As I reflect on Valentine’s Day I am aware that — more than a dozen red roses, even more than a box of life-affirming dark chocolates — is who you love and who loves you. Take that to heart because it’s true for every other day of the year as well.
Sure, it’s indicative of peak performance to run a 7-minute mile or bench-press your Prius, but at the end of the day, you’ll be much farther down to the road to living a healthier, happier lifestyle if you honor this Valentine’s Day by cultivating an open, loving, compassionate heart.
Step one? Let go of anger. “This will empower you and improve your relationships,” says best-selling author Dr. Judith Orloff in her latest book, “Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life” (Three Rivers Press). “The energy of anger can inflict chaos on your body and environment, much like a twister ripping through a town …
“Anger is toxic to your system and damaging to relationships, unless it’s healthily communicated, a skillset most people lack. It can eat you alive, close your heart and make you unable to think straight. Of all the negative emotions, it’s most apt to erupt into physical or verbal aggression.”
Orloff ought to know. She’s a psychiatrist who’s spent years listening to her patients rage about their lousy parents or their rotten lovers, only to be transformed, in time, by the healing nature of compassion.
“Compassion is necessary to transform every negative emotion, but it’s particularly central to anger,” writes Dr. O. “Even though anger is loud and imposing, the quiet, calm energy of compassion, when focused, can override it.”
Here are a few of Orloff’s heart-healthy strategies for defusing your anger and nurturing your compassion:
When You’re Upset, Pause and Slowly Count to 10
“No matter how vile someone is being,” Dr. O advises, “wait before you speak.” This is really the pause that refreshes because it offsets the adrenaline surge that comes from lashing back impulsively.
Take a few deep breaths, and slowly, silently, count to 10 or more. During the lull, to relax and regroup, repeat inwardly: “Calm is beautiful.” This “mindful constraint” gives you command of the interaction so you can be pro-active instead of reactive. It also keeps you from yanking up your blood pressure and constricting your blood vessels, which can bring on a killer heart attack.
Take a Cooling Off Period
When —t happens, and it will, and you’re angry and upset, retreat to a calm setting to quiet your neurotransmitters and reduce your stress levels. While some docs want you to pop a pill when you feel frazzled, Dr. O. prescribes a more enlightened approach: “Reduce external stimulation. Dim the lights. Listen to soothing music. Meditate. Do some aerobic exercise or yoga to expel anger from your system and wind down.”
Don’t Try to Address Your Anger When You’re Rushed, Tired or Before Sleep
Being in a hurry, feeling you are late, poses a major obstacle to your natural compassion, Dr. O. says, and it is compassion that allows you to see deeper into your anger than you’ve ever seen before. Since delving into your anger can rev up your system and interfere with restful sleep, do it early. And do it often, until you are no longer being bashed by anger’s biochemicals and you are free to face life as the forgiving loving, compassionate person you were meant to be.
None of this is easy, but it’s all possible. And Orloff’s “Emotional Freedom” book is an excellent place to start. Step by step, anecdote by anecdote, she guides you through a variety of strategies for identifying toxic emotions and protecting yourself against people in your life who are “emotional vampires.”
I’ll close with one more exercise from the book, Dr. O’s meditation on Bestowing the Gift of Loving-kindness: “Today, go on a compassion spree. Put no holds on your heart or how you’ll love others or yourself. … Feel good about the person you’ve become. Compassion’s time has arrived. Embrace and share this goodness.”
Try this on Valentine’s Day, and love can blossom. Remember: A dozen roses can’t help die, but your acts of loving-kindness last forever.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! WHAT ALL THIS HAS TO DO WITH EGYPT
“To end violence, we must relentlessly keep freeing ourselves from the violence within.” — Jiddu Krishnamurti
Marilynn Preston — fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, http://marilynnpreston.com and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com. To find out more about Preston and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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