The Physiology of Anger
What actually takes place inside your body when you lose your temper…
In the wide spectrum of emotions we experience, anger features prominently amongst the lot. While we’ve all experienced this emotion, the degree in which we feel it and the way in which we handle it differ.
Some of us might show physical signs such as the clenching of fists and grinding of teeth, flushing or paling of skin, sweating, etc. while others may not. Women experience the onset of anger differently than men – the latter experience it like an internal raging fire while the former feel it building slowly within them.
Evolutionary psychologists believe that anger was an emotion developed to help our ancestors survive and compete for scarce natural resources. Anger, a term that encompasses a wide range of emotions from dark rage to mild tension, is usually caused in one of two situations: violation of expectation or blockage of goals.
What Happens When You Get Angry
Just like happiness, anger too is experienced in both our mind and our body. Remember those cartoons you used to watch as a child where the animated figures used to display their anger by going red and letting steam come out of their ears? While we may not experience these effects, our bodies and minds both undergo various things when we get angry.
Most emotions originate inside two almond-shaped structures in our brain called the amygdala (the part of the brain that identifies threats). Anger is basically the instantaneous reaction of the amygdala to ‘fight or flight’ before the cortex (the reasoning part of the brain) can react. The amygdala springs into action to avoid any threats, alerting other parts of your body as well, basically resulting in you reacting first and thinking later. When you’re angry, blood rushes through the frontal cortex, clouding all rational thought,
The first physiological reaction is the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in your body that in turn increases your heart rate and accelerates the flow of blood to your brain and muscles. In the meantime, your body also starts producing testosterone that causes you to get aggressive. The adrenaline causes various reactions such as an increase in the speed and volume of your speech, a change in your facial expression, shaking of your hands and legs, tensing of your muscles and dilation of your pupils. You experience a burst of energy and most of it is focused on the trigger because your brain is trying to get your body in protective mode. And that’s how you experience a fit of anger.
Anger usually makes us forget the reason behind the emotion: while moderate arousal enhances your memory, extreme arousal such as that caused by anger results in an inability to create new memories. Thus, once the person has calmed down, he may not have proper recollection of their words and actions while he was angry
How Anger Harms Your Health
Frequent bouts of deep anger can have various harmful impacts on your body:
- Anger puts you at risk of heart disease and strokes: While you’re twice as prone than normal to having a heart attack in the two hours after an angry outburst and three times more likely than normal to have a stroke in this period, repressed anger too has been linked to heart problems. The high levels of fatty acids and blood sugar released in your body during an outburst of anger leads to a build up in the arteries, ultimately resulting in heart disease.
- Anger can lead to deterioration of your mental health: Frequent episodes of anger can lead to anxiety and depression, especially in men.
- Anger can impact the longevity and quality of your life: Studies show that those who tend to get angry often are at risk of having shorter life spans and even their quality of life may be impacted.
- Anger can impact your digestive health: Constantly getting angry can lead to digestive tract problems such as indigestion, acidity, stomach upset and ulcers.
But just as your body rises to the occasion in a protective stance, it is also equipped to calm down. The prefrontal cortex of your brain located just behind your forehead keeps your emotions balanced. While there are ways to consciously calm yourself down, the body has subconscious ways of anger management – your mind and body will start to relax when the focus of your anger is no longer a threat. However, this process of getting back to a resting state is not easy. The adrenaline in your body not just keeps you tense for a long time, but it may also lead to an outburst soon after. In this phase, even the smallest of things might lead to a flare up.
So work towards controlling this emotion that can cause severe damage to the body. Immediate responses for the same include taking deep breaths and counting to 10, and even walking away from the situation if need be. Long-term measures consist of a process of identifying triggers and altering your reaction to them, and possibly even seeking professional help, as well as adding exercise and meditation to your daily routine. Boosting your wellness and happiness levels can help tremendously in managing your anger.