Is your fuse shorter than usual lately? Spring of 2020 has been an exceptional time of uncertainty and social unrest, impacting everyone’s daily lives and challenging our emotional resilience. There is a lot of fear and aggression in the world right now, and many people are responding to the added stress with depression, anxiety and anger. In Western culture, we tend to see anger as a “bad” emotion—one to suppress and push down as much as possible. Yet anger is an instinctive part of our emotional response. Anger can be appropriate when in balance at the right time.
If you feel like you are struggling with an excessive amount of anger that is negatively impacting your life and your relationships with others, Five Element acupuncture may be able to help you restore balance and harmony to your overall emotional state.
Why Anger Management?
Peeved, frustrated, irritable, annoyed, furious, livid. The word “anger” covers a wide range of emotional responses, from brooding hostility to spectacular outbursts of rage. Needless to say, anger is an aggressive response that can have very destructive consequences – both for the giver and the receiver. Since we can’t lash out at every annoyance, we learn to redirect and control it through “anger management,” learned behavioral techniques and skills.
Yet, anger is also an instinctive survival response to danger. It is part of a cascade of physiological changes that come into play when the acute stress response (ASR), the body’s fight-or-flight mode, is triggered. Blood pressure goes up, heart rate increases, and we are briefly flooded with stress hormones that ready us to respond to perceived threat.
Anger may be triggered by external events, such as a conflict with loved ones, a traffic jam, or a broken computer. In a healthy ASR, it’s natural to go through a cycle of arousal in response to stress, followed by return to a calmer physiological state (rest-and-digest). But if someone is under continued stress, or has suffered traumatic stress in the past, the fight-or-flight response may go on for too long. Or, it may be triggered too easily or at the wrong time. Constantly fueling the ASR when it is not needed hijacks the body’s resources away from basic metabolism – digestion, heart and brain function – and can contribute to chronic health problems.
Anger can be hard to manage because it is in your body, not just in your head. Counseling for anger management focuses on learning to recognize signs of anger and developing a set of behavioral skills to control it. While counseling can definitely be helpful, it is often not enough. Body-mind therapies and techniques, including Five Element acupuncture, can help address the underlying sources of anger that are rooted in the body.
Anger and the Wood Element: Breaking the Barriers of Injustice
Five Element acupuncture views emotions and the body holistically, rooted in instinct and in natural cycles. A balanced body and mind moves freely through appropriate emotional states, including anger. In the West, people tend to view anger negatively, and we overlook the appropriate and constructive aspects of the energy that fuels anger.
Consider anger as the force that breaks through obstacles. In Five Element theory, anger is the emotional aspect of the Wood Element. Wood is associated with the season of Spring, and the bursting forth of new life. Just as new plants push themselves through the soil with a burst of energy, or the newborn pushes out of the birth canal, we need the ability to propel forward and break through barriers.
Anger, suppressed or expressed, is an appropriate emotional response to injustice and oppression. In fact, the Chinese ideogram that we translate as “anger” depicts the heart of a female slave under the hand of the master – the lowest member of the social hierarchy. She is justly angry, though unlikely to be able to express open hostility. The Wood Element embraces benevolent concern for justice, anger against injustice, and the ability to take action.
Five Element Acupuncture recognizes that, like other emotions, anger can become imbalanced. It may spin out of control in excess, hijacking a person’s ability to think clearly and leading to poor decisions. Or, it may be lacking when needed, leading to apathy, resignation and hopelessness. A series of healing acupuncture sessions can help restore balance to body, mind and spirit, allowing us to act purposefully in the world.
The Undesirable Physical Effects of Excessive Anger
Like Chinese Five Element Acupuncture, Western medicine recognizes that too much intense and sustained anger can lead to a range of health issues over time. According to a 2013 review of literature discussing the link between anger and cardiovascular health, “chronic feelings of anger, cynical distrust and antagonistic behavior are at least modestly associated with risk of both initiation and progression of cardiovascular diseases.” This same review found that anger is also linked to reduced heart rate variability, exaggerated autonomic function, and inflammation. Sustained anger over time can elevate your cortisol levels and cause your neurons to accept an excessive amount of calcium, which can lead cells to fire too often and die. Elevated cortisol levels can lead to a decrease in serotonin, which can contribute to depression. Other negative effects of excessive anger include decreased thyroid function, a drop in metabolism, more migraines and headaches, lower bone density, and more.
How Acupuncture Can Help
Although research on how acupuncture treatments specifically address anger in the body remains sparse, it has shown promise in treating related emotional disorders, including PTSD, anxiety and depression. Acupuncture modulates the body’s regulatory system, the neuro-endocrine-immune network, including pathways that regulate the acute stress response.
As acupuncture aims to restore balance to your body, mind, and spirit through a series of customized sessions, discussing your goals with your acupuncturist will enable you both to create a specific treatment plan to address these issues. Five Element Acupuncture can help nourish the Wood Element and restore balance to your emotional core.