Sam is a sweet guy — but put him traffic, and watch him explode. He gets mad in traffic jams, mad at stupid drivers, even mad at himself for choosing the slowest lane.
Lisa has a hair trigger, too, when it comes to venting distress. Her pet peeve? Rude people who talk on cell phones within earshot of her. "I can hear you!" she bellows. Who said two wrongs don't make a right?
The 2010 election certainly revealed a high level of anger and frustration among millions of voters in and out of the tea party. People are stressed about too much spending, too little spending, our rising debt, our falling stature worldwide. Add to this the everyday challenges of relationships, kids and bills, and you've got a tsunami of upset, a tornado of tension that we see all around us, whether it's expressed as road rage or hate crimes or bullying in schools.
So don't get angry when I remind you that if you want to live a healthier, happier lifestyle, it's not enough to eat well and exercise often. You've got to do something to manage your hostility, and let go of resentment, bitterness and other toxic emotions.
"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else," the Buddha taught. "You are the one who gets burned."
There is plenty of research to show that feeling anger — too often, too long — often puts an enormous strain on your health. It boosts your blood pressure and tenses your muscles. Anger also triggers a dump of chemicals into your body — things like epinephrine and norepinephrine — and, over time, that can clog up your blood vessels and damage your heart. There are other nasty effects too, but rather than dwell on the problem, let's look at a few solutions:
STOP AND THINK. Develop a witness consciousness. Monitor your reactions to negative events or people, and when you observe yourself going into the mad mode, stop and switch course. Be pro-active instead of reactive. Allow yourself to reframe the insult so it makes you laugh instead of fume. Don't get mad, don't get even, get healthy with a funny remark that makes you smile instead of steam.
TALK YOURSELF DOWN. Watch your anger building in any situation, and talk yourself out of it before it takes over. It's one thing to express frustration or appear assertive. Anger is something else. It's like throwing up — you know when it's happening. To defuse it on the spot, count to 10 or breathe deeply or repeat the word "calm" over and over until anger gives way and serene self-confidence moves in.
RISE ABOVE THE FURY. Don't let someone else's anger (or rudeness, or stupidity) provoke you. Rise above it. Step aside, and let their thoughtless behavior blow by. Remain calm and in control. It's a sign of strength, not weakness.
MEDITATE. You can train your brain to be calm and clear by developing a meditation practice. A few minutes a day on the pillow or in a chair — eyes closed, relaxed, focusing on your breath or a mantra — is a blissful way to transform anger into gratitude. How cool is that?
REMEMBER: Anger is a toxic emotion that takes a terrible toll on your mind and body. Holding anger, laying blame, feeling the victim are unhealthy ways to react to the world. Develop a strategy for dealing with life's inevitable upsets, and let it inspire calm and clarity instead of calamity and chaos.
EAT THIS UP! IN PRAISE OF THE SWEET POTATO
In the run up to Thanksgiving, let us give thanks for the 150 calorie sweet potato. It's loaded with fiber, rich in vitamins A and C, packed with potassium and powerful antioxidants, and a much healthier choice than a garden-variety white baked potato. Every day is a holiday when you put one of these beauties into a pre-heated 450 degree oven for an hour or so, until soft. Skip the butter, mash and top with your favorite veggie. If you can't decide, do petite peas. Divine!
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! EXERCISE THE WILL TO LET GO
"The best remedy for a short temper is a long walk." — Jacqueline Schiff
Marilynn Preston — fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, http://marilynnpreston.com and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.