02/15/2004

Dr. Dorothy McCoyMaintaining Your Mental Edge
with Dr. Dorothy McCoy

My thoughts create my anger?

Prone to Anger?

I promised in my last column to address the reason some individuals are more prone to anger and how to decrease anger reactions (in number and intensity). Thank you for coming back. I hope to hear from you about this column.

Prone to Anger?

Are some individuals genetically predisposed to have a lower tolerance for frustration? Perhaps. Dr. Redford Williams, author of Anger Kills, discussed a molecular variation of a gene that we all carry, which will predict those individuals who are more prone to anger. It appears that he is saying the cards are stacked against certain people. If one has the gene variation, one is not only prone to anger, one’s blood pressure jumps immediately to dangerously high levels. Fortunately, Dr. Williams stresses the control we have over our emotions, even if you happen to have inherited the aberrant gene. He suggests that anger originates in the lower part of the brain fondly called the "reptilian brain." Luckily, we are not reptiles and our cerebral cortex allows us to reason, modify and control.

There is more distressing news from Ohio State University researchers. They have found that "men and women with higher levels of hostility also showed higher levels of homocysteine--a blood chemical strongly associated with coronary heart disease (CHD)" (Ohio State Research news, April 28, 2000). Drs. Stoney and Engebretson, explain that homocysteine is a byproduct of animal protein. If one is calm and healthy, folic acid and B vitamins break down this byproduct. When this does not happen homocysteine contributes to the development of plaque in the lining of the arteries. Higher levels of hostility are positively correlated with higher levels of homocysteine.

This appears to be a two-edged sword, individuals who hold in anger also showed higher levels of homocysteine. The study data make a strong case for resolving anger rather than exploding or stuffing it down. Hostile people also have higher "blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol." Now we are coming to the interesting part, how to change from extreme anger reactions to more healthful emotions (i.e., calm, in-control, miffed).

Creating Anger and Stress

Police officers experience tense situations on a continuous basis, day after day, night after stressful night. Stress accumulates like so much useless baggage until you reach a certain level. Once you pass your utmost coping level you begin to experience acute and chronic symptoms. There is an emotional, psychological, social and physical manifestation of your distress. Do you frequently feel tightness and discomfort in the muscles in your shoulders, neck and back? What about headaches? Stomach upset? Have you been told that you are often irritable, short-fused, or depressed? Are you getting to be more cynical or negative? Are you becoming isolated from your family? Good news, you don’t have to suffer from these stress related symptoms.

Perhaps, you have told yourself your life is normal for a cop. Or even more extreme, you may believe that you have no control over your emotions. You may have determined that the only course of action is to avoid thinking about it and hope that it will somehow resolve itself, or let nature take its course (Mt. St. Helens). Let me suggest, that you have tremendous control over your emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Power!

Let’s begin with thoughts. What if I were to tell you that your thoughts are more likely to beget anger than the situations or individuals you now blame? I know, I know that is a pretty radical thought. I would like to challenge you to prove that I am wrong. For one week, keep a record of your anger or stress reactions, the situations in which they occurred, your thoughts at the time of the reaction and the evidence that supports the accuracy of your thoughts. Send the information from one situation to me, here at PoliceOne.

Together we will look at your thoughts and determine if,
(1) the thoughts are accurate, and
(2) they are adaptive. If they are accurate, then there is evidence to support them: evidence that you could take into court. If they are adaptive, they will take you toward a healthy, purposeful goal you have chosen.

Let me throw another bizarre thought at you: approximately 90 percent of all situations are neutral. That means they are neither negative nor positive until you process them through your belief system. You decide if they are stressful or not. We create the majority of our stress and anger. If we believe that we can successfully resolve a situation, then we do not consider it stressful. I will talk more about that next time. I look forward to hearing from you. If you believe that I am wrong -- no problem -- I want to hear from you.

The Next Column:
The next column will discuss the information I receive from you. We will learn how to change negative, self-defeating thoughts into adaptive thoughts. No, I will not try to turn you into Pollyanna, we are not looking for just positives -- we are interested in evidence.

Requesting permission to go home, S.C. State Constable Donnie Ourtz and Abbeville Deputy Danny Wilson, received a 10-7 this week. Farewell, officers Ouzts and Wilson, we are sadly diminished.

About the author

PoliceOne columnist Dr. Dorothy McCoy has been in private practice as a clinical counselor for 10 years. She is a diplomate with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and a law enforcement consultant. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor (in North and South Carolina).
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