How Anger Affects the Brain and Body [Infographic]
There are times when we fly into a rage, such as when we face an outrageous situation or when we have an argument with a loved one. We may think that our anger is justified (and it probably is), and we have every right to be angry.
But do you know what happens each time you get angry? Firstly, the first spark of anger activates our amygala, the part of our brain that’s involved with the experiencing of emotions — before you’re even aware of the anger itself. This begins a chain reaction in our brain which leads to our adrenal glands secreting stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.
- Cortisol is released in response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration. It functions to increase blood sugar, to suppress the immune system, and to aid in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrates.
- Adrenaline increases blood flow to muscles, output of the heart, pupil dilation, and blood sugar.
- Noradrenaline increases arousal and alertness, and focuses attention; it also increases restlessness and anxiety. In our body, it increases heart rate and blood pressure, triggers the release of glucose from energy stores, increases blood flow to skeletal muscle, and reduces blood flow to the gastrointestinal system.
In a real life dangerous situation like if we’re faced with a robber, the activation of these hormones is a good thing, because all our body’s senses and functions are now channeled to deal with the physical danger. We react quickly, we are more alert, and our heart beats faster — which will help us act fast and deal with the danger.
But when stress hormones keep getting released despite no real danger, this creates a chain of negative effects on our body.
In our brain:
- Elevated cortisol causes a loss of neurons in our prefrontal cortex. This keeps you from making good decisions for the future.
- Elevated cortisol kills neurons in the hippocampus and disrupts creation of new ones. This weakens short-term memory and prevents you from forming new memories properly (which is also why you may not remember what you say in an argument).
- Too much cortisol decreases serotonin — the homone that makes you happy. This makes you feel anger and pain more easily, as well as increase aggressive behavior and lead to depression.
In our body:
- Our Cardiovascular System:
- Our heart rate ↑
- Blood pressure ↑
- Blood glucose ↑ (prolonged high blood glucose can cause damage to your nerves, blood vessels, and organs)
- When these symptoms become chronic, our blood vessels become clogged and damage. This can lead to a stroke and heart attack.
- Our Immune System:
- Thyroid function ↓
- Number of natural killer cell ↓
- Number of virus-infected cell ↑
- Incidence of cancer ↑
- Our Digestive System
- Blood flow ↓
- Metabolism ↓
- Dry mouth ↑
- Our other body parts:
- Eye sight ↓
- Migraine ↑
- Headache ↑
- Bone density ↓
Here’s a full infographic of the process:
So what do you do? Stop getting angry, or at the very least, reduce your intensity of anger in each conflict. Here are some simple tips:
- Talk things calmly. Maybe your family member made you angry. Has anger helped you solve the issue? Probably not. So how about speaking in a calm way and using a different approach to tackle this? Maybe your loved ones will be more receptive when you speak calmly and nicely to them. Many of us are really seeking for love, understanding, and respect when we communicate, and shouting and being angry denies the other person of this basic understanding, which escalates an angry exchange. Read: What to Do When You Live with Angry People: 7 Gentle Tips
- Find ways to address the issues frustrating you without anger. When you feel angry, it’s usually because your frustration has compounded to a point of explosion, and it’s too late to reel back the emotions. Plan before you get angry, not after you get angry. Make a list of things frustrating you. Address each problem and act on it before it blows up vs. dealing with it only when it happens.
- Be the bigger person. Many times our anger comes from people not meeting our expectations. We think the person is not kind enough, not sensitive enough, not considerate enough. What are your expectations, and are they really important? Can you be the bigger person and let them go? After all, when you feel angry at others, you are the one who suffers, with the anger burning in your heart. Forgiving, not subjecting people to sky-high expectations, and learning to embrace flaws will make you a much happier person, which creates harmony for everyone. Sometimes, the difficult people are the ones who need love the most. If you have Be a Better Me in 30 Days Program, check out Day 25: Forgive Someone.
- Cut off toxic relationships. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Spend time with happy, conscious people. If you are regularly frustrated with a friend, such as by his/her insensitivity or close-mindedness, then talk to him/her less often and spend your time with those who make you happy. If you don’t have such friends, maybe it’s time to make new friends. Read: Why I Parted Ways With My Best Friend of 10 Years
- Spend more time in nature. Nature has a healing effect on our soul and body as proven in scientific studies. In a study by Japanese researchers, it was found that walking or staying in a forest (a practice known as forest bathing) decreased hostility and depression significantly while increasing liveliness among participants. If you don’t live near nature, play videos of nature to mimic being in nature. Check out: 10 Meditation Tracks to Bring You Back to Nature
- Divert your energy to constructive things. Frustration can come when you’ve pent up energy that’s not put into good use. Perhaps your workplace isn’t letting you utilize your skills fully. Perhaps your home environment has a lot of constraints that prevent you from resting/working. Take the time to address these environmental issues. In your spare time, read enriching sites, listen to audio books, and listen to educational podcasts. Channel your energy into your goals rather than frustrating things.
Beyond these tips, if you are constantly angry, understand the source of your anger. Why are you angry? What are you angry about? And why do these things anger you? Anger doesn’t have to be the reaction even when a situation is frustrating, and when we are constantly angry, it reflects latent anger in us that should be looked into. Read my series on how to let go of anger for life: How to Let Go of Anger (series)
Be sure to check out: The Science of Happiness [Infographic]