Think You Can’t Control Your Temper? Tink Again

As with most of my blog posts, this one was inspired by a specific incident that made me curious about the causality between exercise and anger.  I’ve struggled with anger management issues since I was a teenager.  In high school, I’d get into shouting matches and physical altercations on the regular.  Most of it – actually all of it – was over dumb shit.  Just a stupid kid with more pride than I could carry.  I’m 27 now, and although I’m far from perfect, I’ve gotten a lot better.  If you knew me in high school you’d probably assume I was destined for jail once I reached adulthood.

 

I once took a bat to a girl’s car simply cause she pissed me off.  Hitting the side door twice, denting the panel.  I hit a dude with a golf club once for demanding that I give him a cigarette.  He ran but I chased him.  And I came really close to hitting a guy with my car once for talking smack about my girlfriend.  Luckily I hit a parked car instead.  Some men would look back on these events with a sense of pride.  Achievement over having the courage to stand up for myself and intimidate those that thought they could take advantage of me.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Now I look back on those incidents with immense shame.  I don’t normally tell people this, but if you want the truth, after each of those incidents I wasn’t able to sleep the night.  I’d stay up all night balling my eyes out, “I’m a good person, how could I act like such a monster?” I would ask myself.

 

In my twenties, I’ve been faring a lot better with the exception of a few slip ups.  Gotten into shouting matches on occasion, but nothing extreme like when I was a teenager.  After examining my teen years, I’ve arrived at one simple, yet extremely profound conclusion:  my temper was at its worst at the times during the times that I engaged in activities that would elevate my blood pressure.  Prior to entering high school, my temper was pretty much non-existent.  Sure, I would the occasional outburst as a child, but nothing out of the ordinary.

 

So what was I doing wrong during my teenage years?  For starters, I was drinking on average 2 cups of coffee per day, smoking cigarettes every chance I could, consuming alcohol heavily, and depriving myself of sleep so I can stay up and talk to whoever I was dating at the time.  Now take all this and combine it with a natural predisposition for temper tantrums (thanks ADHD) and we have an apparent receipt for disaster.  You want to actually decrease your temper?  Decrease your heart rate first.  Don’t believe me?  Take the calmest person you know and through in these variables.  Have them chain smoke for a week, consume excess caffeine, overdo it with the alcohol, deprive them of sleep and see how long you last in a room alone with them.

 

Anger has been linked to coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and other adverse physical symptoms.  But I contend that anger is a direct result of these physical symptoms.  The amygdala is the body’s emotional control center located in the brain.  It is responsible for recognizing threats, in specific, scenarios with would prompt us to become either angry or nervous – our fight our flight responses.  These signals are then screened by our prefrontal cortex to assess if the appropriate fight or flight response is justified.  Our prefrontal cortex is responsible for logical decision making.  The stronger the connections in our prefrontal cortex, the better we’d be able to assess threats.

 

However, reduced activity in our prefrontal cortex will result in the false activation in our fight or flight response causing our heart rate to raise when it really doesn’t need to.  Now if our heart rate is already high, this unnecessary trigger will exacerbate our fight or flight response which in the case of anger, cause us to become more enraged than we normally would.

 

Before attending anger management and learning to reframe your interpretations, I would suggest focus on improving the connections in your prefrontal cortex and taking the appropriate steps to lower your blood pressure.  An effective anger management program is one that changes both the body and mind to produce tangible results.  Once this is mastered, there would no longer be a need for talk therapy or learning ineffective anger management techniques.  Here are the steps you should take to tame the monster that lives within:

 

  1. Reduce or eliminate caffeine intake
  2. Quit smoking
  3. Stop drinking alcohol
  4. Meditate twice a day for 20 minutes
  5. Develop a routine cardio workout program to help lower your blood pressure. At least 3 times a week for 30 minutes should do the trick.  However, be mindful of the fact that increasing the intensity of these workouts too quickly can result in further irritability.  Start slow and gradually build up a routine.
  6. Get adequate rest. For most people this can mean between 7-9 hours.
  7. Eat healthier to lower your heart rate.

 

Now these aren’t easy changes to make, however they will produce lasting results.  If it seems impossible to make the necessary changes, consider the alternative:  which is leading an irritable life, one in which your level of fulfillment always be impacted by your uncontrollable temper.

 

 

Takeaways: 

 

  1. Reduce or eliminate caffeine intake
  2. Quit Smoking
  3. Stop drinking alcohol
  4. Meditate twice a day for 20 minutes
  5. Develop a routine cardio workout program to help lower your blood pressure. At least 3 times a week for 30 minutes should do the trick.  However, be mindful of the fact that increasing the intensity of these workouts too quickly can result in further irritability.  Start slow and gradually build up a routine.
  6. Get adequate rest. For most people this can mean between 7-9 hours of sleep.
  7. Eat healthier to lower your heart rate.

 

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