Wow—the news is hurting my ears…and my head…and my stomach. So many people are downright angry—angry at life’s challenges and frustrations. The world seems to be lining up for battles over issues large and small. There’s a lot to be frustrated about in today’s world. But lining up for battle is dangerous, and not just because of the sociocultural implications. It’s dangerous because all that anger hurts your health. Do you know the old saying, Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face? Well, those who let their anger take control are walking around without their noses as they rant and protest and debate.
Don’t lose your nose.
Medical literature is full of research about the significant health risks caused by stress and anger. At the risk of boring you with a biology lesson, let me remind you that the fight-or-flight response triggered by anger prepares our bodies to defend from attack. The flood of hormones released increases heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate…and it ultimately causes inflammation in the body while suppressing the immune system. This fight-or-flight response was created for the rare interaction with a hungry lion, not the day in, day out angst that I am witnessing and experiencing. If you’re constantly stressed and angry, not only does your risk for heart attack and stroke increase but also your risk for all sorts of other diseases, including diabetes, cancer and autoimmune diseases. Net net: The chances of getting sick from stress and anger are far greater than the chances of getting sick from Zika or whatever the latest mystery virus is. Anger = death.
The world is a mess, you say, and it’s frightening you? Understood. It’s frightening me, too. Drowning yourself in the swirl of fear and frustration won’t fix it. Nor will ranting about it on Facebook—that will only leave you with fewer friends listening to your rants. Shifting anger and fear to positive action is far healthier and more effective. Rather than putting your health at risk, might I suggest instead…
Act when you can make a difference.
The ongoing demonstrations and grandstanding on all sides of the aisle make people feel as if their voices are being heard and their messages of concern are getting “out there.” But now what? How is the demonstrating alleviating their anger? And what if it actually is fueling the anger?
I like to think about making an impact in my daily spheres—family, work, religious groups, clubs, even casual interactions at the grocery store or in traffic. If we all make choices each day that are consistent with the broad goals we want to achieve, then all those spheres will overlap into a large unified shift. For example, if we want to feel heard and respected, then we should be sure to respect and listen to those around us—whether we agree with their points of view or not. If we want a world of opportunity for those less fortunate, then we could consider mentoring a troubled teen or hiring someone whose qualifications don’t quite fit the standard mold. There are countless ways and places that we can move the needle that don’t require violent demonstrations.
This past weekend, I watched the movie Hidden Figures, about the incredible black women behind the early successes of the space program. What an amazing movie on so many levels. What I found so inspiring—the huge impact all three of the women had on history and on their worlds, yet not a single one of them did it with violence or anger. Were they angry? Yes. But they were successful with grace, intellect, skill and patience, focusing on making a difference in their spheres of influence.
Turn off the news and social media.
Don’t bathe in annoying and painful situations. I have stopped listening to and watching the news because I find it so biased and inflammatory. (I am still reading The Wall Street Journal because I need to know the business and economic essentials.) And I have stopped looking to social media to fill unscheduled time—you know, those five minutes you have with nothing to do, so you “stalk” a few people and see what everyone in your social sphere is up to. Right now, so many people who used to post uplifting photos of family adventures and personal conquests are posting and reposting those same negative news clips that I’m trying to avoid—or worse yet, venting their anger with their own personal rants. No thank you.
This is an importance concept in Buddhism, the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step Program and many psychological practices. In order to accept something, you have to understand that what is…is. It is raining outside. You can be mad that your picnic plans had to be canceled, but there is absolutely nothing you can do to control the weather. There always will be things that happen in the greater world that are beyond your control. This weekend, one team will win the Super Bowl and the other team will lose. Half the viewers will be happy…half will be disappointed. And yes, whether you like it or not, we have a new president of these United States. Four years from now, we all get to vote again, just like we did four years ago.
Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up your views or your passions. It actually takes great strength to see what is and then use the resources that you have to change what you can change…ideally in a healthful way.
It has been nearly 10 days since I cut the news from my media diet, and guess what? The world is still revolving, but I am a happier, healthier me because of it. I will go onto social media briefly when this blog gets posted, and I hope it inspires you.
Change comes from constructive action. When you go to bed each night, know that you have touched lives and made a difference while preserving your own health and well-being.