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Anger as a Toxin

A while back, I wrote about how you can change your health status by changing your diet and mood and effectively treat a chronic illness. Yet, most people are unaware their body is fighting a “low-grade” war.

It is well established that long lasting inflammation results from trauma, like cuts and scrapes, poor diet, and adverse environmental exposures. These are all physical agents that initiate the process of producing inflammation to deal with the perceived threats and signal repair of the underlying tissues. Intuitively, it is well recognized that most people can decrease inflammation by limiting exposure to physical trauma, poor diets, and environmental contaminants, thereby reducing risk of chronic illness. But what about the nonmaterial agents, like emotions, thoughts, feelings, and ideas? The things we conceive or conjure up to be true are not physical in nature.

We’ll start with harnessing the health-supportive benefits of forgiveness since it is key to letting go of anger – the sooner we start forgiving ourselves and others the better. It is my hope that by the end of this post you’ll understand the vital role forgiveness plays in the human experience.

Remove yourself from anger’s mad house.

As explained by Archbishop Desmond Tutu -- forgiveness is not about disregarding the offense you personally felt or experienced at the hand of another, but about freeing yourself from the grip of the anger that resulted from it. Hence, you free yourself from the rage and resentment swirling inside of you when you step away from these passionate emotions. Your mind is liberated, your spirit is risen, and your health returns to a dynamic balance.

I recognize this is easier said than done. Leaving the burning house of anger can seem like an impossible feat when you are challenged in ways you never thought you would be. Sometimes it feels better letting the house burn down to the ground.

What helps center me when I am angry is remembering The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. In his book, they are as follows: 

Be impeccable with your words.  To be impeccable means to be without sin, so being impeccable with your words means saying only what you actually mean. Saying only what you mean is essential for the three remaining agreements.
Don’t take anything personally.  When we accomplish this second agreement, we internalize that the words of others are just a reflection of their lives (and their lives only); that no matter what others say or do (positively or negatively), it’s not a reflection of you as a person—it’s of how they see the world.
Don’t make assumptions.  Assuming makes an a** out of you and me. We often assume we know what’s going on when we haven’t the slightest clue. Be brave to ask questions and strive for clarity.
Always do your best.  We are not perfect, and our best will change from moment to moment. If we are practicing any one of the agreements and fail, we have to forgive ourselves and try again without judgment.

Embracing these agreements was the first essential step for me to free myself from anger’s stronghold. 

Anger is toxic.

Whether we are constantly angry or holding grudges, they are known to hinder our quality of life. Rarely, however, are people’s underlying mental/emotional state assessed; negative emotions are certainly not in mainstream medicine’s list of health risk factors for various chronic conditions. Hopefully this will start to change given the ongoing mental health dialogues across the globe.

Doctors at the Mood Disorders Adult Consolation Clinic at Johns Hopkins have observed a direct correlation between the hurt and disappointment we hold on to and our overall state of wellness. It turns out that negative emotions like anger and resentment trigger our fight-or-flight response, setting forth changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and immune response. These adverse effects are exactly the same as when someone has been exposed to a toxic substance, such as arsenic or mercury.

What’s the antidote to this? Do you think it’s pharmaceutical or mental? Which one do you think is cheaper? Unlike anger and resentment, forgiveness reduces stress and anxiety and calms the nervous system down, all of which restore systematic balance to health. This leads me on to the next bit of advice ...

Remember:  Forgiveness is a practice; it may not be easy or fast.

Forgiving is a lost art form, which, unfortunately, is not taught in school. To forgive is something that has to be learned on one’s own time, usually years after struggling with disappointment, hurt, and unresolved pain. The journey in forgiving begins by first allowing yourself to fully feel your emotion, whatever that is for you. 

This may be the hardest part, which is why I recommend reaching out to a friend or coach who can help give you the time and space you need to move through these emotions. Over time, when you begin to feel more ready, you can flip your perspective:  imagine what it would feel like to be the person who hurt you. Stepping inside their reality, you can begin to uncover what brought them to the point of inflicting pain to you and others. By thinking in this way, you are not exonerating their actions, but you are simply attempting to connect to their experience as a human being. This may lead you to an understanding you had not appreciated before; it may lead you to empathy or even compassion. At this point, you may ultimately arrive at forgiveness. 

Again, forgiveness and letting go is a highly involved process, and a skill that evolves over time. Start planting those seeds today for a more forgiving tomorrow.

4. Forgive it all – including yourself.

As alluded to earlier, just as crucial as it is to forgive others, you must learn how to forgive yourself. We all make mistakes, big and small. Regardless of their magnitude or longevity, mistakes are the primary way we learn. Nobody’s perfect. 

“In life, we can’t always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.”

How many times have you given yourself that extra jab after messing up? The first arrow was and is enough. Avoid adding to your pain by aiming a second arrow at your heart. This is the second arrow, and we’re an easy target to hit. I would argue that as we learn to think this way, we all become skilled at hitting ourselves where it hurts.

Therefore, catch yourself before adding more pain and suffering by forgiving. As previously mentioned, you are learning a new response and this skill set takes time to acquire and perfect. In this way you can free up energy for things you can control. Forgive and let go. You can also always adjust your reaction, even if you can’t control what happens to you. But remember … Nothing others do is because of you—what others say and do is a projection of their own reality. 

 

5. Practicing letting go with a professional support team.

If forgiveness is not something that comes naturally to you and/or you don’t know where to start in this healing process, then I would consider taking a course or schedule recurring sessions with a life coach to learn the essentials. At SF Advanced Health, receiving LENS Biofeedback from Echo Neurotherapy can jumpstart the brain’s tendency to trigger a fight-or-flight stress response any time we feel angry or irritable. 

We all come with our own story and emotions, and we’re all on a continuum in our readiness to change. If you’re willing to go deep, consider the practice of Radical Honesty, a communication technique framed to promote authenticity, intimacy, and personal growth. It uses honesty — sharing your most authentic self — as the key to both intimacy and forgiveness.

 6. Lastly, sprinkle more forgiveness into your daily life.

When we operate in this way, it becomes easier to make conscious decisions to forgive others. Over time, we practice, commit to it, and get better at it. You may never forget what has transpired (and in some cases, you shouldn’t), nor do you need to reconcile, but you can choose to forgive the wrong and let it go. 

Forgive because you genuinely want to, not because you have to or because it’s ‘the right thing to do,’ or your religion tells you so. Even if you think it might salvage a teetering relationship, forgive because your heart is wanting to.

Don’t be subversive when forgiving, forgiving in order to elicit an apology from the other person. That’s not what true forgiveness is. Forgiveness is about letting go, but it’s also all about you – relieving yourself of hurt and anger, and making yourself feel good (not the other party)!

 

Dr. Bhandari and the Advanced Health Team Are Here to Support Your Health

Our expert team of integrative holistic practitioners work with patients suffering from chronic health concerns.  We help our patients reverse disease by better understanding how the body optimally functions and providing personalized treatment plans. To learn more and book an appointment, contact Advanced Health or call 1-415-506-9393.

Author
Payal Bhandari M.D. Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is one of U.S.'s top leading integrative functional medical physicians and the founder of San Francisco' top ranked medical center, SF Advanced Health. Her well-experienced holistic healthcare team collaborates together to deliver whole-person personalized care and combines the best in Western and Eastern medicine. By being an expert of cell function, Dr. Bhandari defines the root cause of illness and is able to subside any disease within weeks to months. She specializes in cancer prevention and reversal, digestive & autoimmune disorders. Dr. Bhandari received her Bachelor of Arts degree in biology in 1997 and Doctor of Medicine degree in 2001 from West Virginia University. She the completed her Family Medicine residency in 2004 from the University of Massachusetts and joined a family medicine practice in 2005 which was eventually nationally recognized as San Francisco’s 1st patient-centered medical home. To learn more, go to www.sfadvancedhealth.com.

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