Forgiving and letting go; tough to do but the benefits are many

Holding onto anger can keep you stuck in the past. Forgiveness can help you move forward to a better future.

Everyone feels anger at some time, and anger is often a byproduct of stress. Anger is a human emotion that we all experience from birth to death and in varying degrees. Even young children get angry! When children are angry or upset it is up to the adults in their lives to help them learn ways to control their anger and to express it in appropriate ways. But, it can be difficult to model something you’ve never been taught.

When we believe that someone has hurt or harmed us it is normal to want to fight back. Fighting back, whether with words or actions, is our body’s physiological response to stress and anger –our “fight or flight” reaction. During perceived threats the hypothalamus at the base of the brain sets off an alarm that begins a physiological reaction. During this reaction the body gets a surge of hormones that includes adrenaline and cortisol; increasing heart rate, raising blood pressure, and boosting the body’s energy supply. Our bodies are hard wired to handle stress and these physical reactions are normal. Our physiological reaction prepares us to deal quickly with the perceived danger that faces us. Your heart pumps extra blood to your muscles, your breathing speeds to move additional oxygen into your bloodstream, your muscles tense – ready for action, your senses are more acute and increased sweat cools you as you become lighter for a possible confrontation.

There is a down-side to the normal “fight or flight” reaction in that it often limits our ability to see another person’s point of view (empathy). Our attention span becomes limited and our body becomes tense. Our body’s stress response can cause us to make unhelpful decisions and often will inhibit us in dealing with the challenge at hand. Increased stress diminishes the immune system and the arteries around our heart become inflamed and strained. Physical symptoms of chronic anger and stress include fatigue, headaches, high blood pressure and even diabetes.

Work commitments, family responsibilities, an unstable economy and job and food insecurity can pile up on a daily basis and put us in a continual state of stress and anger. When we are chronically stressed or angry, dealing with day to day inconveniences and upsets, we remain in the “fight or flight” mode and the body does not have time to return to a relaxed state. If you do not learn ways to deal with chronic stress, your body will limit its ability to heal itself.

So what can you do?

Michigan State University Extension recommends some simple steps through the RELAX; Alternatives to Anger program that can help.

  • Recognize: Learn how to recognize your physical and emotional responses to stress.
  • Empathize: Try to put yourself in another’s situation or think through how others handle similar issues.
  • Listen: Listen to another’s point of view and listen to your body as it sends you stress signals.
  • Accept: Accept that sometimes the situation is NOT of your causing and that you cannot change it.
  • ‘X’: X out the past. Start over! Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, but can be a powerful tool for stress reduction.

Buddha probably said it best; “Holding onto your anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.” Stress and anger management skills can be learned and taught. Learning a few simple techniques can be the beginning of a more balanced, healthy, daily life where you can enjoy life’s challenges more prepared to thrive, teach and model anger management techniques to the children in your life.

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