Out there, the noise of the traffic fills the night sky. But you focus your eyes on your helpless victim and soon, the noises faded away. And then the aggression and violence started. Channeling all the energy to your fists, you started to punch and blow off steam to relieve stress.
Does engaging in boxing, or kickboxing and other martial arts as some others may prefer, help? Is there truth to blowing off steam with aggression and violence, or is it only a myth?
Is Blowing Off Steam a Myth?
These are some of the few TV shows I watch. Can you figure out what they have in common?
1. NCIS: Los Angeles
3. The Flash 2014
There are others but I can’t remember the titles anymore. Anyway, the Arrow and the Flash 2014 both belong to the superhero genre and are parts of the DC Arrowverse. How are they related to NCIS, a police procedural series with ‘normal’ people?
In some episodes, all three series have one or more characters blowing off steam by hitting a punching bag.
I admit it. These are fictional characters in TV shows and they are nothing but fiction. So then, does it follow that hitting a punching bag does not work in relieving stress? Can hitting a punching bag to release anger work?
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t work,” Art Markman Ph.D. said.
Sure, the good psychologist goes on to explain how an experiment shows this is not true. But I have reservations about the said experiment, because of one thing.
Did they account for the level of stress? It is possible for a person to feel more agitated after hitting a punching bag, on that basis I agree. But stress level can build up to a point where there is no way to go but to have a meltdown.
The right way to deal with stress is to address the stressor and remove it, if possible. Unchecked, the stress level either remains a constant or increases. Once the breaking point is reached, then it becomes unpredictable but violence becomes a possibility.
Because of the questions that I raised, I do not completely agree with the Ph.D. of Psychology Art Markman.
Understanding Stress Hormones and Cortisol
A certain level of stress is good for us. It keeps us on our toes, aware and ready to react. But anything more than that, well, there’s a reason why stress has a reputation as a killer. Uncontrolled and chronic stress can cause serious health concerns.
We deal with stress every day. But they come in different forms and levels. Most of the time, the stress levels are so low that we do not even think so much of them. Think of the time when you were hungry. As the hunger increases, so does your stress level. But after eating a hearty meal, you’re back to your normal cheerful self.
The great thing about understanding stress is that there has been a lot of studies done on the subject. And the results of these studies are accessible. For instance, Sarah Klein contributed a great piece to the Huffington Post about the three stress hormones.
Adrenaline and norepinephrine are responsible for how we feel once a stressful situation occurs. It is when we feel our heart racing and muscles tensing, and these prepare us to do what adrenaline hormone is commonly known for – fight or flight.
Cortisol helps us by maintaining fluid balance and blood pressure while regulating non-critical body functions important for survival. In other words, cortisol allows us to act and relieve stress. But failing to do so results in constant elevated levels of stress. As a result, the constant presence of high levels of cortisol begins to have a negative impact on our health.
Are you getting a clearer picture of how stress kills us?
For more reading, Thea Singer wrote a great piece on good and bad stress, including the nice part where she talked about the tipping point of stress.
How Aggression and Violence Relieve Stress
Often, people see boxing, kickboxing, and other martial arts, as violent sports. As a matter of fact, the common perception is that boxers and kickboxers are violent people. But that is changing as these martial arts are becoming more mainstream.
Legendary boxer Manny Pacquiao has inspired countless poor people to take up boxing as a means out of poverty. But when you look at boxing gyms everywhere, there are now more people who get into the sports to stay fit and reap the other benefits it provides, as well as a means to relieve stress.
One of the benefits of physical activities such as punching the heavy bags is to blow off steam by letting out the aggression. And the best part of this is that no one gets hurt no matter how much you abuse the punching bag with your fists.
“Fear increases cortisol,” endurance athlete Christoper Bergland said. “Regular physical activity will decrease fear by increasing your self-confidence, resilience, and fortitude, which will reduce cortisol.” For more, read his post on why the stress hormone is public enemy no. 1.
When I disagreed by Art Markman, I did not disagree completely. Like I said, unless the stressor or the reason for the stress is handled, then the problem remains. In that sense, physical activities such as going ballistic on a punching bag may offer a temporary solution to relieve stress.
Think of it as buying time to calm down before you handle the cause of stress. I’d like to think of it as a means to prolong the time before one reaches the tipping or breaking point.