Jonathan Crocker

Editorial Director | Journalist

What Happens When… I Lose My Temper?

Posted by Jonathan On April - 2 - 2009

angerhulkDefuse your rage when you hit the powder-keg to swap coronary for cool…

1. Threat warning

Maybe you spilt your coffee over your new shirt. Maybe you caught your girlfriend in bed with the plumber. (Again!) Either way, you’re about to go off like a stick of dynamite. “This is a ‘hot thought’, triggered by a threat to your safety or happiness. It’s this lights your fuse and starts a powerful mobilisation process to defend your body,” says psychologist Dr Liz Mitchell, from Harley Street, London. Your brain pumps out stress-hormone cortisol and action-juice adrenaline to get you ready to counter the threat – emotion or physical – and ensure your survival. Oh yes. That coffee cup is in big, big trouble.

2. Boiling blood

That cortisol and adrenaline surge sets your heart-rate pumping like a dynamo, blood racing round your body and sends your blood pressure into orbit. “You get literally ‘hot under the collar’: your blood is directed towards your muscles, particularly to your legs and your face, causing flushing,” says Dr Mitchell. Reason to worry? “Hostility correlates with heart attacks,” says Dr Mitchell. Stick some Mozart on your iPod to drag your blood pressure out of the red zone: a study at Oberwalliser Hospital in Switzerland found that your body syncs with the steady tempos and melodic harmonies in Mozart, lowering your heart rate and brainwaves. Drag Mozart: Symphonies 38-41 on to your iPod and chill. Studies involving Rage against the Machine were less successful.

3. Locked and loaded

GRRRR! As the blood surges into your muscles, your whole body locks into a state of action readiness to tackle the threat that’s fuelling your rage (yes, even if it’s the coffee cup). “Your stomach muscles and jaws muscles go rigid,” says psychologist Dr Michael Sinclair. “Which is why you find yourself clenching your jaw and grimacing when your anger boils over.” Ask you partner to give you an instant shoulder-massage. “The kneading and stroking movements relaxes tense muscles and improves circulation,” says Dr Mitchell.  Or, if you’re London-based, try Cucumba salons for an urban pitstop: you can grab a 10-minute massage (£12.50) and be back before your boss notices you’re missing. And some one’s smashed his favourite coffee cup.

4. Hot breath

With your heart hammering and your muscles locked on ‘do you fecking want some?’, your body starts struggling with this sudden pressure – you’ll now start sweating and your breathing becomes short and laboured. “You breath from your chest when your agitated, so try diaphragmatic breathing as a way to cool down your anger,” says Dr Sinclair. Put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Breathe in through your nose and slowly count to three in your head. As you breathe in, feel your stomach inflate with your hand. Slowly breathe out and count to six. Repeat twice. Maybe do some slo-mo kung-fu moves, too. Maybe not.

5. Mental meltdown

It’s not just your body that’s ready to rumble – you’re brain is now lost in the red mist, too. “When you lose your temper, you often can’t just walk away, because your brain isn’t working on that level,” explains Dr Sinclair. Extreme anger puts your nervous system into the red zone: you’re not thinking, you’re reacting. “You’ll blank on situations and you won’t think rationally as you brain is translating everything fast into order to protect you from threat,” says Dr Sinclair. “Counter this by consciously taking a moment to stop, step back mentally and very deliberately assess about the situation.” This buys you the time that stops you doing something silly. Like smashing the coffee cup. Or you the poor sod sitting next to you.

6. Go let it out

If your anger is boiling too hot to control, that sudden physical release may be unstoppable. It’s a very naturally response, after all – and one that allows your brain starts to return to rational functioning once you’ve let go of the anger. “Repressed anger is when you go home and kick the dog. We need to suppress it, socially, but we also need to release it, physically,” says Dr Mitchell. If you feel you’re about to blow, beat your body to the punch by channelling your rage-response with a jog around the block. “Exercise is our natural way to dealing with rage. By putting the stress hormones into use, you’re literally running off your temper,” says Dr Mitchell. Not to mention saving a fortune in crockery, too.

Publication: Men’s Health.

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About Me

Jonathan is a London-based journalist, critic and editor. He currently works for data visualisation agency Beyond Words.



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