Anger can truly break the spirit of even the most positive person. Some people struggle with stress and some struggle with anger. Some even struggle with both, a lethal combination, I would say. When you have that boiling anger feeling, it's often caused by thoughts running through your mind like a ceaseless feed of inner torture. Many people find that anger is their go-to emotion.
Our emotion radar develops when we're very young and it informs the way we perceive the world and how you learn from people around you. Your radar is constantly scanning for clues to make sense of what's happening around you. Those who struggle with anger issues means their emotion radar is focused on that.
Anger brings on stress and our body responds by altering the secretions of certain hormones and chemicals. A majority of these secretions originate from the adrenal gland, a small gland that is situated on top of the kidneys and releases hormones that: control the “fight or flight” response, maintain metabolic processes (i.e. blood sugar levels), regulate the balance between salt and water, maintain pregnancy and finally, initiate and control sexual maturation. In moderation, these hormones can help save your life, but for prolonged periods of time, they can have seriously detrimental effects.
Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, inhibits functions that are a detriment to the “fight or flight” response. Specifically, it alters the immune system response and suppresses the digestive tract, reproductive system and growth processes. As you can imagine, altering the immune system can leave you more susceptible to illness and suppressing the digestive tract can leave you feeling constipated and ill. Furthermore, cortisol increases the levels of glucose in your blood and enhances the brain’s use of glucose, likely leaving you craving unhealthy, fatty carbohydrates. In combination, these effects can lead to: heart disease, sleep problems, digestive problems, depression, obesity, memory impairment and worsening of skin problems. Studies have shown that high levels of cortisol are associated with an increase in risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
Another stress hormone is adrenaline (aka epinephrine) and is chiefly associated with the “fight or flight” response. After your body internalizes a perceived threat, adrenaline is released into the bloodstream, resulting in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and energy supplies. In an attempt to supply your muscles and brain with blood, adrenaline also cuts off the blood supply to the skin. For prolonged periods of time, this can manifest as hair loss or acne. Furthermore, because of its relaxation effect on smooth muscles, epinephrine allows you to breathe more intensely, as the lungs contain smooth muscle.
How to Make Peace with Anger
The good news is that an anger habit doesn’t have to be out of your control. You can work to improve it through awareness. Self awareness is everything and when dealing with stress and anger, it's important we recognize exactly what triggers these feelings and keeps them going for long periods of time.
Think of a recent situation that brought on this feeling. There's a technique called "Trap It, Map It, Zap It" that really can work. Focus. Here's what you can do.
TRAP IT: When you feel anger coming on, flag that emotion. Notice the symptoms, such as a neck or shoulder tension and even redness in the face.
MAP IT: Pinpoint the thought that's bringing on this emotion
ZAP IT: Challenge the validity of the this. Is it really true? Don’t let that anger-fueled thought get off so easily.
When you can get some space between you and your thoughts, you become aware of what’s happening to you. That gives you room and energy to question the source of your anger-fueled rage, as opposed to getting caught up in it. Now you’re far more likely to calm that emotion, and less likely to make a decision you’ll regret.