Punching Out Your Anger

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.

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Q&A: Willpower

What is the strongest willpower you’ve ever displayed?

As I’ve said many times, I had anger issues most of my life, and I also managed to keep from telling people to shove their opinions up their asses all the time.  So the strongest willpower I’ve ever displayed is the fact that I’m not in jail for assault or harassment despite that for a good ten years I wanted nothing more than to be able to punch most people I had to deal with right in the goddamn throat.

Cheery one today!  To counter that imagery I will debase myself by pointing out that if you put food in front of me that I really want to eat, any attempts I make to not eat it tend to look like that of a small child desperately waiting for mommy and daddy to look the other way so they can sneak a cookie.  I would have been one of those kids that technically passed the marshmallow test, but still stuck it in my mouth and then just spat it back out so I could eat it without technically eating it.

Check out The Llama’s answer and give your own in the comments.  Do you have strong willpower?  Or do you have impulse control problems?

Lack of Focus

Last week I talked about how my anger had affected me in the past.  I have also talked about how that doesn’t really affect me anymore.  I still get mad, but only when there’s something to be unquestionably mad about, like when I learn about someone getting away with abusing their own child.  And I’ve talked about how after I got rid of the anger, I gained a problem with severe fatigue.  Well, I’ve mostly dealt with that, but now I have a new problem, because god forbid I cure one problem without gaining a new one to replace it.

The new problem, as I’m sure you’ve guessed thanks to the title, is that I struggle with focus.  Things that I used to have no problem focusing on for hours on end, I can focus on for about 5 minutes before getting distracted.  And this isn’t just work things, this is trouble reading books, trouble watching TV shows, trouble focusing on games that I used to start playing and then not stop until I realized I hadn’t slept in two days… My level of focus is basically that of an over stimulated toddler.

Obviously this is incredibly problematic.  It makes it nearly impossible to get anything done.  It makes it difficult to even TRY to get things done.  I have to force myself to do just about everything, including microwaving left over pizza so I can get something to eat.  I’m pretty sure I was more productive when I was sleeping 18 hours a day.

So, what am I trying to do about this?  Well, I have three different ‘to do’ lists that I keep posted around my apartment, I have multiple alarms set on my phone to remind me to do things as simple as taking the pills I need to fight the fatigue, I’ve tried denying myself things I want until I get things done, I’ve tried promising myself rewards for success and punishments for failing, I’ve tried meditation, I’ve tried omega 3’s which are supposed to be good for focus, and lately I have been trying the ‘pomodoro method’ of getting shit done.  Which is basically just setting a time frame that you shut off everything but what you need to get something done for 10 minutes then an alarm goes off and tells you to switch to take a break for 5 minutes.  So far this has been the most successful thing I’ve tried.

So far this is the most obnoxious result of my battle with depression.  Even writing this post has been way more difficult than it has any right to be.  My apartment is messier than it normally would be, I’ve been late paying bills because I get distracted and forget, even when I write myself lists I get distracted in the store and forget I have a list telling me what I need to get and so forget things I needed… It’s frankly massively frustrating.  It took me almost a week just to pick up the omega 3 pills and I had that in my phone in three different places and had reminders all over my apartment.  I would have just ordered them online but I kept telling myself ‘no, I’ll remember it today!’  And then promptly forget the second I got to the store.

I had been doing better at focusing when I was exercising every day, but frankly I have been getting distracted from doing that lately too!  Not quite sure what changed, it’s not a lack of motivation, I still enjoy working out, I still enjoy writing, I still enjoy making things, I just keep getting distracted and then forget to get back to what I was doing…  Which is why the pomodoro method has  been working so well for me I think.  There’s a bunch of free apps that set off a series of alarms telling you ‘it’s time to work’, ‘it’s time for a break’, ‘okay, stop being distracted and get back to work.’  It gets you in a rhythm.  Or at least it has been me anyway.

Have any of you had to deal with this? Any suggestions that aren’t ADHD meds?  I’m still very much struggling with this one so if you’ve been there and gotten through it, any suggestions would be fantastic.

Anger

I’m going to talk a little about how my anger affected my daily life.  I’ve expressed before that I had fairly good control over it, never physically lashing out at anyone, managing to bite my tongue most of the time people pissed me off, so unlike a lot of people with anger problems, I wasn’t going around harassing people or making enemies.  But it did affect me a lot despite that.

One, it made me never talk to people.  I hated everyone, why the hell would I ever go out of my way to talk to people?  I mean, come on.  So I don’t have a lot of friends, and now I have no goddamn clue how to make new ones because I never figured out how the hell to talk to people and have to learn a new skill.  It’s not gone well so far.  But the amount I moved around, combined with a desire to punch most people in the face, I never had a chance to meet a lot of people or make a lot of friends.  I have a few close friends, and some people I got along with enough to add to Facebook.  I rarely ever leave my apartment outside work and grocery shopping.

Two, I hated myself.  Every time I would get angry I would hate myself a little more.  What right did I have to look down on them so much?  What did I have to be so angry about when so many people had so much worse lives than I’ll ever have?  What the hell was wrong with me that I couldn’t control my emotions?  Why was I letting such menial shit get to me?  Why couldn’t I stop being so goddamn angry?  What the fuck was wrong with me?  What right did I have to get mad at these people’s actions, I’d done bad things too, sometimes even similar things!  What right did I have to get mad at these situations that I wasn’t a part of?  Why was I letting things that shouldn’t affect me, affect me?

Three, it affected my health.  Did you know that being angry is linked to high blood pressure, heart attacks, headaches, stomach ulcers, stress related illnesses… I’ll bet you did.  I was not immune.  Sometimes I would get so angry my temperature would go up so high I could go sit out in a Canadian winter in the snow without a jacket and still be boiling hot.  And that is NOT good for the body.  I had stomach pains, digestion issues, headaches, knots in my muscles… My everything hurt more often than not.  And I’m immune to painkillers, so I just got to hurt, all the time.  Sometimes to the point of throwing up.  Life was fun.

Four, when I did fight with people, shit got LOUD.  And I hold a grudge.  There are people who crossed a line with me well over a decade ago that I still won’t forgive.  And I was scary.  There were people I had never even been angry with who were absolutely terrified of me.  The ones I did hate, some of them were genuinely afraid I would kill them in their sleep.  And I don’t mean jokingly, I mean they were afraid to come anywhere near me.  Again, neeever actually intentionally hurt anyone.  Not once.  But my anger was so visceral that I didn’t have to.  People did not fuck with me.  Which I will admit in some cases was actually a good thing… But in others it was fucking obnoxious.  Especially the people I had no problem with who were afraid to even let me show them something because they were certain I was going to hurt them.  It’s hard to realize that people you care about are afraid of you.  People who knew me well knew better than to find me scary, but the ones that didn’t, friends of friends, or people I just hadn’t known long enough yet, who were great people and I wanted to try and get along with, were legitimately afraid of me.  They’d at some point seen or heard about me finally hitting the end of my rope with someone and ripping them a metaphorical new one and assumed I was a vicious jackass.  And they had every right to.  I couldn’t hold it against them.  Why wouldn’t they be scared of me?  I was a jackass.

Five, my already bad relationship with my parents broke.  By the time I graduated high school, my parents and I weren’t really on speaking terms.  We didn’t even really tolerate each others existences.  Whenever we would see each other, there would be a shouting match.  No matter what was going on, whether we’d actually pissed each other off or not, we could not just talk to each other.  Even if I’d done well in school and was showing off an A on a test, it would after only about 2 sentences progress into shouting insults.  We could not co-exist.  And I wasn’t on speaking terms with my sister at that point either, though that wasn’t fighting, that was just pretending we didn’t exist to each other.  So after high school there was about a 2 year stretch where my parents and I only talked on holidays.  To be completely honest part of me still wishes that was the case because they never did acknowledge their part in the strife between us but they’re pretty damn quick to point out mine.  But that’s not really the point.  I had, in my mind, no family, almost no friends, and life sucked on just about every conceivable level.

I had no money, the only jobs I could get were part time temp work.  I had no support system, financial or emotional, I didn’t even have a functioning computer.  Couldn’t afford one.  I was living on kraft dinner and koolaid because it was all I could afford and I was just getting increasingly isolated and angry.  I didn’t have anything.  At that point even though Llama and I were already friends, we were more tangentially friends.  She was a friend of a friend of mine and we’d started talking from time to time.  So I had bills I couldn’t pay, pretty much no friends because the ‘friend’ that Llama and I had gotten to be friends through was the only ‘friend’ I had in the city I was living in and he was my roommate and a bigger jackass than I was with even worse anger problems.  I had nothing in my life worth living for.  Just a bundle of shot nerves, a massive chip on my shoulder, and a bunch of burned bridges.

And of course all of this just served to make me even angrier.  100% of the time I could feel the frustration and anger in my chest.  Sometimes it was physically painful.  Even when things were going well or something good was happening in that moment I would still feel the frustration and rage.  At it’s worst it would only take one tiny little thing to make me snap into full blown visceral rage.  Being angry all the time sucks.  I knew what I was doing, I wanted to stop.  I wanted so much to stop.  But in my head the world was just such a terrible, unfair, miserable place.  There was so MUCH to be angry about, that I couldn’t pull myself out of it for even a few minutes.  I was trapped in a pit and I didn’t know how the hell to get out.  I didn’t think it was even possible to.

Diet

This was not the first change I made to improve my life, but it has been the most important, so I want to talk about it.

I am not fat. I have never been fat. I have been bigger than I should be, but the worst I’ve been is a little bit overweight, so when I say ‘diet’, I do not mean ‘I went on a crash diet and lost a bunch of weight and gained self-confidence!’ No, when I say ‘diet’, I mean improving what you put in your body, not controlling how much. Though obviously I do recommend proper portion sizes for anyone with eating disorders of any kind.

I mentioned in my longwinded backstory that I’ve had some health issues. I didn’t really get into them, and I’m still not going to, but they were incredibly painful, and being immune to painkillers, I basically just had/have (some of them still crop up from time to time) to live with that pain. A lot.

I dealt with one of the bigger issues with a necessary surgery that has drastically improved my overall quality of life and likely extended my life significantly…especially since if I hadn’t gotten it dealt with, it was probably going to kill me. It had already nearly killed me once, and there was every expectation that it would try again.

That solved that issue (though it did cause a new one, but one that is significantly easier to deal with), but it certainly hasn’t put a stop to my health issues altogether. Turns out when you’re angry all the time, your body gets used to being in constant fight or flight mode, and once that’s gone, your energy levels plummet. Who knew? I was no longer living on adrenaline; I had to actually fuel myself through food like normal people! God forbid. This…proved difficult. I also mentioned in that longwinded backstory that my parents weren’t around to provide food a lot when I was young, and that even when they were, I started making my own food choices as a toddler. Because toddlers obviously make the healthiest food choices, I basically grew up on junk food, to an even more extreme level than most kids, so when I got older, that buzz that most people get from sugar or caffeine had pretty much no effect on me at all.

So the high adrenaline was gone, the sugar rush wasn’t an option, coffee was disgusting and didn’t work anyway, same thing with those horrible energy drinks; what could I do? Sleep pretty much constantly; that’s what I did. If I wasn’t at work, I was sleeping. For the record, that’s why I kept disappearing from updating this blog; I wasn’t able to muster up enough rage at the books to get that burst of energy/motivation, I had no free time at work to work on updates, and when I wasn’t at work, I was so tired I couldn’t even stay awake long enough to watch a tv show, let alone do anything that required actual thought.

This went on for a while. I found a few things that helped, but they mostly just made it so I could do things that needed to be done without having to fight the urge to pass out. On a bad day (when I wasn’t working), I could easily sleep for 18 hours and still feel absolutely exhausted for the six I would force myself to stay awake through. This was a pretty drastic change from before I’d moved, when I slept four hours a night at best. I didn’t want to have to undo the emotional progress I’d made to get my energy levels back, but there were a couple of points when I genuinely considered it.

But then help found me. Llama and her boyfriend both suffer from terrible highway hypnosis (basically where getting behind the wheel causes you to fall asleep, even if you weren’t tired before getting in the car), and her boyfriend found that B vitamins helped with that. I started tracking what I was eating and noticed that, what do you know, I eat pretty much nothing with B vitamins in it. So I started taking them (specifically B12 and B100, in case you’re curious), and it helped. I wasn’t constantly exhausted.

But I wasn’t done there. I decided I wanted to get healthier. I wanted to physically feel better, not just not exhausted all the time. I was still oversleeping, just not nearly as much, and I wanted to actually feel normal, so I decided to make some drastic (for me) changes. One of those changes was dropping pop from my diet almost entirely, to help reduce my sugar intake to healthy levels.

I replaced the pop with green tea. I want to make it very clear: I hate green tea. It was disgusting and I didn’t want to drink it, but I knew how good for you it was, and dammit, I wanted to be healthier, so I fucking drank that disgusting tea. I tried adding things to it like lemon and honey to make it more palatable, but the best I ever managed to get with it was ‘drinkable without immediately following it up with something else to get rid of the taste’. But it did help me cut out the pop, and tea in general really is good for you. I noticed a difference pretty quickly. The b vitamins helped me sleep less, the tea seemed to help me actually have the energy to do more than just things I had to do.

(For the record, for people who are like me who want to make a change but hate green tea, oolong and white tea have similar health benefits and taste better, to me at least. Still not great, but much easier to get down. Particularly cold. For people who actually like green tea, I wish I could be you…)

So here I am, a few months after making those changes, and not only do I (usually) sleep more normal amounts of hours, but I have the energy to exercise, and think properly again. When you’re exhausted all the time, your mental faculties just go right to hell, and I did not at all appreciate just being able to think about things nearly as much as I should have. I don’t take in nearly as much sugar as I used to (another positive thing about tea is it decreases your desire for sugar, making it easier to cut back), I am healthier, and while in general I don’t restrict myself from eating what I want, I am more conscious about what I’m eating and what I actually need.

It’s amazing how much of a difference getting what you need makes. It has a huge effect on your mood. When you don’t have what you need, you feel tired, have a harder time focusing (which gets frustrating), and sometimes experience minor health issues like getting sick easier, which causes more problems. It can even contribute to overeating, because if you’re missing something important, your body knows it, and it keeps trying to get what it’s missing, which is why a lot of the time, if you have a craving that just will not go away, you should probably take a look at what you’re actually getting from your food and determine if there’s something missing.

I definitely recommend taking a few days and tracking what you eat on an app/website like myfitnesspal.com, or just writing it down if you have the discipline to actually note all that information (which I don’t). After a couple of days, take a look at the nutrition information and see what your vitamin intake looks like on average. Just improving your food doesn’t help everyone, but for some people, a large part of emotional issues that don’t directly stem from circumstances is at least partly due to poor nutrition, so just taking a multivitamin or making even some small changes to your diet can genuinely help some people. Even if it only helps a little bit, that little bit better you feel can make the difference between being able to make other changes and not. That little bit of extra energy, that little bit of extra focus, just feeling a little bit less crappy first thing in the morning, can give you that little boost you need to work on something else that could make an even bigger difference in your life. And obviously it’s not just your emotional health that’s important when looking at your diet; being physically healthy is really important for all kinds of reasons, and often looking at what you eat is the first step to improving overall health for most people. Especially in this day and age, when a lot of what we eat comes from a box, and probably doesn’t exactly add up to a balanced diet.

For the record, I still WAY overdo it with salt. You can take my salt when I’m dead! Pretty much the only thing I specifically limit is my sugar intake, actually. I try to make healthier choices, but I still eat potato chips and pizza and such. I just try to make things myself if I can, cut out pop almost entirely, often going days without any (and I want to stress that I have been an addict my entire adult life and a large portion of my childhood and teens, and actually experienced withdrawal symptoms when I would try to cut it out in the past, so if I can do it, so can you), take vitamins, try to eat more fruits and veggies, drink more water (another thing you really don’t understand the importance of until you do it for a while and feel the difference), and eat fewer cookies. Overall, pretty minor changes, considering the size of the effect they’ve had.

New segment

I have spent most of my life battling with depression and anger issues. The first time I contemplated suicide was around age eight; the first time I suffered from self-esteem issues was sometime around the age of three or four…and from the age of twelve through to 26/27, I almost constantly felt either angry or depressed, and very little else. I’ve spent the last two years very diligently attempting to fix this, and in a lot of ways, I have succeeded. It has taken a massive amount of work, it has been incredibly difficult, and I still have a hard time overcoming some things, but for the most part, I am in a much better place that so far seems to be sustainable.

So for that reason, I have decided to actually talk about what it is that I’ve done. I’ve talked about some of my issues here before, and the current step I’m on in dealing with this is getting back into things I enjoy, so this seems like a good way to get back into the habit of writing, as that is definitely something I really enjoy. It’s easy for me to write about this subject, so it’s something I can get myself to write about on a regular basis, and if anyone actually gets any advice out of this that helps them at all, then fantastic! I know how much it sucks to be consumed by negative feelings, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, so if I can help someone else improve their life even a little bit, then I’ll be incredibly happy.

So, I guess, welcome to the new segment. I’ll still talk about books, and still post some of my fiction writings here too, but for at least the short term, this is going to be the main focus. And I’ve got a backlog already written, so I won’t just disappear again…hopefully. At least I’m not writing strictly about things that make me want to stab my eyes out, so it should be a lot less tempting to just say ‘fuck it’ and stop. Though I may actually finish the Twilight reviews someday. Maybe. Though it definitely won’t be twice a week posts.