“Anger is the most lethal emotion for the heart”
Anger triggers the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. Other emotions that trigger this response include fear, excitement and anxiety. The adrenal glands flood the body with stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. The brain shunts blood away from the gut and towards the muscles, in preparation for physical exertion. Heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increase, the body temperature rises and the skin perspires. The mind is sharpened and focused.
When we are in the gym this sounds like a good thing. Maybe we’re trying to hit a PR on the deadlift or get that last bit of effort during a tough set of swings…but what if we took a step back and really thought about what we are doing to ourselves?
When I was recovering from ulcerative colitis and working to regain my strength and the 50lbs of lost weight I used the gym – and anger – as my sanctuary.
I was just a few weeks removed from the hospital stays. I had no job, no money, and was living with my parents again. Yeah, you could say that I was pretty angry. While I was grateful to be out of the hospital and eating solid foods again I still was dealing with a lot of pent up emotions inside. This was not a recipe for health.
The constant flood of stress chemicals and associated metabolic changes that accompany recurrent unchecked anger can eventually cause harm to many different systems of the body. Some of the short and long-term health problems that have been linked to chronic anger include:
- Digestion problems, such as abdominal pain
- Increased anxiety
- High blood pressure
- Skin problems, such as eczema
- Heart attack
I was unsure about what foods to eat (digestion problems). I was angry that I had to be so concerned about whether or not food would make me sick again (increased anxiety). I was anger that I felt so isolated and alone because of my situation (depression). I was anger that I was so sick, skinny, and weak. I was anger that this happened to me.
I decided to take out my anger in the gym.
At the time this was the only tangible thing I was able to do to regain some control over my situation. I’d wake up, eat breakfast, wait to make sure I didn’t get sick, go to the gym and then come home and rest. This lasted for a couple months and was a real great way to enjoy life (sarcasm noted).
On one hand things were good. I was regaining strength, adding on more weight each week, and feeling better about my physical appearance.
On the other I was practicing being angry almost everyday. Each session in the gym was dark. I’d show up with a scowl on my face, probably with a hoodie pulled up to hide my face. I’d have earphones in so that I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. Then I’d warmup angry. Deadlift or squat angry. Do assistance exercises angry. I even drank my recovery shake angry.
How was this helping anything? Sure, I was pretty strong and looked like I was in great shape. But I felt terrible inside.
Luckily something changed and I was able to let go of that anger. Part of me doesn’t know how to fully explain it. I know that I was blessed to have my family’s support through that time – my parents and two younger brothers always knew how to make me laugh and relax. I know that I prayed a lot at night and simply asked for inner peace – both physically and mentally. And I think it was just a matter of time to allow for my healing to occur.
The doctors were able to help heal my intestines and control my IBD. Once that happened it was up to me to find a way to release the anger – to stop carrying it around with me everywhere I went – and to begin to appreciate and actually enjoy life again. Try these simple tips to help let go of your anger:
- Breath – as simple as it sounds. Be aware when you are getting angry (or stressed) and take a few deep breathes. 4 seconds in, hold comfortably for 2, then release nice and relaxed for 7 seconds. Repeat as many times as needed.
- Get outside and exercise – it can be a nice walk, maybe an outdoor exercise class, or even rock climbing. Just find something enjoyable to do outside.
- Meditate and/or Pray
- Get plenty of sleep
- Practice being appreciative
- Learn how to effectively communicate your feelings – aka talk with someone that is a good listener and cares about you
- Find love and social support
I am very grateful to be living a healthy life since those days. I have maintained my strength and health while finding more inner peace. I still strive to lift heavy weights and push myself in the gym and have even been able to pass the very challenging RKC this past August.
And the most enjoyable part of this journey was the first few moments after I passed the Russian Kettlebell Certification.
I had some time to reflect and think about where I came from over the past few years. I thought about how weak, frustrated, and angry I used to be.
Then I smiled and realized that I wouldn’t have changed a moment. Those struggles and dark times just made the moment that much more beautiful.
And for that I will be forever grateful.