“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured” – Mark Twain
In cartoons when a character gets angry, steam comes out of its ears, red rises over the body from head to toe and there may even be an explosion or two. In real life the onset of anger is not quite as entertaining, but the state of anger does cause physical effects in us as well. The response varies for each person, but some common symptoms include teeth grinding, fist clenching, flushing, paling, prickly sensations, numbness, sweating, muscle tension and temperature changes. Not only are the symptoms varied from person to person, but men and women experience the feelings of anger differently. Women tend to describe anger as slowly building through the body, while men often describe it as a fire or flood raging within them. Either way, it’s much like a fight-or-flight response, your body is gearing up for a fight to survive a wrong that’s been perpetrated against you.
When the body responds to anger it releases chemicals like adrenaline and noradrenaline throughout the entire internal system. If you are constantly being activated by triggers, however, then this state of response can start to cause damage. Chronically angry people may not have the mechanism to turn off these effects. They might not produce acetylcholine, a hormone which tempers the more severe effects of adrenaline. Their nervous system is constantly working and can eventually become overloaded, leading to a weakened heart and stiffer arteries. There’s potential for liver and kidney damage, as well as high cholesterol. Anger may also bring along some accompanying issues such as depression, anxiety and feelings of shame.
Emotions and their side effects on our bodies are frequently studied. The AHA published a study linking the effects of high levels of anger to increased risk of coronary heart disease. The results concluded that individuals with the highest levels of anger had twice the risk of coronary artery disease and three times the risk of heart attack, as compared to the subjects with the lowest levels of anger.
So now we know what anger feels like and the effects it can have if not processed and digested in a healthy manner. However, anger can teach us about ourselves if we listen and self-investigate before unleashing it on someone. Your anger could be showing you what’s important to you, where your boundaries lie or something you may have a sensitivity about. One way to express your anger is simply telling the offender in a clear, calm way what you’re angry about. The goal here is not to yell or vent at the person, but instead open a dialogue that moves you both to a positive solution. Many times people don’t realize what they’ve done is causing you anger, and opening up can force us to fix relationships that are important to us. Of course this is not always possible, so we have to find healthy other ways to release our anger. Exercise, meditation, and watching your favorite comedy are just a few ways to shift your state of being in a healthy way. It’s also been proven that talking to a third party can help, as long as it’s not done in a gossipy, malicious way. The goal here is to calmly discuss the incident so as to gain perspective, which has demonstrated the ability to lower blood pressure and lead to all around better health.
The simple truth is that we all get angry from time to time, but how we handle this very big emotion is important not just to our mental health, but our physical body and relationships.