has morphed into three columns. The first installment took a detailed look at the costs of uncontrolled anger affecting our overall health and well-being, including sobriety maintenance. This column and the final installment deal with effectively managing our anger. The particular focus of this column is on prevention; staying calm in the midst of stressful encounters and keeping our expression of anger or frustration at a healthy level.
The first line of attack in keeping our anger under control is learning to maintain a baseline level of calmness by taking care of ourselves and effectively monitoring our emotional expression. The following suggestions are presented to address this important area.
Maintaining Sound Nutrition
During our days of using and abusing, we invariably let healthy eating habits fall by the wayside. In recovery it behooves us to adopt health-conducive diets and avoid alcohol, while minimizing other nutritional stressors such as sugar, caffeine, fried foods, and highly processed foods.
A recent study headed up by investigators at Ohio State and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington sheds light on the role of low blood sugar levels as a contributing factor in many marital spats (Borenstein, 2014). In this study, participating couples were monitored nightly for three weeks in terms of their levels of aggression, as indicated by the number of pins stuck in a “voodoo doll” representing the partner’s spouse. The researchers found that the lower the blood sugar levels, the more pins were pushed into the doll. In fact, people with the lowest scores pushed twice as many pins into the dolls as those with the highest blood sugar levels! Bushman, the study’s lead author, says there is a good physical reason to link eating to emotion: while the brain accounts for only 2 percent of our body weight, it consumes 20 percent of our calories. Strange as it seems, the authors advise couples to avoid fighting on an empty stomach, adding that while a candy bar might be good before discussing a touchy subject, fruits and vegetables are a better long-term strategy.
Vigorous exercise is helpful in keeping calm in stressful situations. Among other things, exercise releases endorphins, the “feel good” hormone that stimulates the pleasure center of the brain. Cumulative stress and frustration edge us toward the flight or fight response, making us uptight both physically and mental-emotionally as cortisol is released into our bloodstream, triggering rapid heart beat, heightened blood pressure, and increased muscular tension. Exercise can serve as an antidote through helping us release from our bodies the toxic residue associated with accumulated stress and frustration.
Adequate Rest and Sleep
We all know how irritated we can be when arising from a night of restless tossing and turning. I am particularly aware of this, as clashes with my spouse often occur on mornings when I am sleep deprived, which in her words brings out the “grouchy bear” in me.
Take an hour or so before bedtime to wind down and mellow out, as going to bed with an overloaded mind is a major cause of insomnia. Boycott the Eleven O’Clock and opt for a good comedy or relaxing reading.
Adopt a Mind-Quieting Ritual
In our fast-paced, high stress society many of us find it helpful to work a mind-quieting ritual into our daily routine. I have been practicing a popular form of meditation for close to forty years and can attest to its benefits in terms of emptying my mind of stressful thoughts and fostering an underlying sense of serenity. If sitting meditation is not your cup of tea there are many other practices available. These include walking meditation, spending time outdoors quietly appreciating the beauty of nature, relaxing reading, contemplative prayer, and best of all, simply cuddling with your partner before drifting off to sleep.
Helpful Tips from the Buddha
The Buddhist traditions embody many tenets that can help us calm our restless minds. Buddhist teachings focus on eliminating suffering, and an agitated mind is a major cause of suffering. The Holy Middle Path reduces our proneness to agitation through encouraging us to practice moderation in all things. Each morning I read two affirmation cards: one that states “I walk the Holy Middle Path with honor, integrity, and compassion” and one that states “Right thoughts, speech, and action, all grounded in right and honorable intention.” For further information on this topic I highly recommend two books by contemporary Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn titled Present Moment Wonderful Moment (1990) and Taming the Tiger Within (2005).
Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude
We’re all familiar with the old saying “Is the glass of water half empty or half full?” How do you view your glass of water? If we view our glass as half empty, we probably tend to focus on what is lacking in our lives, which increases our experience of frustration and anger. We can benefit through cultivating an attitude of gratitude and focusing on the abundant aspects of our lives and the world around us that are infinitely more than half full. An excellent resource here is a Daily Word article by Brother David Steindl-Rast titled “Living Life in Gratitude.” To obtain a copy, call Unity Customer Service at 1-800-669-0282 and ask for their Archives Department. Trust me, it’s well worth the nominal retrieval fee.
Hopefully these pointers will prove helpful in preventing excessive outbursts of anger and the toll these outbursts take on our psyches, bodies, and relations with others. As always, feel free to share this column with your clients. The third and final installment will deal with nipping our anger in the bud and repairing the damage in those hopefully rare moments when our anger gets the best of us. Until next time—to your health!
Borenstein, S. (2014). Study: Snack might help avoid fight with spouse. Retrieved from http://news.yahoo.com/study-snack-might-help-avoid-fight-spouse-193457047.html
Hahn, T. N. (1990). Present moment wonderful moment: Mindfulness verses for daily living. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
Hahn, T. N. (2005). Taming the tiger within: Meditations on transforming difficult emotions. New York, NY: Berkeley Publishing Group.