I’m sure everyone has heard about how if you’re angry, you should punch a pillow to calm down right? And I’m sure a lot of you reading this have also heard that that’s actually a REALLY bad thing to do. It is. But that doesn’t mean boxing is a bad way to get out your aggression. It’s all about how you do it.
First of all, let’s get this out of the way; if you are having a verbal fight with someone, and you immediately follow that up with punching a pillow or a wall, or whatever inanimate object you decide to punch, you are being abusive to whoever you were fighting with. What this communicates to them is that when you’re angry, there’s a chance you could choose to punch THEM. It is an unspoken threat and it is incredibly cruel and emotionally manipulative. You’re showing them that you’re strong, and that you resort to violence when you’re pissed off. There’s no way to interpret that other than ‘I could be on the receiving end of that fist if I keep pissing this person off’. How they react to that is irrelevant, it still makes you an aggressive asshole.
But what if I only punched the *insert object here* because if I didn’t, I WOULD have punched the person?! A particularly out of control jackass might ask. Well, then perhaps you need counseling, not just the advice of some random dickhead on the internet. But mainly you should try and stop the fight and explain as calmly as possible that you cannot continue this argument until you’ve taken a few minutes to calm down. Take some deep breaths, maybe jog on the spot as fast as you can for 30 seconds (excessive physical exertion stops your brain from being able to focus on your thoughts and emotions, causing a disruption in your thought pattern allowing you to break out of it) anything BUT doing something aggressive. Bake a cake for all I care, just don’t indulge the aggressive impulse.
When you do follow up anger at a specific person with a physically aggressive action, you’re basically wiring your brain to commit acts of violence whenever you’re angry. It also raises your adrenaline levels which kicks in your fight or flight response and obviously you’re primed for fight, so it increases your aggression rather than decreasing it.
Okay, so I said at the start of this that there WAS a good way to use boxing to get out your anger, but so far all I’ve done is outline why it’s a terrible, terrible thing to do. So let’s move into the good stuff!
A good time to do this kind of thing is when you’re angry about something you can’t do anything about. Preferably some kind of perceived injustice rather than a specific person. You’re mad at the system, man! Like a company that won’t give you a promotion because you’re not in the smoking buddies group. Or you’re frustrated about how all the politicians are dickheads and there’s no one worth voting for. Something like that. You can do this if there’s a specific person you’re mad at, but it’s not preferable, and I’ll get to that again later. When you’re mad at something that doesn’t have a face, boxing while angry is less likely to create an association with wanting to punch PEOPLE out, and so you’re less likely to respond with violence when you’re fighting a person.
Tip two is to never do it immediately after a fight or long winded rant about what made you angry. See above for why not to do it after a fight, and when you’ve just ranted and your blood pressure is up, your adrenaline is spiking and you encounter similar issues. Take a few minutes and some deep breaths before going to the punching bag.
Third tip is don’t just punch once or twice and be done. Go to exhaustion. If you can still talk properly while you’re boxing, you are not working hard enough. I mentioned earlier than heavy physical exertion disrupts thoughts, that’s one of the two goals here. Rather than focusing on your anger while you’re doing this, you’re actually stopping it. You can’t focus on it anymore. The other thing this accomplishes is that once you hit exhaustion, the adrenaline is gone and the endorphin’s kick in. You don’t feel angry anymore because you stopped the thoughts and the flight or fight response, and your brain is rewarding you with pleasure chemicals. You’re also too tired to maintain any more aggression. If you can still stand up when you’re done, you didn’t go hard enough. If you can still breath normally, you didn’t go hard enough. If you take less than 5 minutes to fully recover, go again.
Lastly, DO NOT PRETEND WHAT YOU’RE HITTING IS A PERSON. It is a punching bag and nothing more! Unless it IS a person, in which case you’re a monster. Or you’re like me and you don’t have a punching bag, so you have your dad hold some kickboxing target pads… in which case, focus on the targets, not the person holding them. This is the same as I’ve said multiple times through this. The only healthy way to work through aggression this way is to not associate that aggression with hurting someone. Odds are good you’re looking to do this so you DON’T hurt someone, so don’t train your brain that hurting someone gives you satisfaction.
I’m sure some people might wonder what the benefit is if you don’t get to simulate punching someone you hate right in their smug jackass face. The benefit is all the same benefits of working out plus for people with strong anger, punching things is just extremely viscerally satisfying. Even when you’re not pretending it’s the person you hate most in the world, no matter how much they actually do deserve to be punched.