I recently read news about a teenager murdering his ex-girlfriend in a fit of rage. This news really got me thinking about the alarming overall rise in aggression in all age groups in recent times. Whether it is neuro-psycho-behavioral disorders like ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder etc in kids, delinquent behaviors and a tendency towards violence in the youth or the perpetual frustration and anger among the adults; there has to be something that ties all this together.
Incidents of explosive aggression like the one mentioned above get noticed. However, low level chronic feeling of anger which is the basis of aggression, seldom receives much attention. Call it frustration, irritation or any other name you can give it; but an angry emotion can hold its base in your brain for a real long time. Unless managed well in time; a low level anger simmering in your mind can actually destroy you. Research studies have shown that like anxiety, a chronic anger build-up in our brain can lower our immunity, increases our susceptibility to diseases, increases the levels of blood cholesterol and other lipids, exacerbates pain and increases the risk of death from cardiovascular diseases.1 Anger irrelevant of where it stems from, is one of the major cause behind various life-threatening eating disorders. It can make you give up food or resort to endless binging.2
Explosive anger outbursts, aggression, violence may seem like criminal virtues which do not belong to you. However, being human we all are in some way or other susceptible to these disruptive and destructive emotions. It all depends on how we manage them. Ill managed emotions take charge of your life and often lead to dreadful outcomes. Proactive identification and holistic management of negative emotions can help you in preventing their grave consequences. Below given is the Ayurvedic perspective of effective and successful anger management by modifying your diet.
Anger management through Ayurveda
Ayurveda has been revered for its unique approach towards managing anger. Anger or ‘Krodha’ as it is called in Sanskrit, is an emotion that we experience when there is an increase in the ‘Rajas’ dosha of our mind. Rajas dosha mothers all the negative emotions in our mind like jealousy, frustration, pride, anger, aggression and hatred.
Pitta dosha in our body also has a great impact on the functions of our mind. People of Pitta prakriti have a natural vulnerability to excessive anger. Also, individuals with an imbalance of Pitta can experience uncontrollable and constant anger.
The key to successful anger management lies in the holistic balancing of Rajas dosha and the Pitta dosha.
Managing anger through Food-
Our food is one of the primary sources of external energies entering in our body. We need to eat balanced food to maintain health. Ayurveda states that a part of the food we consume is responsible for nourishing our mind and hence the consumption of certain foods is seen to bring about certain emotions. By that we mean not just nutritionally balanced food, but food that is also balanced in its energies.
Ayurveda believes that food is like a double edged sword. It balances our energies when it is wholesome and when not taken judiciously; can topple our energy balance. For reducing the energies that promote emotions like anger, we need to focus on balancing Rajas –the dosha of the mind and Pitta the physical dosha.
Balancing the Rajas Dosha-
Most of the 50 billion or so packaged and processed foods that rule the isles of the grocery stores, are Rajasic foods. Same goes for the popular fast foods. Heavy use of food colors, artificial flavors and preservatives in these foods is what makes them Rajasic. Also, excess use of salt, sugar, fat and spices in these foods increases their Rajasic energies. Ever wondered why we turn into greedy grazing animals in fast food joints? Hence, avoiding processed, precooked, fast foods and frozen foods is one of the best ways to reduce the Rajasic energies in your diet.
Also, foods like red meat, aged cheeses, over spiced, oily, salty, pungent and sour foods increase Rajas dosha. Tea and coffee are yet other examples of commonly consumed Rajas foods.
Sugary foods and foods that contain simple carbohydrates like most of the baked foods, pastries, candies, chocolates, sodas (diet or otherwise) and alcohol have been often linked to emotional and behavioral disturbances in children as well as adults. These foods are extremely Rajasic nature which can be explained by the instant mood lifting or ‘high’ that is experienced after eating or drinking them. Also, the quick rise and drop in blood sugar levels caused by the simple carbohydrate content of these foods, cause significant changes in our brain. These changes in brain activity create the hyperactivity and negative emotions.3
Sattva guna is the positive energy of mind which fosters positive attitude and all positive emotions. It also balances of the negative energies in our mind. Sattva guna is absolutely necessary for keeping our mind free from harmful negative emotions like anger. Hence, including foods that contain ‘Sattva guna’ is the best way to control negative emotions like anger.
Most of the fresh organic fruits and vegetables are Sattvic (nourish the Sattva guna) in nature. Organic milk is yet another excellent Sattvic food. Whole grains like brown rice, barley and wheat are great sources of Sattvic energies. Ghee i.e. clarified butter is the most Sattvic fat. It is also known to improve intelligence and positive emotions. Fresh water devoid of any additives and chemicals is the best Sattvic drink. Raw palm sugar can be used as a Sattvic sweetener in food.
Balancing the Pitta
Anger and Pitta both move in vicious circles. Meaning, Pitta aggravates anger and constant anger causes further aggravation of Pitta. This is the reason why most of us often experience Pitta generated headaches, acid reflux and heart burn after a bad argument, fight or a fit of anger.
Quite coincidentally, Pitta is thrown out of balance by the same foods that accumulate excess Rajas energies. Hence foods like Red meat, oily, spicy foods and foods that are dominant in sour, pungent and salty taste should be taken in moderation.
Sweet (except sugar); bitter and astringent tastes help in balancing Pitta. Most of the green leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, watercress, collards, and turnip greens have the right balance of bitter and astringent taste and are well suited for Pitta. Also, they come with a ton of vitamin A.
Sweet, bitter and astringent vegetables like carrots, beetroots, bitter gourd, asparagus, fennel, broccoli, cauliflower etc are great for balancing Pitta. Pitta people can tolerate raw foods well. Hence salads with sprouts, leafy greens and sweet root vegetables should be on the menu as often as possible.
Grains like basmati rice, oats, amaranth, wheat, barley and quinoa are great for pacifying Pitta. Most of the legumes; with the exception of miso are best suited for Pitta. Breads and products that use yeast should be avoided by Pitta people as fermentation infuses Pitta aggravating sour taste in these foods.
Red meat, cuts that are loaded with fat, dark meat poultry and salt water fish can cause Pitta imbalance and hence should be kept out of the menu most of the times. Fresh water fish, lean meat and white meat poultry are great Pitta balancing substitutes for red meat. Yogurt, cheeses, milk and most of the dairy products go well with Pitta. However, sharp cheeses and sour cream should be avoided.
Sweet spices like coriander, fennel, cardamom, parsley etc help to keep Pitta in check. Warm spices like cayenne pepper, chilies, garlic etc are poorly tolerated by Pitta.
Maple syrup, brown rice syrup, barley malt, coconut sugar and raw honey (aged not more than 6 months) are the best Pitta balancing sweeteners.
Balanced Pitta promotes logical thinking, lets your intelligence work without any bias and helps in keeping negative emotions like anger at bay.
Apart from food, regular practice of Yoga and meditation, Aromatherapy and stress management techniques help in protecting your mind and body from harmful emotions like anger.
We all get angry at some point of time. It may not necessarily turn us into vicious criminals, but it can surely disrupt our relationships, stunt our personal growth and moreover destroy our health and wellbeing. Anger being a severely negative emotion, can also pollute the spiritual sanctity of our mind and our homes. So be vigilant and protect yourself and dear ones before it’s too late!
- Suinn, Richard M.,The terrible twos—anger and anxiety: Hazardous to your health. American Psychologist, Vol 56(1), Jan 2001, 27-36.
- The terrible twos—anger and anxiety: Hazardous to your health. Pre-hospital Behavioral Emergencies and Crisis Response, Dwight A. Polk, Jeffrey T. Mitchell, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2008, pg no 220
- The psychobiology of aggression: engines, measurement, control, Marc Hillbrand, Nathaniel J. Pallone, Psychology Press, 1994, pg no 124