By Marty Brenner, C.C.D.C. #104227

Humans are complicated creatures. We have physical attributes that set us apart from others in the animal kingdom, like walking upright and having opposable thumbs, but people also possess reasoning skills and a wide variety of emotions. All people are capable of anger, and anger does play an important role in our lives. Stressful or dangerous events trigger the emotion of anger, which results in a variety of physical and psychological effects.

The scientific community debates just how many emotions are common to all human beings, but most would categorize emotions as either basically negative or positive. Emotions are typically happy or sad. Anger falls into the negative category, usually associated with unhappy times. Anger is a perfectly normal emotion, a healthy defensive reaction to an unpleasant or potentially harmful event.

Early man depended on anger to help him kill very large, scary prey and to protect himself and his family from predators and invasions. In today’s world, new circumstances trigger this ancient emotion, like a traffic jam or a stressful work environment. Nowadays, anger is caused by frustration or thinking that others do not respect or care about your feelings. For example, the idiot on the highway doesn’t care that the traffic jam is making you late for the much-needed job where you are already in trouble. A person may exhibit a single angry outburst as a direct result of an isolated situation, or they may develop a pattern of chronic anger in which negative emotions are triggered by “hot buttons.”

You may feel anger internally, inside your head and your heart, but others can see your angst on your face and in your body language. Emotions cause real physiologic changes in your brain and the rest of your body. When you become angry, the portion of your brain responsible for emotion, or amygdala, becomes highly active and wants to respond to the threat. At the same time, blood flow increases to your frontal lobe, the area of your brain responsible for reason. For a moment, these two areas battle it out to decide whether the situation warrants reason or emotion. When the amygdala wins, the brain triggers a cascade of events that empower your body to react angrily to the threat including the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline increases your muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure.

Some physiological symptoms of anger include grinding your teeth, clenching your fist, a pale or flushed face and sweating. You may feel numbness, muscle tension, a prickly or tingling sensation and temperature changes. Real or perceived threats, born of frustration or poor relationships with others, cause these physical changes but also have psychological affects as well.

Anger often carries other emotional baggage, like shame, self-loathing and addiction, especially if you do not manage your anger well. Repressing or indulging in angry behavior becomes a defense mechanism that protects you from the uncomfortable threat. Eventually, it will seem easier to build increasingly large emotional barriers and to leave them up instead of dealing with the situation that caused the anger in the first place.