Heal Your Angry Brain: Part 5 of 5

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

Move it! Move it!

One major cause of irritability is inactivity. The average American spends more than 4 hours a day watching television, or 28 hours per week. If you keep this up until you’re 65 years old, you will have spent 9 years watching television. Experts calculate that it takes 10 years or about 10,000 hours of effort to master a complex skill, like playing piano. Imagine the skills you could develop over a lifetime; oil painting, wood working, pastry baking, martial arts; if you spent 9 years doing that instead of staring at a box.
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Get Happy and Rich

Researchers calculate that anger and depression increase and incomes decrease the more television you watch. Television content creators find ingenious ways to keep you fascinated and stimulated.  It takes some serious will power to resist the seduction.  In fact, researchers have found that the average person spends three to four hours a day resisting desires.  That’s a lot of time exercising will power. Researcher, Dr. Roy F. Baumeister, found that the more decisions we have to make the more we deplete our ability to exercise will power. If you’ve been holding your tongue dealing with an angry boss all day, you’re more likely to lash out at your spouse when you get home.

Stop Making Decisions

A good way to keep a ready reserve of self control is to remove the decision making aspect of your goals. For example, if you’ve made a new year’s resolution to exercise more, you might find yourself struggling daily with several decisions. When should you exercise? What will you wear? Are you exercising with a friend? What time will you exercise? What type of exercise will you do? All of these decisions deplete your will power and make you less able to control your temper or practice self-discipline.

Every Sunday, look at your calendar and assign yourself days, times and exercise routines for the whole week.  Pack your gym bag with exercise clothes and have it ready to grab in the morning. Then each day do what you marked on the calendar. No decision to make. Just do it. If you do some aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week, you will increase your self-control reserves, improve your mood and decrease your irritability.

Anger Masks Depression and Anxiety

Moodiness, irritability and anger often mask underlying anxiety and depression. When you feel inner conflicts or frustrations with yourself and others, it often leaks out in anger outbursts that can damage relationships. Researchers found that symptoms of anxiety and depression, (the frequent underlying cause of problem anger), decrease with moderate exercise.

The Miracle Cure in Your Brain

Exercise regulates all of the neurotransmitters in the brain targeted by antidepressants. It wakes up the brain, increasing norepinephrine, which improves energy and self-esteem. When you play sports, run or swim, you boost dopamine, improving your mood, and ability to focus. If you exercise regularly, dopamine storage increases, triggering enzyme production creating dopamine receptors in the reward center of your brain.  These receptors make possible that wonderful feeling of satisfaction when you accomplish something. The more you exercise the more you increase the stable regulation of neuropathways associated with dopamine, overall brain health and control of addictions.

In a famous Duke University study conducted by Dr. James Blumenthal and colleagues, exercise was just as effective as antidepressants in reducing depression. Zoloft and Prozac, two popular antidepressants belong to a group of medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s).  Serotonin responds to exercise in a similar way as dopamine. It improves mood, impulse control and self-esteem. It also helps reduce stress by counteracting cortisol, the stress chemical.  Serotonin helps strengthen cellular connections in the cortex and hippocampus that support learning.  Exercise costs less than antidepressants and has only positive side effects when performed safely.
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Comedian Ellen DeGeneres quipped, “I don’t really need buns of steel. I’d be happy with buns of cinnamon.”  Eating some delicious sweet rolls dripping in butter can give your brain a brief boost of dopamine.  But with the flooding of sugar comes a crash of energy as the body struggles to manage the load.  Taking a brisk walk to boost energy strengthens your heart, elevates your mood and helps you sustain vitality for the rest of the day. For a healthy brain and body, you’ve got to move it, move it.

Photos courtesy of bluegreencommunities and stevengaluh.