Anger is a natural response to perceived threat. However, if it is chronic or used as a defense mechanism to avoid healthy interactions, it can impact you.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on May 15, 2020. It has since been updated.
Anger is a normal and healthy emotion when it is an appropriate response to an unfair event or a perceived threat. Everyone gets angry, and the triggers might be different for different people. Someone who has been wronged or hurt knows they have been wrong when they feel anger rise in them. However, when someone gets stuck in a chronic state of anger or uses it as a means to dismiss responsibility for oneself, it can turn unhealthy.
When you are angry, your body releases adrenaline, your muscles tighten, and your heart rate and blood pressure increase. Your senses might feel heightened, and you could also get a flush on your hands or face. Any emotion by itself isn't the problem but the way you deal with it can become a problem, according to MayoClinic.
Not only can anger impair relationships, but it can take a toll on your health as well. "If you have a destructive reaction to anger, you are more likely to have heart attacks," cardiologist Dr. Dave Montgomery of Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, told Web MD. And, that's not the only thing that anger does.
Here are some of ways frequent bouts of anger harm your body and mind. Please note that keeping your anger within unexpressed in an effort to stay calm or avoid conflict can lead to all the more complex issues. Finding healthy ways to feel, process, and express them is important.
Anger causes a rush of chemical changes in our body and brain. One of the biggest impacts is that it reduces the level of the antibody immunoglobulin A, our cells’ first line of defense against infection in our body, according to Everyday Health. If you're angry all the time, then you might find yourself falling sick more often. Many experts recommend journaling, meditation, and other methods to release pent-up anger. "Assertive communication, effective problem-solving, using humor, or restructuring your thoughts to get away from that black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking—those are all good ways to cope," said Dr. Mary Fristad, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the Ohio State University. "But you've got to start by calming down."
A high level of anger is an issue for the heart, says Laura Kubzansky, Ph.D., MPH, of Harvard School of Public Health to Web MD. Anger and hostility can trigger our"fight or flight" system, which in turn can release stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, leading to an increased heart rate and short/shallow breathing. While it causes a short burst of energy, it tightens our blood vessels and increases blood pressure. If this happens too often, then our artery walls experience wear and tear. People with no pre-existing medication conditions but who are prime to anger or hostility have a higher chance of heart disease than others.
Anxiety and anger are linked closely. In a study published in the journal Cognitive Behavior Therapy, researchers found people with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) have a harder time when they get angry. This particular emotion exacerbates symptoms of the disorder, where one worries uncontrollably. It can even interfere with one's ability to cope with daily life. Those who had GAD were found to have higher levels of anger and hostility, although the nature of anger was that of an internalized, unexpressed agitation and angry restlessness.
Anger is also linked to depression, especially in men. "In depression, passive anger—where you ruminate about it but never take action—is common," said Dr. Chris Aiken, an instructor in clinical psychiatry at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and director of the Mood Treatment Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to EveryDay Health. He advises thoes struggling with depression and anger to be busier. "Any activity which fully absorbs you is a good cure for anger, such as golf, needlepoint, biking. These tend to fill our minds completely and pull our focus toward the present moment, and there's just no room left for anger to stir when you've got that going," he added.
Insomnia is a disorder wherein people find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. Stress, which is closely linked to anger, can increase insomnia, while lack of sleep can also, in turn, lead to anger, according to the Sleep Foundation. It's like being stuck in a vicious cycle. People who lose a few hours of sleep can get angrier, says a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. "Sleep-restricted individuals actually showed a trend toward increased anger and distress, essentially reversing their ability to adapt to frustrating conditions over time." Dr. Zlatan Krizan, Ph.D., study author and professor of psychology at Iowa State University, said in a statement.