Exploring sports triggered violence and healthy ways to express aggression.

 

This last weekend was the Super Bowl game that happens once a year in the U.S. It’s a pretty big deal for many people, even those who aren’t big football fans. It ends up being a time to get together and cheer on with some friends. Good fun.

But there comes a change when the game ends. Soon after the winning team is declared, the fans of that team begin to churn up wild, primordial energy. This energy becomes violent and destructive, as they take to the streets and begin to damage property, overturning cars and smashing windows. Remember, these are the happy winners. So, why does this happen?

Every man has a wild beast within him.
– Frederick the Great

In a recent article, Why do fans riot after a win? The science behind Philadelphia’s Super Bowl chaos, the authors interview multiple social psychologists with a few ideas. First of all, they say that as humans, we strive to belong and be part of a group, and being a fan of team gives us that experience. When you have a sense of belonging, you feel less isolated and alone, and you are generally happier and more productive in your life. Awesome! (This is also in alignment with recent studies about how isolation and loneliness are significant precursors to addiction.) They go on to say that when a fans team wins, their testosterone levels increase, which leads to aggression. Add to this the consumption of alcohol and the poor decision making of mob mentality, and you have the perfect recipe for riot.

A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.
– Albert Camus

The phenomenon of sports riots is not the only example of this wildness itching to break free in our culture. There are many other events that people love attending so they can be part of a group, break out of their shell and let loose their animal spirit. In San Francisco we have many street fairs and other nearby events which are the perfect petri dish for just this: Halloween, SantaCon, St. Patrick’s Day, How Weird Street Fair, Bay to Breakers, Burning Man, and more. Most of these events are the perfect venue for such expression, and generally do not cause (much) damage to other people or property.

How to re-wire your brain and re-wild your spirit.

I’m no expert, but I have a few ideas. I do think it’s necessary to have a space for healthy expression of aggression and destruction; to express the energy and impulses that testosterone creates in our body and mind; to surrender to our wild beast. I believe that space is in nature. And I believe that it might be because of our disconnection with nature that we have this pent up animal energy that yearns to be expressed.

The natural world is constantly creating and destroying (or transforming) all around us: waves crashing on the shore breaking up rocks and shells; fires burning down forests and homes; earthquakes shaking the ground beneath us and reforming the landscape. These aggressive impulses are a natural part of life and cannot be repressed. Connecting to these aspects of nature can help us to release our own energy and hold us while we do it.

Practically this can take many forms: running through a forest, chopping wood, digging holes to plant trees, throwing heavy rocks over a cliff or into water, pulling weeds in your garden, burning old branches from pruned trees, going to the beach and screaming at the waves, dancing or drumming around a bonfire, swimming under a waterfall. These are all ways to connect your wild spirit to the power of nature and productively move that energy through you. *These ideas are encouraged to be done safely and mindfully.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one WILD and precious life?
– Mary Oliver

I challenge you to take your sport and play with nature. Release your wild-ness to the wilderness, and let it teach you about the productivity of aggression.

~ Nick Venegoni

 

Mindfulness in the Electronic Age: Part 1

How many times have you checked your phone today? It seems that we have all become Pavlov’s dog and immediately respond to our phones alert bell, ding, beep, chirp or buzz without hesitation. Our brains salivate with each notification of a text or LIKE or HEART — and it feels good! It’s nice to connect and engage with others around shared interests and beliefs. No big deal, right?

As a therapist, when someone asks me if they are addicted, they tend to see the situation in black or white. But I think the relationship can move along a continuum of interaction. I see addiction on a scale — something like this: use, abuse, dependence, addiction.

Webster defines ADDICTION –

: a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble)

Do you have a strong need for your phone? Well OK, phones aren’t drugs, and Instagram isn’t gambling. Webster continues…

:an unusually great interest in something or a need to do or have something

SO, maybe your interest in your phone might be considered “unusually great”?

I’ve noticed for a few years now, this strong need, this unusually great relationship some people develop with their smart phones. And it’s not really the phone itself that people are obsessed with, but the content and connections their phones provide them. Or the salivation — the chemistry our brains release with each notification and interaction.

Let me say, I find social media to be a great way to gather information and connect with community, especially for those who may be isolated in some way (such as queer teens in small towns, disabled folks, home bound senior citizens, etc). However, I also see how it can generate isolation and degenerate authentic connection and intimacy. By spending such considerable amounts of time engaging with your phone (liking, retweeting, commenting, reviewing, texting, chatting), the technology starts to become an extension of oneself. When someone has lost or broken their phone, I’ve heard many say it feels like withdrawing from a drug or like they’ve lost a limb. In some ways this is true — you do lose a particular ability to communicate, and there are particular chemicals in the brain that cease to be released when one loses this form of communication and connection with others.

So, what do you do about it? Easy — discipline. Moderation. Cut down. But, we Americans tend to have difficulty with moderation since we live in the land of bigger, better, louder, brighter, Super-Size Me! So even though discipline is a challenge, bringing awareness to your relationship with your phone (and other portals to social media and digital communication) is the first step to solving this conundrum.

In the world of mental health and dealing with substance or behavioral abuse (remember the scale? use, abuse, dependence, addiction), there’s the harm reduction model. Harm reduction is a way to evaluate level of use and level of “harm”, and then reducing use to reduce “harm.” An example of the harm reduction model is working with food addiction. Someone addicted to food can’t just stop eating or they’ll eventually die, but they can reduce their intake and change their relationship to food. The same thing can be done with your phone. Consume less time on your phone and use your newly found free time for other things — visiting with friends and loved ones in person, engaging in hobbies and physical activities, or all the other things you’ve been putting off (laundry, dishes, paying bills, etc.). The commodity is time and connection, not the phone.

The important part to remember is to start small. Maybe it means only 30-minutes less a day for a week, and then increasing to one hour, and so on. You want to stretch yourself without stressing yourself. And know that you maybe have cravings and that’s OK.

– Nick Venegoni, MFT