When we get angry, our heart rate accelerates, blood pressure and testosterone production increase, the neurotransmitter serotonin decreases, and the left hemisphere is stimulated more than the right hemisphere. These are the findings of researchers at the University of Valencia, who investigated the physiology of anger. With their equipment, they detected changes in the brain’s cardiovascular, hormonal, and asymmetric activation response when their test subjects got angry.
“The arousal of emotions causes profound changes not only in the autonomic nervous system but also in the cardiovascular response and also in the endocrine system. Also, there are changes in cerebral activity, especially in the frontal and temporal lobes”, explains the lead author of the study and researcher Neus Herrero.
Physiology of Anger
Anger, when regulated, can be a proper emotion as it allows us to make positive changes in our lives. On the other hand, anger can be an extremely destructive emotion if it’s not handled properly, not only for yourself but also for the people and things around you. Uncontrolled anger can lead to arguments, brawls, mental and physical abuse, as well as self-harm.
What happens in the body during a tantrum? Anger triggers the body’s “fight-or-flight” response, so it is similar to the stress response. A feeling of discomfort takes over our minds and causes a stressful experience. In response, the adrenal glands flood the body with the stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. The brain draws blood from the gut and the body’s periphery and transports it to the muscles in preparation for physical exertion to fight or flight. Heart rate, blood pressure increase, and breathing intensifies. Body temperature rises, and skin perspires. The mind is sharp and focused.
Adrenaline / Epinephrine: First-line stress hormone and neurotransmitter for acute emergencies
We all know situations where the adrenaline rushes through your veins. At those moments, you are on edge with tension, of energy, and at the point when you can strike extremely quickly, powerfully, or alertly.
What is Adrenaline?
Adrenaline and noradrenaline are two different but related hormones and neurotransmitters. Both are produced in the center (medulla) of the adrenal glands and in some central nervous system neurons. They are released into the bloodstream and serve as chemical messenger substances, transmitting nerve impulses to various organs.
Adrenaline has many different actions, depending on the type of cell it acts on. However, adrenaline’s overall effect is to prepare the body for the “fight or flight” response in times of extreme stress. This stress can be caused by a life-threatening situation, in which the effect of this signal substance can be of life-saving importance.
When epinephrine is released into the bloodstream by the adrenal glands due to a stressful situation, a lot of body reactions follow. The adrenaline increases the heart rate and blood pressure. It improves the supply of oxygen to the lungs, dilates the pupil in the eye, draws blood from the body’s periphery. Most of the blood (energy) is transported to the muscles, so there is enough energy available for the brain and be able to move or fight explosively and intensively.
Closely related to adrenaline is the hormone norepinephrine, which is mainly released from the sympathetic nervous system’s nerve endings and in relatively small amounts from the adrenal medulla. There is a continuously low level of sympathetic nervous system activity that releases norepinephrine into the bloodstream, but adrenaline release is increased only during times of acute stress.
Cortisol: stress hormone with anti-inflammatory properties
Anger naturally exposes your body to stress. In response to this, the body starts to produce the stress hormone cortisol. The adrenal glands produce adrenalin. The body’s effects that cortisol causes include regulating the body’s blood sugar and thus regulating the metabolism. Glucose provides the body and brain enough energy to deal with stress. Cortisol also has an anti-inflammatory effect, but prolonged stress can deplete the adrenal glands, causing them to produce less cortisol and thus increase inflammation in the body.
Cortisol also affects memory formation, regulating salt and water balance, influencing blood pressure and fetal development.
Health issues due to anger
Certainly, when you simply ignite in hellish anger or have a short fuse, regular anger can very quickly pose a considerable health risk.
If there are already underlying health problems, such as high blood pressure, obesity, or heart problems, then a violent outburst of anger can even lead to death in severe cases.
As we have seen, the constant flow of stress chemicals and the metabolic changes that accompany them profoundly impact our health. Certainly, people who have heart issues have a risk of a heart attack due to increased blood pressure, which could lead to fatalities. Some of the short- and long-term health problems that can be associated with uncontrolled anger include:
- digestive problems, such as stomach pain or constipation
- increased anxiety
- high blood pressure
- skin problems, such as eczema
- heart attack
Learn to express anger in a healthy way
To overcome tantrums, you can follow a “anger management” course that focuses on this, but of course, you can also control these issues yourself. When you get angry, it can help to express these emotions healthily. Tricks to express angriness:
- If you feel like you are losing control of your emotions, take yourself out of the situation physically for a moment. That is count to ten. Cool down for a moment, and then calmly express your feelings.
- Recognize and accept the emotion of anger as usual and a part of life and realize that it is meant to benefit itself so that a dosed expression will give you more favorable results.
- Try to figure out for yourself what is behind that rage.
- Make sure you have a good outlet, such as running, exercising, or boxing. No matter what, as long as you can vent your energy.
- Ensure you have people in your environment who recognize the signals in you and who can address you and call you back into order.
Anger and heart coherence
Anger, which is a form of stress, and heart coherence are two opposites. A state of heart coherence is a physical state in which the body is free of stress, relaxed, and you experience a feeling of happiness. In a state of heart coherence, the heartbeat, breathing, and brain work together in perfect harmony.
Especially when you have frequent anger attacks, it can be highly beneficial to train heart coherence. It not only helps at moments you get angry but also prevents you from getting angry.
Research from the HeartMath Institute shows that this state is easy to achieve with some practice and that people who control this process benefit from more efficient physiological processes, greater emotional stability, increased mental clarity, and improved cognitive function. In short, if we can achieve heart coherence, everything in our body works better, and we have better health, both physical and emotional, and thus better stress tolerance.
HeartMath’s exercises help you to achieve heart coherence and to overcome feelings of stress. Also, the HeartMath equipment can measure the degree of heart coherence in real-time to know when you are stress-free.