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How Does Anger Affect the Body?

  • How Anger Affects Physical and Mental Health

    Are you chronically ticked off – do you fly off the handle quickly? If so, you may be suffering from chronic rage – an emotional state that damages not only your relationships and personal life but also your health!

    Anger is perhaps the most commonly expressed emotion. And yet, it’s also one of the most dangerous; in this discussion, I’ll take a deep-dive into this emotion and explore how dysfunctional anger can eat away at your cardiovascular system and hijack your nervous system.  

    So, who is this article written for?

    Do you have a problem with anger? Before you answer this question though, be mindful that there's a difference between getting angry, and being angry. A huge one, see: everyone gets angry from time to time – that's perfectly normal.

    But do you find that you're always angry? Do others often tell you that you seem mad? Or – do you feel that you have too much anger radiating within you?

    If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you (angry) you need to pay attention to this damn discussion and open your eyes to the hidden dangers of anger! 

    What is the clinical definition of anger?

    We all know how nasty anger can feel; but what is it, exactly?

    Well, anger is one of the basic human emotions that is as fundamental to humans as happiness, sadness, anxiety, and disgust. It’s also known as an emotional state that varies in intensity: from mild irritation to intense fury and rage.

    What is the reason for the anger emotion?

    Unlike other basic emotions, the environmental environments expected to elicit anger are not invariably distinguishable. What this ultimately means is that anger cannot be attributed to a single reason. 

    It can both appear as a possible consequence of fear, in response to a perceived threat (both real and imaginary), and as an affective stress reaction that occurs after frustration. 

    I have a person in my life who is always coming at me with snide remarks of how lost I am because I’m not a holy roller, who I choose to love, my success, etc.

    I would eventually get angry and respond in anger. 

    But when I stopped and really assessed how I was feeling, I realized that these snide remarks were actually hurting my feelings and just by acknowledging THAT I was no longer as angered by the snide remarks. Because I realized I wasn’t actually angry. I was hurt. 

    My anger was merely a secondary emotion. 

    I grew up in a few different hoods where folks were walking around angry all day. And it got me to wondering. Because if anger is the “secondary emotion,” what is primary emotion resulting in so many angry people? Hurt,  frustration, a perceived threat or stress reaction?

    I’m asking genuinely. Please share your opinions in the comments. 

    What are the physical and psychological effects of anger?

    Remember how I mentioned that anger could result from fear? As a result of this, anger is, therefore, inevitably linked to your body's 'fight-or-flight' response. 

    During the 'fight-or-flight' response, your adrenal glands flood your body with stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. 

    In preparation for physical exertion, your brain shuttles blood towards the muscles. You'll experience an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. Your body temperature rises, and you'll find beads of sweat forming on your skin.

    Anger’s effects extend beyond physiological changes. Due to the increase in the respiration rate, there is now extra oxygen sent to your brain. And you know what that means: enhanced mental focus and alertness! 

    When is it healthy to feel anger? Is it nature’s tool for defense and survival, or something else? 

    It can be healthy to feel anger – sometimes. The ancient reaction of anger has gradually evolved, such that it now plays a critical role in the motivational system of goal attainment. Anger mobilizes people to action; it helps get things done.

    Think back to when you were last angry: did you feel an exhilarating rush of adrenaline? Were you energized? That's what anger can be: a source of energy. It can help you overcome obstacles more vigorously and endure more failures to – ultimately – reach your desired goal. 

    Where in the brain and body is anger activated?

    Anger originates from the amygdala – an area of your brain that contributes to emotional processing. Your amygdala then sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This leads to an activation of your body’s sympathetic nervous system, turning on the previously-mentioned 'fight-or-flight' bodily response. 

    Where in the brain and body does anger cause harm? + How does anger harm us?

    How much anger do you experience? While anger itself is neither good nor bad, experiencing too much of it, too frequently, is harmful. Chronic anger keeps your sympathetic nervous system activated, much like a motor that is idling too high for too long.


    Persistent surges in stress hormones can damage blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood pressure, and raising the risk of heart attacks and strokes

    Research also indicates that elevated stress hormones inadvertently contribute to the buildup of fat tissue and weight gain. And as you probably already know, obesity is a crucial risk factor for other chronic health disorders, such as diabetes.


    In addition to harmful physical effects, chronic anger can also lead to adverse mental issues, such as increased anxiety, insomnia, depression, brain fog, and fatigue. 

    In more severe cases, intense feelings of rage can also give rise to dramatic self-harming behaviors, possibly leading to suicide attempts.

    Why were we even given the anger emotion, to begin with? 

    Through analysis of the neuroanatomical structures implied in the expression of anger, researchers hypothesize that we were given the anger emotion as a form of primary reaction to a condition of distress. 

    And this primary reaction allowed us to free ourselves from a predator or an external condition causing pain or irritation, back when we were less evolved beings. 

    Clinical studies

    First study

    In a 2012 study published in the journal Cognitive Behavior Therapy, a group of Canadian researchers from the Concordia University recruited 381 participants from the Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal – a hospital in Montreal, Canada. 

    The researchers wanted to examine the relationship between anger and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a mental disorder characterized by persistent and excessive worry that interferes with a person’s daily life.

    To do so, the researchers asked the subjects to complete the following questionnaires:

    Generalized Anxiety Disorder Questionnaire (GAD-Q-IV) – A questionnaire that identifies individuals who meet diagnostic criteria for GAD and those who do not.

    State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory (STAXI-2) – This questionnaire measures trait anger, externalized anger expression, internalized anger expression, externalized anger control, and internalized anger control.

    Aggression Questionnaire (AQ) – The AQ measures physical aggression, verbal aggression, anger, and hostility.

    After analysis of the results, the researchers found that anger can exacerbate symptoms of GAD. In fact, not only were higher levels of anger found in people diagnosed with GAD but hostility – an outward expression of anger – also contributed significantly to the severity of GAD symptoms.

    None of the subjects reported adverse side effects.

    Second study

    In a 2013 study, a group of researchers from Harvard Medical School conducted a case-crossover analysis of 3,886 participants from the multicenter Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study.

    The researchers wanted to explore the association between outbursts of anger and acute myocardial infarction (AMI) –the medical name for a heart attack. 

    To do so, the researchers noted the observed number and intensity of anger outbursts in the 2 hours before AMI symptom onset for each patient.  And their conclusion? The risk of heart attack increased about twofold in the two hours after an outburst! 

    Imagine that. Just when you think you’re getting some shit off your chest, you could be literally turning off your chest. 


    Hopefully, this has given you a better understanding of anger as an emotion, its evolutionary purposes, its originations in the brain and body, and potential health dangers.

    It is now time to muster the courage to ask yourself the tough question – if you haven’t, already. Are you angry? 

    If your conversations always turn into debates, you are angry. If you usually see the worst in people, you are angry. If you don’t get along with your family, have few or no close friends, and never seem to get invited out, you are probably angry.

    As humans, it is never easy to acknowledge that we are not perfect and that we make mistakes. 

    But if you are not as happy as you think you’d like to be, if you are hurting the ones you love, and if you feel like it’s always you against the world, you might want to consider counseling to learn how to better cope with anger.  

    There’s nothing shameful about asking for a little help; don’t let anger kill you – both mentally and physically!

    I hope this discussion has been immensely helpful to you. To close off, here’s a question for you: “How do you typically cope with anger?” Do share your strategies in the comments section below – your answer could potentially help someone who’s struggling with anger management!

     Thank you for being a part of the PEP PROFILE. If you're not yet a member but would like to join the discussion, you can request an invite at PEPPROFILE.COM.



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