We’ve all got that one angry uncle in our lives, or a dad, or a friend… You know the one. The dude who you grew up watching from a safe distance (hopefully) as he yelled and slammed around and generally acted like a colossal jerk, every time someone or something didn’t go his way. And you thought to yourself, Wow. I will NEVER be that guy.
Fast forward ten years, and you start to understand where that rage comes from. You’ve got a backlog of student loan payments, sudden car repair bills, a job that doesn’t quite fit your plans for your life, and more importantly, people who just won’t line up the way you want them to. All of this builds and trips and tweaks you out of shape, way more often than you’d like to admit. And yeah, sometimes you boil over. We get that.
But guys, there’s this thing about anger that nobody talks about: It kills you. Not right away, but it builds up in your arteries and your nervous system, and slowly festers into things like atherosclerosis and mood disorders and other, equally unpleasant things.
It’s not the anger. It’s how you deal with it, or don’t.
Doctors agree that anger isn’t a villain, all by itself. Everyone experiences anger. It has its place in the range of human emotion, and can even do you good, in small doses. What causes your blood pressure to spike and your arteries to harden is when that anger controls you. It pumps you full of cortisol and adrenaline, and wreaks havoc on your body.
Cortisol and adrenaline are the chemicals that make you want to yell and brawl and throw things. The more you allow them to have their way, the stronger they grow. It feels good, in the moment, to let them rush through you unhindered. But the more you give in to them, the harder it is to slow yourself down the next time you get angry. And the more you allow them to tamper with your brain and your cardiovascular system, the faster you get sick.
Conversely, holding all of that bad juju inside can also kill you. Doctors say it takes a steady hand to find that middle ground, where you can express your anger in a healthy way, without raging, and without holding it in.
Find a better outlet.
So how do you redirect those rampaging chemicals into something healthy, instead of something toxic?
1. Talk to yourself. Anger management therapists teach this first, before any other technique. That’s because what you say to yourself is often what sets you on a rage spiral in the first place:
- ‘Should’ thoughts: “She should have told me she was going to be late.”
- Extreme thoughts: “He always does this! He’s such an idiot.”
- Jumping to conclusions: “I knew they would do this. They’re trying to ruin everything.”
When you hear yourself starting to think in anger mode, stop and force yourself to turn it around. Replace your angry self talk with moderation. Aim for generosity and sympathy, instead.
- “She probably has a good reason for being late. I’ve been late before, too.”
- “It’s not going to matter a year from now, anyway.”
- “This can be fixed. It will just take a little more work.”
Positive self talk is a skill that can be learned, but it takes practice. You won’t always get it right, and that’s okay. It’s worth picking yourself up and trying again, because this can actually contribute to your happiness, and the happiness of the people who share space with you.
2. Talk to others. Sometimes you can’t pin down your angry thoughts by yourself. In fact, you might be so used to hearing them that they sound normal. In this case, a therapist, or even a patient friend, can become a perfect sounding board. Let a few loved ones know that you’re working on your anger, and practice speaking honestly to them about the things that tick you off. You might find that the simple act of sharing what’s bugging you can cool you off almost instantly.
3. Move your body. It’s important to get that cortisol under control, quickly and often, before it wrecks your system. Fortunately, you can train your body to let go of stress and anger at will. Some of the best options:
- Yoga: Yoga teaches you to focus, breathe, and relax. It’s the ultimate chill pill, and it is unbelievably good for pretty much anything that ails you, including chronic rage. If you haven’t tried it yet, you’re late.
- Martial arts: Like yoga, most martial arts are big on mind/body control. They teach you to get a grip on yourself in every possible way, especially when you’re feeling threatened and angry.
- Running: Ever heard of a runner’s high? That’s a real thing. Running gives you an endorphin high like very few other sports can offer. No matter how angry, sad, stressed, or annoyed you feel, you can usually work it out simply by running long enough and hard enough.
The longer you live under the oppression of anger and rage, the earlier you will develop high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and a host of other health troubles. You also risk alienating the people you care about, and generally making everyone’s lives more miserable than they need to be. Remember that angry uncle? So don’t be that way. You’ve got options, and a full life ahead of you.