Dear Laura:

I consider myself a pretty together person when it comes to working out and eating healthy food. Yet for some reason, my moods are not the best. I find I get angry easily and react when others tick me off. For example, when I am driving I get really impatient and end up being really stressed and agitated when I get to work. I feel better after I work out, but I don’t hit the gym until after work. Any ideas?

David S., Rochester, N.Y.

Dear David:

Gosh, you’re not perfect? David, it is unfortunate that so many of us have the same problem. I really feel a big part of our journey through life has to do with conquering those lower emotions and staying in a “higher” state of being. It’s super that you realize it’ s not healthy to “go there”. To be truly healthy as a “whole”, you do need to conquer those negative feelings. Read on for some motivation to kick the anger habit.
Here’s a bit of background on how negative and positive emotions have an impact upon you… body, mind, and more! Warning: This information may change your mind next time you get yourself worked up when someone cuts you off while driving to work!
Negative emotions are correlated to illness such as heart disease and suppressed immune systems. Positive emotions such as joy, happiness, and love are typically correlated to being in a more relaxed and in turn, a healthy state. It’s amazing how research indicates our negative emotions are rooted in the survival of our primitive ancestors. As a matter of fact, researchers acknowledge negative emotions directly lead to specific actions, depending upon what we are feeling. And, honestly, as humans, if we acted on the urge to “run” every time we felt fear, which originally was intended to help us to survive, what a strange, disconnected and sad existence we would have indeed. But we might be healthier!

Here’s why:

Experiencing a negative emotion gives a specific directive to your body to react. Originally, these emotions served a very specific purpose: so you would have a good chance of NOT dying. As I indicated previously, fear will cause us to want to run. Your brain says, “okay, I am feeling fear, get the body ready to run”. And it will cause all sorts of biochemical reactions, getting your body ready to run like hades. If you cannot run, your stress hormone, cortisol, is “hanging out” which, as you should know by now, will cause more calories to be stored as fat and blood sugar rises to prepare your body to have for quick energy for running. Since you won’t be running nor will you be starving anytime soon, more fat stores and higher insulin levels serve zero purpose. Anger will prepare the body to fight. Think about it. Heart rate and blood pressure increase and you actually get “hot-headed”. What do you do with all that anger now? Instead of pummeling or killing your enemy as your anger fueled you to protect yourself, it seethes inside of you. Heart disease and anger go hand in hand. Dean Ornish, M.D. was a pioneer in the field of treating heart disease not only with an aggressively healthy diet but also with stress reduction techniques.
Disgust, another negative emotion, causes us to want to “expel” or “repel” something. The list goes on and on. Negative emotions are very action-oriented, narrowly speaking and for we modern-day humans can ironically lead to illness and early death.

Do positive emotions have the same relationship with action? Not really. But they do cause a change in the way we think, which ultimately may have a beneficial effect upon our lives, not only in the moment but in the long run. In a recent article, I read on cultivating positive emotions. according to the author, feeling joy creates the urge to play. Playing expands our social network, helps us to learn new skills (think of children and play and how it expands their skill sets), pushes us to explore, invent, and more. Feeling joyful can distract us from our negative emotions and hence, if we try to stay in that joyful state, can change the way we react to specific circumstances that may typically cause you to go to a more primitive negative emotional state. Interest is another state of mind expansion. The author notes “Although interest may or may not be accompanied by overt physical action, it is nonetheless associated with feeling animated and enlivened”. Happiness or contentment takes us to a state of expansion that impacts how we view ourselves as related to the world and creating a feeling of “oneness” with others.

The point is David, being mindful that being angry in your car doesn’t really serve any true purpose… unless you intend upon becoming a “Road Rage” King so you can continue to enjoy your addiction to feeling angry.
My recommendation is to do things to help you feel positive emotions. My trick, if I am feeling down, is to blast music I love in my car, that I relate to a specific joyful experience. That makes me smile. Or I listen to enlightening podcasts. Or even comedians, causing me to laugh. Tell me, if you are laughing and in a stage of pure joy, if someone cuts you off, is it going to matter as much? What do you think? Give it a try. Stay positive if you can and stash that anger unless you really need it!