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Columns : Letters to The Editor Last Updated: May 14, 2019 - 4:17:29 PM


Melissa Martin: Your brain on anger
May 14, 2019 - 2:30:22 PM

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Your brain on anger

Annie and Arnold scream at each other when they argue about money—anger visits every payday. When Annie’s kids don’t follow house rules, her face turns radish red, her eyes pop, she huffs and puffs until the inner volcano erupts. Arnold’s frustration boils and bubbles when he gets stuck in traffic. And he is on thin ice at work for his adult temper tantrums.

Anger is one of our most challenging emotions. But, is anger good or bad? Hmmm. Anger is neutral, neither good nor bad—it’s how we act, react, and what we do and whether we hurt others or self.

The emotion of anger serves a purpose. Anger motivates us to stand up against injustice, unfairness, and to promote human rights. Anger propels us to pass laws to protect innocent children and animals. By using anger as an energy force we can peacefully speak out against discrimination, racism, and prejudice. When a group of people join together, things can be changed.

However, chronic anger is not healthy for brain, body, or relationships.

“Your angry brain promotes angry actions, and these behaviors in turn influence every neuron in your brain. In other words, angry brains create angry bodies, which create angry brains, in a vicious cycle that can trap you in an unnecessarily angry world,” writes Ronald Potter-Efron in his 2012 book, “Healing the Angry Brain: How Understanding the Way Your Brain Works Can Help You Control Anger and Aggression.”

Studies reveal the top three things that trigger anger: when expectations are not met; when you perceive a threat; and as an attempt to hide other emotions such as embarrassment and humiliation.

Parts of Annie and Arnold’s brain leap offline and go from the logical zone to the emotional zone when angered. When anger escalates too quickly, devastating choices and consequences can happen.

Annie regrets the things she says to her spouse and kids during fury outbursts. Arnold regrets his firecracker responses to his spouse, coworkers, and fellow drivers. Guilt, shame, and remorse are constant companions after raging explosions.

The Brain’s Reasoning Center and Emotional Center

The prefrontal cortex in the brain enables you to manage anger by using logical thinking—judging, evaluating, and reflecting. The emotional part is called the limbic center and contains the amygdale; a storehouse for emotional memories.

When a person gets angry, the brain orders the release of neurotransmitters. Epinephrine and norepinephrine, two hormones, are released. Whoosh! A flush and rush surge through brain and body. Heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing run wild. On average, it can take around 20 minutes for a cool down after an anger outburst, depending upon the intensity; mild, medium, or severe.

How to Help an Angry Brain

Understanding how the anger system works can lead to self-awareness. We need to know how we think, feel, and respond to certain situations. Awareness and understanding are the first steps toward any change.

What other thoughts and emotions are underneath anger? Jealousy, rejection, revenge, hurt, frustration, resentment, guilt, shame, fear of loss, feeling inferior, being disrespected, unfairness, entitlement, wanting control, selfishness, instant gratification.

Learn to process and express anger in healthy ways. You own your brain, thoughts, emotions, words, actions, and reactions. Your brain is in charge of your tongue. Nobody grabs your tongue and makes you scream and cuss. Nobody controls your tongue and makes you shout harsh words. We can learn to manage anger without hurting ourselves or others.

“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson


Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, and educator. She lives in U.S.

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