Anger, the Brain and the Health Risks
Anger is a conundrum of complexities, affecting each and every person differently. Are you a road-rager? A passive aggressive? Short fused?
Anger is a normal human emotion, but rarely is a pretty one. It can be dangerous, downright embarrassing and cause significant negative affects on the human body. There is a flipside to negative anger though when managed well, it can be a healthy release, a motivator for change or a self-empowering tool.
The spectrum of anger ranges from mild frustration and annoyance to out of control. The strength and regularity of where you find yourself on that spectrum will directly correlate to how damaging anger affects your emotional, physical and cerebral state. The part of the brain that responds first to an anger strike, is the amygdala; located deep within the temporal lobe of the brain.
The amygdala controls the initial ‘fight or flight’ response and what we call instinct. It is able to process a magnitude of information, assessing possible dangers within milliseconds; allowing you to react first and think later.
Above the amygdala is the frontal lobe, which makes decisions, behavioral choices and solves problems. When anger hits, blood rushes through the frontal cortex clouding rational thought and this flash reaction can be either helpful or harmful. This is where the old adage of ‘count to ten before reacting’ comes in handy.
The domino effect of anger continues with the adrenal glands saturating the system with the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol, which gives you a burst of energy and added strength. This redirects the blood flow going into your stomach and intestines to the muscles instead, in preparation to fight. Your blood pressure, pain threshold and temperature raise, breathing and heart rate increase, the pupils begin to dilate.
Why Anger Can Kill You
All the above happens each time anger or frustration get the best of you, lasting longer than the few seconds it takes wear off. How many times a day do you yell at the person who cut you off or the automated service that will not redirect you or your significant other? Anger not only affects the people around you, it also is directly linked to your cardiovascular health and mental well-being.
According to Heart MD, “Higher levels of fatty acids and blood sugar are released to provide immediate energy to survive the perceived emergency.” The problem with the continued release of these fatty acids is overtime they start to build up in the arteries, setting you on a path towards heart disease. If you are someone who is constantly battling with anger, you are putting your health at a much higher risk for coronary heart disease or heart attack.
If you are an angeraholic, another issue you need to consider is that daily anger is linked to damage in the brain. Researchers have found that a continued supply of ‘trigger and effect anger’ releasing the stress hormone cortisol, may confuse the hippocampus (stress responder in the brain) and result in the inability to suppress your anger response all together.
There have also been studies showing anger in the brain disrupts the growth of new neurons, essential to sending messages and communicating with the rest of the body.
Some known health problems associated with anger include:
- High Blood Pressure
- Risk of Coronary Disease
- Skin problems like increased acne
- Headaches or Migraines
- Digestive irregularities
Anger Management Tips
Keep in mind that adopting and replacing a bad habit with a new one takes practice and doesn’t practice make perfect? Try these anger management tips suggested by the Mayo Clinic:
- Think before you speak
- Let your mind clear before expressing your thoughts so you can think clearly
- Exercise to work off the frustration
- Walk away and Take a Timeout before you say or do something you might regret
- Refocus your anger to finding solutions instead of concentrating on the problem
- Stick with ‘I’ statements when expressing your feelings, so the discussion does not become about who’s fault it is instead of the real issues
- Learn to forgive
- Laugh Laugh Laugh. Even at the height of an argument, if you force yourself to take a moment and start laughing, your mood immediately changes
- Learn relaxation skills that are most beneficial to you in most situations: breathing slowly as you concentrate on your breath, yoga, write your feelings down in a journal, look in a mirror and remind yourself to calm down and relax over and over again until you start to feel calmer.
- Realize when anger management tips are not enough and seeking help would be more beneficial.
Don’t let anger take you over, ruining the important things in your life that mean the most. Prolonged manifestations of anger are detrimental to the heart and the brain. Learning to convert anger into a positive experience will make your life a happier place.