Is your anger a Volcano or a Balloon?

I took up kickboxing the week or two before Lockdown March 2020.  It would prove to be an effective method for caring for myself on several levels.  It released my frustration, my mental fatigue, and allowed me to kick the crap out of something without impunity, without hurting someone, and spared my husband my opinionated rants.  In the process, my body got stronger, my mind and emotions were healthier, and my marriage was able to grow during the Pandemic.

But first, I’ll just say it: I hate Daylight Savings Time in March.  That loss of one seemingly insignificant hour messes me up for about a week.  Maybe wrapped in there is also some resentment that “someone” is stealing a precious hour of sleep from me.  And oh, I love me my sleep.

It all began when I came home from work the Tuesday after said resented Time Change, exhausted from a raging headache which was highly unusual for me.  More about that in a moment. Layer onto that, I perceived the world around us beginning to descend into a dark valley of fearfulness of the unknown regarding the virus.  And then it happened.  Dear ones called after dinner, to wisely cancel our out-of-state visit with them.  It was the last straw.  A curtain of alarm and fear was descending all over our world and I had no idea how long this would last.  I didn’t want to give in, and wondered “Could it really be this bad?”


Erupting volcano or deflating balloon?

It is so intriguing to me how uninvited circumstances and obstacles reveal character.  For me, it depends, but, out of the gate?  I can bristle.  Maybe pull back.  If pushed, I may get angry.  In my childhood, unbidden and excessive energy from out of nowhere suddenly erupted from deep and hidden chambers like Mt Vesuvius.  When this first began, and my parents were unsuccessful in their wise attempts at helping me, I learned vigorous physical activity like punching a pillow released the energy.  It transformed the volcano into a harmless balloon that could easily be deflated.

So successful was this anger management technique, that years and decades later, the volcano seemed to go dormant.  Or perhaps I had become adept at transforming the volcano into a balloon.  With the Age of COVID, I was to learn the lesson that we can never relax from our old inner struggles.  Triggers come re-packaged.  Mine certainly did.


Re-visiting the volcano

Getting off the phone on that Tuesday in March, I proceeded to stomp around the living room and kitchen, voicing my displeasure and frustration.  I.  Was.  Mad.  Disappointed.  Frustrated.  Saddened.

A little perplexed at my behavior, my husband John asked, “Why are you not just rolling with it?  What’s going on with you?”

He was right.  He knew I had so looked forward to this visit, but there was indeed more brewing in me.  I shared what else was swirling around within me, things I hadn’t shared.

For one, 48 hours prior, the faucet in the public bathroom adjacent to my office suite had flooded not only my suite but all 5 floors beneath me.  When I entered my office Monday morning, two days after the annoying Time Change, the carpets had been torn up, and industrial size fans were blowing, roaring like airplane engines.  Okay, maybe I exaggerate.  But my relaxing environment was replaced with noise and a stench that made an EMT patient quip, “What’s with the decaying body smell? Did someone die?”  I learned that the padding in this 90-year-old building was made of horsehair, and that was the smell.  And it gave me that rare headache.

Try treating patients with a dead body “aroma” accompanied by the sound of airplanes taking off.  It would be a blessing that Shelter In Place was right around the corner.  In the meantime, over the week, I learned that diffusing essential oils could counteract the problem.


Deflating the balloon

After I explained the situation at work to John, I paused.  The old memory of Punching the Pillow Therapy floated to the surface.  I fished it out, not having thought of it in years.  Apologizing for my childish behavior, I said, “Excuse me.  I know just what I need to do.”  After 5 or 10 minutes of punching pillows in our bedroom, I was visibly relieved and calmed.  The volcanic activity subsided.

John was impressed with the effectiveness of the Punching Therapy.  And that’s when he joked “Do you need a punching bag?”   I laughed and brushed off the suggestion.  But the next day he sidled up to me with his iPad.  “This kickboxing bag gets good reviews.  What do you think?”

“Kickboxing?” I had taken a class years ago and loved it.  Especially the roundhouse kick.  “Really?”  I turned the thought over in my head, thinking about how uncertain in length this Lockdown was going to be and the curve balls that would be thrown our way.  I’d need to blow off steam.

“Heck, yeah!!!” I exclaimed, then added, “I’ll need some boxing gloves of course.”

“Already on it. How ‘bout these?”  he showed me pink gloves.  I burst into laughter.  Beautiful!!

And so, within a week I had me a kickboxing bag and gloves.  I filled the base initially with several bags of sand.  I watched YouTube videos and taught myself how to box, adding my physical therapy understanding of the mechanics of the body.  And pretty much every Friday morning, since then, you can find me downstairs kickboxing from 30-60 minutes.  As I’ve become stronger, I’ve had to fill it with more sand.  And also had to get Big Girl boxing gloves.  And yes, they are still pink.

John has enjoyed watching and hearing the differences in my kicks and punches.  “Initially, I could barely hear the sounds of little punches and tentative kicks.  Not anymore.  I feel safe walking down a dark alley with you,”  he added playfully.

Relentless jabs, hooks, punches, and kicks have helped me keep off the COVID weight, as well as release the irritations and annoyances, and challenges of the past year and a half.  But the entire experience made me re-visit anger’s purpose.


Why anger?

Irritation, annoyances, frustrations all fall under anger, which is one of those emotions that we deem bad and unhealthy.  This is an incorrect generalization.  Certainly, it can lead to negative and even harmful outcomes, but if anger is unrecognized or ignored, it will be destructive.  Anger is clearly a message designed to get us moving.  But to where?  And for what purpose?

Like fear, anger begins in the amygdala in our brains and is best modulated by our pre-frontal cortex.  The amygdala screams “Fire!”  That message rushes to the hypothalamus, which releases the cascade of chemicals of fight or flight”, especially cortisol.  It is the rational prefrontal cortex that takes things in hand and responds  “Wait! Where is the fire? Oh, on the stove.  Get something to smother it!  Quick! Get the baking soda!”  If not for the amygdala and the hypothalamus, the house might burn down.  But it is the pre-frontal cortex that has the presence of mind to tackle the situation appropriately and douse the destructive flames effectively.

Irritations and annoyances are normal and daily.  They are meant to point to issues that require our attention.  The key is paying attention.  Why am I bothered?  What is at issue here?

If we don’t pay attention, our bodies will pay for it.  Unattended anger that is repressed or ignored, allows cortisol to spill unrestrained into our bodies.  Cortisol increases blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugars, muscle tension, and makes our breathing quick and shallow.  Chronically, this causes reduced oxygenation of our tissues, and with it, fascial restriction and generalized body pain.  And there you have it.  An angry body inside of an angry person. It is a volcano waiting to create devastation.

Physical activity releases and burns off the cortisol, and calms the amygdala, allowing the prefrontal cortex’s voice to be heard.  It releases endorphins, which lower our blood pressure, calming us.  Physical activity is wonderful for releasing the energy of anger.  And then we can do the hard work of looking at what our anger was pointing to,  “Hey, look at this would you?”

For me, I have had to look at why am I having difficulty with having to wait when I’d rather be doing something, or having to abide by measures I may not agree with; or am sensing some incongruities we are not talking about.  I have to keep asking myself questions like What is at issue here?  My ego?  It’s not being done the way I think it should be done?  What is the appropriate thing to do?  Or do I need to work on humility?  The last one is usually very much at issue.

And with those thoughts and questions, I breathe, and pray, and recognize that asking questions and discussing them is good.  I don’t have to stomp around; I have learned I can wrestle the mental part to the ground if I release the heat through physically appropriate measures.  And that is why kickboxing is great for me. Every Friday.  And sometimes more.

What physical activity helps you cope better with life and those around you?


A peek at my boxing:)