Friday, December 2, 2016
Good Pitching, Running into a Screen Door, and How Anger Screws Up Men’s Brains
Guest Blog By Zachary Gerdes
Pitching can win pennants. Plain and simple. Whether it’s Cofax's curve, a Randy Johnson fastball, or basically anything Andrew Miller threw during that pennant run for Cleveland last month. Watching guys swing at garbage that looks in the zone until it breaks is like watching a kid run into the screen door not knowing it’s closed. It’s ridiculous and glorious in such a sick way. And it’s just not even fair. The kid falls down and cries. The hitter throws a bat and yells something the camera has to break away from so you don’t read his lips watching at home. Either way, somebody ends up looking ridiculous. And they don’t even know what hit them.
So the victim of the breaking ball or screen door gets pissed. Anger is a pretty common default emotion for men and boys. That hitter or kid is actually probably ashamed or embarrassed. But that defaults into anger for a lot of guys and here’s what happens. Anger literally shuts down the smartest parts of your brain.
Wait … what?
Yeah. Because science. Anger fires up the amygdala and shuts down the prefrontal cortex responsible for rational thinking. This sucks because the amygdala is often called the “reptilian” part of the brain. In other words, anger fires up the parts of the brain that humans have in common with snakes and shuts down the higher level functioning parts of the brain unique to humans. The parts that are responsible for self-control and logical reasoning. Anger activates a fight or flight response rather than a response that will get anger under control. This is key because we know uncontrolled anger can create stress on the brain that, if prolonged, can lead to a whole host of terrible stuff including depressionand even heart disease. This is why anger is actually considered a symptom of depression for men. Catharsis – the idea that we release anger by getting it out (like throwing the bat or charging the mound) – isn’t actually true. The only way to reduce anger is to use the parts of the brain that get shut down by it. Anger perpetuates stress on the brain rather than a solution.
The good news is that anger is actually controllable, even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment. That’s why Man Therapy exists. To provide resources when life throws junk. Breathing is legit for controlling anger. Seriously. Or just breathe how a man should do it. Every day might not be a good day. Sometimes you just wake up in a slump or get thrown an unhittable curve. We’re not going to make contact on every pitch. Shit happens. Life throws some ugly side-armed crap like trauma, depression, anxiety, and stress. In response, we’ve got to figure out what to do that isn’t defaulting to exploding anger. Like this guy’s version of “yoga.”
Instead of swinging at junk, sometimes all it takes is one pitch. Sometimes all it takes is staying alive long enough for that pitch. Eventually, that pitch is gonna come, I don’t care who’s on the mound. But getting pissed doesn’t make a guy a better hitter, it spins him out of control to the point that he keeps swinging at junk. If every swung-on-and-missed leads to uncontrollable anger, the brain won’t be tuned in for the next pitch or at-bat. The rational part of the brain shuts down. Emotions like anger aren’t bad, their important information. We’ve just got to notice them and dissect things like anger. If, as men, we keep defaulting to getting pissed and don’t get anger and stress under control, it’s not just a whiff, it’s a strikeout with two outs and two on.