You are angry by choice

I don’t know anything that I have done in anger that made me proud. Do you have such an example that you are proud of?

Sure there may be some constructive examples that may have popped up. That time when, because you were angry, you decided that you will beat the competition and emerge as a winner. Or that time when in an enraged state you made an argument which won you the debate (something you could not have done had you not been angry, you think).

May be you have some more examples but they will be in similar categories. If so, then go back to those examples: How long did that resolve to emerge as a winner last? Did you really win that debate or did the opponent play the right card by not opposing you at that time?

If by being angry you think it will lead to a better future, then think again.

You could have controlled that thing which made you angry or you could not have. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if the person who made you angry could have done what you asked. Nor does it matter if the driver in front of you could have driven with some more sense. And it still does not matter if the thing you could have done to improve that project, you did not do in time.

You are angry now and what you are angry about is the past.

There is nothing you can do to change the past (even if you believe that scientists may invent a time-machine someday!). But there is much you can do to change the future. Anger helps no one’s cause.

More importantly though, almost everything that you think makes you angry, will not make you angry if you don’t want it to. Every bit of anger generated can be avoided, but you have to actively want to avoid it.

The root of our anger is always some person (either you yourself or someone else). Trees cannot make you angry, nor can your car. They are inanimate objects, they are as they are. They cannot do anything about themselves or about anything else. Then how can they make anyone angry? They can’t.

People make other people angry. And changing people is extremely hard. So if you react to someone who made you angry because you think he will change and thus, not make you angry the next time. Don’t react. And if you want to react because that reaction will ease your anger, even then don’t. It does no good. There are much better ways to ease that anger.

A process that works: when you know you are angry, stop right there. Don’t react to what made you angry. Instead, think about why it made you angry. Rationalise for yourself. Most of the time the reason is because some one did something. And if you accept that you cannot do much about  that someone, it means that you don’t have any reason to get angry.

Quite often you may be angry because of yourself. Something that you did, but did not want to or something that you could’ve done differently but you did not. And although in this case, the person can be changed if the will to change can be gathered, it still doesn’t give you enough reason to remain angry. Because remaining angry on yourself means you are wasting valuable resources (energy and time). You could easily use those resources to change things for better.

When you are angry at yourself, it is not a good time to give in to what the anger wants you to do, instead it is a good time to introspect. To understand what could have been changed and make that change.

If you are angry, you are angry by choice. What made you angry is irrelevant. You can choose not to be angry, if you want. And you know that there are more benefits in that choice.

Carving Personalities From The Womb

How Much Is Decided Even Before Birth?

“The daughter of Virata… (was) exceedingly afflicted by grief on account of the death of her husband…they all feared that the embryo in her womb might be destroyed.” – The Mahabharata (~500 BC).

How much is decided for us even before we are born?

This quote from the Mahabharata, and many other examples from literature, reiterate the sentiment that the emotional state of a mother affects her unborn baby. In more recent times researchers have started to meticulously gather scientific evidence to show how exactly the growth and development of the foetus is jeopardised by a variety of intra-uterine stimuli, particularly maternal anxiety, depression and stress.

A study by Glynn and co-workers of the babies of 29 Californian women who were exposed to an earthquake during their pregnancy showed them to have been born at an early gestation, while another study by Engel and co-workers showed that pregnant women who either lived in close proximity to or escaped from one of the towers involved in the September 11 disaster delivered their infants at later dates than normally expected. Interestingly, these effects of stress during pregnancy are not merely limited to birth outcomes when babies of rodents and rhesus monkeys were exposed to laboratory induced stressors during pregnancy, they showed deficits in motor development, learning and exploratory behaviour and were unable to cope effectively in stressful situations.

Human inquiries undertaken by a variety of research groups in the U.S.A, U.K. and the Netherlands initially showed anxiety and depression during pregnancy to be associated with adverse birth outcomes, difficult temperament, emotional and behavioural problems and even attention deficit symptoms in their infants. Impairments in cognition such as learning and language abilities were soon added to the spectrum, and some studies even demonstrated that these effects persist into adolescence. Recently, a study from researchers at Cardiff University and King’s College London showed that adolescent children of mothers who were depressed during pregnancy were 6 times more likely to commit acts of violence, display antisocial behaviour and be arrested. This was found to be independent of their family and social environment. These are just examples of the many research projects undertaken to prove the adverse effects of prenatal stress on child development.

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Interestingly however, findings from studies conducted by DiPetro and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, U.S.A have shown that mild to moderate amounts of psychological stress during pregnancy can benefit child development. Though these positive effects observed in infant cognition and behaviour are modest, they are consistent findings. Moreover this study presents a convincing argument against the accepted norm that prenatal psychological distress poses a significant threat to child development.

So how much of our life is decided from foetal origins? The ‘thrifty phenotype’ hypothesis proposed by Prof. D. J. P. Barker , seeks to explain the developmental origins of health and disease. It predicts that restrictions on the growth of the foetus within the womb are responsible for a higher incidence of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It has been seen that in response to under-nutrition during foetal growth permanent metabolic and endocrine changes occur which will be beneficial if nutrition remains scarce after birth. But if after birth nutrition becomes plentiful then these changes predispose to obesity and impaired glucose tolerance. Simply put, the evolutionary purpose of this response is to prepare the developing offspring for the particular environment in which it will find itself after birth.

It is interesting to note however that all these studies on foetal and infant development have originated in the western world, where high levels of nutrition, education and socio-economic well being are seen in the study participants and where, more importantly, only 11% of all annual global pregnancies occur. The remaining 89% of global pregnancies occur in the developing world which amount to 146 million births annually.

To bridge this divide, Dr. Michelle Fernandes, a D.Phil. candidate at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, designed the Solur Mother and Baby Project. This study was carried out in Solur, a village in rural South India (60 miles from the city of Bangalore) in collaboration with St. John’s Medical College Hospital, Bangalore and Snehalaya Hospital, Solur. The study runs in three phases – a prenatal, birth and postnatal phase. With both the nature and magnitude of psychosocial stressors being different from those of the western world, Dr. Fernandes is currently investigating foetal heart rate patterns, birth outcomes and, infant growth, temperament and stress responsivity. In other words, she is studying the effects of prenatal stress on the neurobiobehavorial development of children thus establishing a study which is first of it’s kind in Asia.

It is studies like these that demonstrate just how much is decided before we are born. And more so, they reveal the urgent need for reduction of psychiatric morbidity in current populations, not only for the sake of those affected now, but also for the sake of the generations to come.
DiPietro, J., Novak, M., Costigan, K., Atella, L., & Reusing, S. (2006). Maternal Psychological Distress During Pregnancy in Relation to Child Development at Age Two Child Development, 77 (3), 573-587 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2006.00891.x

Also published at Matter Scientific, Cherwell’s Science Blog.