A car cuts you off in traffic. Worse than that, it zig-zags in and out of lanes, putting innocent folks (you) at risk. You’re irritated, aggravated, you declaim loudly what a fool this driver is. Where’s a cop when you need one?!
When you get home, you tell your spouse, your kids, the dog, whoever’s available, about the complete idiocy of this driver and how DARE they put others in danger. You’re still grousing about it the next day.
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Your boss chews you out for something--warranted or not, you get an earful. You’re upset, understandably so, and the more you think about it, the angrier you get. You feed the water-cooler conversation with how mad you are, how unfair your boss is, and how unhappy you are.
You answer your spouse’s “How was your day?” with a full unedited recap of the chewing out, getting angrier by the minute. You’re still prickly and out of sorts the next day – and the next and the next.
So when your doctor informs you, on your annual checkup, that your blood pressure is too high and you’re at serious risk for heart problems, you exclaim “Of course! My boss sucks and there’s damn fools out on the highway! What do you expect?!”
Your doctor expects you not to “eat your heart.” For that is precisely what you are doing. Your anger and continued resentment over the irritations of life are quite literally eating your heart health and well-being.
I stumbled upon this particular way of understanding how we inadvertently harm ourselves in a historical-fiction book I read on ancient Egypt. One of the characters said that if you are to enter the heavenly side of the Underworld post-death, you must tell the gods who guard the passage “I have not eaten my heart,” which means, “I have not harbored anger or resentment.” What a brilliant image! For that is precisely what anger or resentment lead to, when harbored, as in held onto in your mind; a heart that’s been eaten up by those emotions.
Mind you, it’s not your initial flash of anger or irritation that will hurt you. That’s an instinctive reaction to pain or fear. What’s harmful is to hang on to those emotions beyond just a few minutes. Re-hashing the anger-provoking event or bringing it to mind often is deadly. Best to feel your anger, vent, and then let it go.
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Focus instead on the fact that you survived the idiot driver in traffic, that you still have a job and can improve whatever it was your boss was upset about. Focus on the upside of whatever angered you, for there always is an upside, as long as you’re willing to look for it.
Your heart will thank you.