How Anger Impacts Your Brain
This post is written by GILD’s Trauma Specialist, Coach Kendra McLaughlin
Anger can be one of the most challenging emotions to work through. Trust me, I know first-hand.
Sometimes anger can be frightening.
Sometimes I’ve even wondered if I should feel this way at all.
Then.. the shame and guilt creep in.
The cycle begins.
Not only that, when anger is misdirected, it often leads to bad choices, broken relationships, and sometimes even violence.
It can feel so uncontrollable sometimes.
But what I’ve found is that, now that I know how anger actually works in my brain, I can make sure I am doing some things every day to help control my response to anger.
So, what’s really going on in your head when anger is triggered?
The very first spark of anger immediately switches on the amygdala in your brain BEFORE your even aware of it.
No wonder it feels uncontrollable at times.
Now the amygdala is ready to turn on the stress response system in your brain.
The stress response system is made up of the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands.
I call them the Three Musketeers: “All for one, one for all”
A literal chain reaction happens in your brain like this:
…you first feel that spark of anger and it’s a domino effect:
- The amygdala signals the hypothalamus.
- The hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland by discharging a hormone.
- The pituitary gland signals the adrenal glands by releasing other hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
- When these hormones are produced, they quickly impact your neurons and cells.
This is very important because the impact isn’t usually a helpful one.
In the heat of anger, we often don’t use our best judgment.
We may say and do things we later regret or lose track of what we are arguing about.
Now, let’s be honest… we’ve all done this before, right?
Why is that?
Well, it has to do with cortisol.
Anger can spark an overload of cortisol in the brain.
Too much cortisol can decrease serotonin can make you feel anger and physical pain more easily.
This also may be why you act in more aggressive ways and feel depressed.
The bottom line is that these hormones can have a big effect on your brain!
So, the next time you feel that spark of anger coming on, know that your amygdala has already sent the signal and the chain reaction is beginning.
This is why it is so important to understand how your brain does its work and it’s crucial to realize how important it is to have a daily practice of mindfulness, meditation, and exercise to keep your joy and happiness level stable.
You DO have the ability to somewhat control your body’s response to anger by following these simple foundational practices every day.
Sometimes it may require several times a day depending on what is going on in your life.
Meditation, mindfulness, and body movement including strength and flexibility is the foundation of how I am now able to live a life of passion and purpose.