You’re sat on a train after pulling an all-nighter. It’s a crowded train and you’re going to be stuck in that same spot for at least three hours.
You scroll through Facebook on your phone and you see that person moaning about that thing again and their negativity is dominating your feed. You put it down, rummage through your bag and pull out a greasy sandwich, chocolate bar and a can of coke (little else was available at the station) and start to munch. As more and more people board the train, you find yourself crammed in like a sardine and starting to sweat from the mass of body heat that surrounds you. Your forehead starts to drip, messing up your hair or makeup. You realise that there’s no way you’re going to reach your destination looking fresh and put-together. You’re frustrated, right?
As you reach your destination and step off the train, you have two options: You remain in a crappy mood for the rest of the day or you leave your anger on the train and get on with your day. Both of these options could then lead to multiple actions. Perhaps you choose to get on with your day; You might find a bathroom and go fix yourself up, take some time to stretch your legs, breathe the fresh air and rejoice at being free of the sweatbox – this would be the ideal. But maybe you just can’t break out of that mood, so you go about your day misdirecting your anger. Perhaps you meet with a friend and explain to them the source of your grumpiness, they sympathise with you and validate those feelings.
Our friendship radar tends to locate those who we feel can understand us on an emotional level. We want people to be sympathetic towards us, to reassure us when we doubt ourselves. Unfortunately, that can be the exact opposite of what is good for us. After all, self-doubt is what drives us to keep working on ourselves. Without it, the idea that certain behaviours are acceptable is constantly being reinforced. Just because a reaction is understandable to others, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
So, your anger has been validated. Your friend, although only trying to be sympathetic, has reinforced the idea that your sheer outrage is justified, making it seem acceptable to carry on reacting in this way. In the ideal scenario, you may have acknowledged your feelings of anger and tried to understand the several issues that made you feel that way. Whilst there were clearly external influences upon your mood that couldn’t be avoided – such as the train being hot and crowded – perhaps you would have dealt with them better if you hadn’t been sleep-deprived, if you didn’t have negative influences at the touch of a button, if you had sought adequate nutrition and hydration for the journey…
When anger happens, we switch off our cerebral cortex (the rational part of our brain) and the amygdala (the emotional part) takes over. Fueled by hormones, the cortex is unable to override it. Due to the length of these hormones, it could take 20 minutes before we begin to think rationally again – but we still hold memories up there that can keep that raging flame dimly lit in the background.
Whilst we can’t reprogramme ourselves to never respond to these biochemical processes, we can certainly take measures not to self-sabotage.
A couple of ways that we sabotage our emotional health are through inadequate sleep and inadequate intake of vitamins and nutrients – the same factors that play a huge contribution to poor physical health. Neglecting your basic needs in this way sends your stress levels sky high due to triggering a wave of cortisol – the hormone that, in abundance, will frankly ruin your life, sinking your mood and causing obesity, especially when combined with ghrelin – the hungry hormone – whose levels can also be increased by poor sleep, often leading us to crave poor food choices. In this way, it can soon become a vicious cycle of low moods and poor health.
In conclusion, the best starting point for gaining some control over strong emotions such as anger is trying to understand what kind of messages we send to our brain through our everyday actions and adjusting those actions to tip the messages in our favour.
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