Anger is one of the strongest emotions we’re capable of feeling, so it’s only natural that it affects our physical and mental states in a major way. But you may be surprised to find out just how much it can change your brain.
Anger first starts in the brain, where the amygdala, hypothalamus, and pituitary gland start a signaling chain to release stress hormones. The hormones that are released cause you to lose brain cells, especially in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, which are responsible for decision making and memory forming. This explains why people are more prone to making irrational decisions when angry.
Have you ever gotten so angry you thought you were going to pop a vein? Turns out, the hormones produced by anger prepare the body for a fight-or-flight response. Furthermore, when the body is overexposed to these stress hormones, the blood vessels become clogged and damaged, increasing risk for stroke and heart attack. This was the case of Red Forman from That ’70s Show, who got so angry he suffered a heart attack.
Interestingly, eye sight decreases when you’re angry, which means the saying “blind with rage” isn’t just figurative. Though anger and stress can help you escape immediate danger, prolonged exposure is not healthy.
Learning to control your anger and stress levels could help your overall health and add extra years to your life, not to mention improving your relationships too.
HOW ANGER AFFECTS THE BRAIN AND BODY
1 The first spark of anger activates the amygdala before you’re even aware of it.
2 The amygdala activates the hypothalamus.
3 The hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland by discharging corticotropin- releasing hormone (CRH).
4 The pituitary activates the adrenal glands by releasing adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).
5 The adrenal glands secrete stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.
HOW ANGER CHANGES YOUR BRAIN
1. Elevated cortisol causes neurons to accept too much calcium through their membrane. A calcium overload can make cells fire too frequently and die. The hippocampus and prefrontal cortex (PFC) are particularly vulnerable to cortisol and these negative effects.
Elevated cortisol causes a loss of neurons in the prefrontal cortex (PCF). Suppressed activity in the PFC prevents you from using your best judgment – it keeps you from making good decisions and planning for the future.
Elevated cortisol kills neurons in the hippocampus and disrupts the creation of new ones. Suppressed activity in the hippocampus weakens short-term memory. It also prevents you from forming new memories properly. (This is why you might not remember what you want to say in an argument.)
2. Too much cortisol will decrease serotonin – that’s the hormone that makes you happy. A decrease in serotonin can make you feel anger and pain more easily, as well as increase aggressive behavior and lead to depression.
HOW STRESS HORMONES AFFECT YOUR BODY
• Heart rate ⬆
• Blood pressure ⬆
• Arterial tension ⬆
• Blood glucose level ⬆
• Blood fatty acid level ⬆
When these symptoms become chronic, blood vessels become clogged and damaged. This can lead to stroke and heart attack.
• Thyroid function ⬇
• The number of natural killer cells ⬇
• The number of virus-infected cells ⬆
• Incidence of cancer ⬆
• Blood flow ⬇
• Metabolism ⬇
• Dry mouth ⬆
• Intraocular pressure ⬆
• Eye sight ⬇
• Migraines ⬆
• Headaches ⬆
• Bone density ⬇