The DIY get-a-grip guide

In the Health24 offices, we're rather glad it's Brain Awareness Week. There seems to be a worm of rage infecting the brains of some of our countrymen, and it's scary.

Most people in this country are sane, mild-mannered and tolerant. So when taxi drivers act like a pack of wild dogs around a young woman in a short skirt and are defiant when told off; and students (allegedly the country's elite) treat cleaning women with sickening disrespect and then say we're overreacting, we're all the more shocked. Where is empathy? Where is basic decency? Where is judgment?

Health24 writer Amy Henderson asked forensic criminologist Irma Labuschagne what's happening in the psyches of those involved in these and other incidents, and she had some interesting thoughts: we are, she asserts, a very angry nation, and until we get a grip on that as individuals, we should anticipate random acts of senseless destruction.

So, just in case anger has its acid hold on you, or those you're close to, here's the DIY get-a-grip plan from Health24:

Start with an assessment. How well are you handling the stresses in your life? If you're average or below, there are three lifestyle issues you should immediately address – they're the building blocks to better stress management:

1) How are your eating habits? Do this test if you're not sure how you shape up. If you're dealing with aggression, either within yourself or in those in your family, it's worth knowing that studies indicate there may be links between diet and aggression. If you're looking for an excellent eating plan, check out our favourite: the three-apple-a-day plan (it's simple enough for anyone to follow, without making massive adjustments to you’re your life. Unless you don't like apples). Eating properly cuts stress hormones, so it's key to any get-a-grip plan.

2) Sleep deprivation takes away your sense of humour, your coping abilities, and erodes your resistance. After a sleepless night, you're more likely to react with aggression to the dodgy driving in the morning traffic (and the ripple effect of aggression on your way into work is a wave of rage by lunchtime). Insomnia is cumulative: once you start losing sleep, your tension makes it even harder to sleep. Break the pattern the natural way.

3) Exercise. You know about the fight-or-flight response: when confronted with a stressful situation, you're wired to either fight the threat, or to run away from it. Hormones flood your body, preparing you for these responses, but of course neither is considered appropriate in a meeting environment, so we just grit our teeth and smile (and then take it out on the idiot drivers on the way home). If you reduce it to the actions, exercise is fighting, or running away; what it actively does in your body, is "use up" and denature the stress hormones that have accumulated there. It's chemical. It works. I've never personally found exercise in and of itself a particularly good weight-control mechanism, but it's indispensable for sadness management, and anger management.

There's one more thing I'd urge: so many of us are disconnected from our communities, and that hardens hearts, and entrenches divides. Whether it's a school or church charity or volunteer work in nature, animal rescue or orphanage visits, do something (giving money doesn't count). It's good for your heart (and it's also good for your brain).

Here's to a kinder world.
(Heather Parker, Health24, March 2008)

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