The effects of anger can cause mental and physical problems and damage your relationships

How Does Anger Affect the Body?

How Does Anger Affect the Body?

By Megan Grant
Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

We've all heard the adage: don't go to bed angry. We want to add to this sage advice: try to avoid excessive anger, in general. Why? Anger could reduce your lifespan. In fact, a new study published by the American Heart Association found that even brief flashes of anger can potentially increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Of course, acknowledging that your feelings are valid is important. Furthermore, it's human nature (and healthy, even) to experience a wide range of emotions, including anger. However, if you find yourself getting hot under the collar on a regular basis, it might be time for a change, whether that's psychotherapy, anger management, or finding a hobby that helps you release that tension.

Your heart, mental and physical health (and relationships) will thank you for it!

Anger and heart health: what's the connection?

The randomized controlled experimental study reported in the Journal of the American Heart Association involved 280 healthy participants who followed tasks designed to provoke either anger, anxiety, sadness, or neutral feelings. Participants sat quietly for 30 minutes so that the researchers could establish a baseline. Once the tasks began (for a duration of eight minutes), researchers took measurements with blood pressure cuffs, finger probes and an intravenous catheter.

Researchers found that even a short provocation of anger negatively impacted endothelial cell health, hampering endothelium-dependent vasodilation. Endothelial cells are the main type of cells inside the lining of blood vessels, lymph vessels, and the heart, and they regulate exchanges between the bloodstream and surrounding tissues. Over time, damage to their function can increase the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular complications. In other words, researchers found that although the episode of anger had a fleeting effect on endothelial function, repeated episodes of anger may affect how our cardiovascular system works, leading to irreversible damage.

So, if your long-term goal is longevity, learning not to get caught up in the heat of the moment can pay big dividends!

What happens to your body when you are angry?

We've all been there at least once before. Maybe a family member does something that leaves you feeling livid, or something happens at work that gets your blood boiling. Despite what some people might think, these feelings are not all "in your head." We feel the effects of anger from head to toe; there's an actual physiological reaction.

Anger can increase your breathing rate. Your muscles might tense up, particularly those of your face and neck. Maybe you start to sweat, even if you feel cold. Your veins might be more prominent because your blood pressure goes up. Your hands start to shake, and your heart rate feels like it's through the roof. You can feel your body reacting.

It's also not unusual to have a rise in blood pressure and body temperature, sweating, problems with sleeping, and even gastrointestinal issues. This is why when you get flustered, you might start to feel warm and clammy, and maybe even have an upset belly.

You may also notice that your muscles seem a little more prominent than when you're calm. This is because the brain diverts blood away from the gut and sends it to the muscles, preparing you for the physical exertion (involved in fighting or fleeing) that you likely don't need. When this fight-or-flight response happens, the adrenal glands release stress hormones, including adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) and cortisol. It's priming the body for action—this is why you start to feel "worked up."

It's hard not to get mad at yourself (what a vicious cycle!) when you are sopping with sweat and gripped with queasiness over a work misunderstanding or unexpected credit card fee, but keep in mind that this reaction was vital to our survival when our ancestors had to avoid predators by fighting them or outrunning them.

Remember there are no lions, tigers or bears for you to conquer; these days, what triggers our fight-or-flight response has changed: work deadlines, finances, household chores, relationships, etc., so we continue to experience this response—even if there's no real threat to our survival.

Are anger and stress related?

Yes. In fact, stress due to anger is another huge issue all on its own. It can lead to weight gain, gastric ulcers, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, among other problems. Furthermore, it can cause blood sugar levels can fall out of balance, suppress thyroid function, impact the immune system and decrease bone density. To make things worse, people who are angry a lot might also be more susceptible to frequent colds, the flu, asthma, arthritis, and even dermatological flare-ups, in addition to heart health concerns.

So, it's no surprise that reigning in anger is imperative to stay healthy, whether that means anger management sessions with a therapist, deep breathing, or meditation.

What does anger do to your brain?

Anger triggers a unique response in the brain. It activates the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that's associated with emotions, especially anger, fear, and anxiety. Simultaneously, part of the frontal cortex also can be activated. This part of the brain helps control emotions, which is how we can suppress anger before it takes over.

However, in some people with mental health imbalances, like major depressive disorder, there's a disconnect in the "emotional break area" of the frontal cortex (the portion of your brain that sits behind your forehead), and it may not activate, which may explain why certain people can be more prone to angry outbursts than those without a depression diagnosis.

Which hormone is responsible for anger?

There isn't one single hormone that's responsible for or associated with anger. Rather, when we experience anger, our bodies might release a cocktail of different hormones associated with the fight-or-flight response. These can include adrenaline, testosterone and cortisol— although in some cases, cortisol can decrease.

Sure enough, previous research has found that administering testosterone to men could be linked to an increase in aggressive and dominant behaviors. This could have something to do with threat perception, which, of course, connects to that fight-or-flight response!

5 ways to control anger

It's unrealistic and unhealthy to never experience anger. This is where controlling anger comes in, so we are able to manage our emotions and not the other way around. Here are five ideas to get you started.

  1. Practice meditation:

    Instead of yelling or breaking things when you get angry, search for relaxation hacks! This doesn't have to be as hard as some of us think. Did you know that a single session of meditation can reduce anger? Yes, one session of meditation can quickly improve your mood—imagine what daily meditation could do for you.
  2. Sweat it out:

    Regular exercise works wonders for your mental health. This can mean a brisk walk in the park or a grueling HIIT session. (Hey, there's a reason why the best states for longevity have a lot of scenic outdoor areas and the folks are especially active!) Remember, you don't need to run a marathon. Setting aside even 10 minutes a day for movement can help.
  3. Try journaling:

    Writing can be another way to ease frustration. Getting your thoughts out of your head and onto paper can be a total game-changer, especially if you're ruminating on something that's bothering you. A lot of us do dwell on negative thoughts at night when things get quiet, making it even harder to get the quality sleep we need, which can further negatively affect our well-being.
  4. Eat brain-friendly foods:

    Choose food for mood support, such as fatty fish, pasture-raised lean meats, bananas, avocados, strawberries, leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables. Make it a priority to focus on nutrient-dense, minimally processed foods, and remember to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  5. Do house chores:

    There's no better time to tackle your dishes or vacuum your home than when you feel your anger bubbling up: it puts that energy to good use. Plus, not only can it keep you from flying off the handle, but you also get a clean house. It's a win-win!

Whatever anger management looks like for you, find healthy and safe ways to cope with those feelings, and you'll reap the rewards in more ways than one—you may even feel optimistic, which is good for the mind and body, especially in the long run.



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The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.