We can get angry because of many things. Imagine you drive in your car on the highway. You listen to the radio. It is a nice, sunny day. Everything feels great… until…
Another driver comes by and cuts you off the road. I’ll tell you what might happen: You get angry, very angry. Your heart starts pumping faster and your face turns red as well.
Some may even scream and swear, and make gestures that are not so nice. Admit that you’ve done something like that before… or maybe not. Of course, the reactions depend on the person.
But, have you ever asked yourself what happens in your body when you get angry? What is the science of anger?
Anger starts in your brain
There is a small region in your brain which scientists call the amygdala. This compartment of the brain processes information related to your emotions. After that, it triggers specific reactions in your body.
For example, it signals the production of chemical molecules. This happens to send an alarm to your body in order for you to be alert. When you get angry, your brain orders the release of neurotransmitters called catecholamines.
Epinephrine and norepinephrine
Two biomolecules from the family of catecholamines play the main role when getting angry. We are talking about the hormones. Epinephrine and norepinephrine, also known as adrenaline and noradrenaline.
Have you heard about the adrenaline rush?
Upon release, these molecules provide your system with energy and strength for several minutes. So, you may attack someone. No, please don’t do that, violence is not the solution…
But in fact, our body prepares us to act against something or someone who caused our anger. That’s why you feel pumped up and ready to go to war. Adrenaline makes your senses alert and even makes you feel less pain… whoa… We feel like a superhero!
What are other effects of the hormones in our body? Epinephrine and norepinephrine lead to the increase of blood pressure, an accelerated heart rate, and faster breathing. Your heart muscles contract and your blood vessels constrict.
Sweating and pupil dilation can go with these effects. Blood pumps through your extremities to get you ready for action. Now you know why enraged persons often have red faces…
What about boiling blood? No, that doesn’t really happen. If your blood boiled, it would turn to jelly and you would die immediately. The phrase does not have a literal meaning…
Why do we do feel anger? Anger has a lot do with thinking. We are thinking of a rule or a deal in a situation. We think that a certain rule is violated or a promise not held.
Let’s say you order 10 pizzas for a house party, but the delivery guy just brings 5 and then behaves rudely. Your brain understands (or thinks) that there is an unjust situation. You get angry…
Actually, the reaction of our body to anger and fear are very similar. The released neurotransmitters are almost the same in both feelings. If you decide to panic and run away or get aggressive and want to fight, has to do with your thoughts.
However, scientists also state that there are some characteristic physiological differences, too. For example, anger raises our body temperature, whereas fear leads to its reduction.
How your body manages anger?
Now we know what happens in our body when we get angry. But what we don’t know is how our body signals that we should not be aggressive or enraged.
How to control oneself?
What is the mechanism in our brain that relates to anger management?
The place to look at is the prefrontal cortex. It is the region in your brain which enables you to control your emotions. It gives you the ability of judgement.
Imagine a good angel sitting there and telling you not to react in an aggressive way. That’s the cortex. And the devil resides in the amygdala. In principle, we observe a neuronal war between the amygdala and the cortex, the bad and the good.
Scientists have found that the left part of the prefrontal cortex is associated with anger and aggression. If that region is switched off, you will succeed and act like Dalai Lama or Gandhi…
What makes you angry?
Studies have pointed out three main things that make us angry:
- Anger appears when your expectations are not fulfilled;
- Anger occurs when you see some things as a threat;
- Anger appears as an attempt to hide other emotions.
A US survey on people’s reaction towards terrorist groups demonstrates point no. 2 very well. The survey analyzed people’s feelings of anger from a group who were portrayed as terrorists. The results showed that participants were most filled with anger at those groups, which allegedly threatened their country.
Dr. Ronald Potter-Efron, a psychology therapist and the author of the book “Healing the angry brain”, lists several factors for the occurrence of anger. Among them are frustration, stress, drug abuse, cultural effects, and bodily dysfunctions deriving from diseases.
Many studies prove that genetics are an important factor for anger. German scientists from the University of Bonn even found the genetical codes of anger. Minor mutations in the gene called DARPP-32 effect the levels of catecholamine compounds in the brain.
Guys, we are talking about a simple mutation of a “CC” code into a “TC” or “TT”. In a report in The Telegraph, one of the researchers Martin Reuter said that people with “TC” or “TT” “are not able to control their feelings as well as those without the mutation.” Blame it on the “TT” when you flip out the next time…
5 Ways to be less angry
To be able to keep your cool is not as easy as said. How should we do that? You know that sometimes there are situations where we freak out. The amygdala is so fast with the warning that our cortex is not able to check if the reaction is reasonable.
There are also people who have serious anger disorders. Examples are the Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) or the borderline disorder. People with IED tend to have sudden outbursts of anger and aggression. Don’t be afraid… The fact you get angry doesn’t mean that you have a psychological illness.
We all get angry. If you still think that you get angry too often, there are easy ways to improve and relax. Check this list of 5 fascinating ways to reduce it:
- Breathe slowly: Remember that the catecholamines make us do the opposite;
- Meditate: Yoga and praying might help you to relax more often;
- Write down: Yes, a 2008 study shows the positive influence of writing down the reasons for your anger. Maybe you should even start a diary…;
- Do sports: Doing sports helps you to get rid of the negative energy; and hey, you do something for your fitness, too;
- Sleep well and enough: it reduces stress, believe me; if you don’t, read this article.
Anger is not healthy
I am sure that you will think about anger in a different way if I tell you about the health issues. Anger and the heart have a close connection.
As mentioned above, epinephrine and norepinephrine constrict your blood vessels and make your heart pump harder. Thus, people who get angry often live with the risk of getting chronic high blood pressure and heart rhythm disorders.
Moreover, glucose and fatty acids are enriched in your blood. The increased levels of fatty acids can lead to plaques in your arteries. The walls of the arteries thicken and the vessels get narrow because of the accumulation of fats. This can result in a complete blockage of the arteries.
Scientists speak of atherosclerosis which can trigger heart attacks or strokes. Enraged people don’t look healthy to me, and now I know why…
You are allowed to be angry, but not aggressive
See, it is important that you try to reduce angry feelings. Even though it is not that easy, there are therapies and techniques. In doing so, you will keep calm and be anger-free, and live happier and longer.
And don’t forget that sometimes anger is a good thing to express feelings. Often you will feel better afterward. But you should remember not to be angry in an aggressive way.
Tell us what things make you angry, and what helps to control your anger in the comments below.