We all know what it means—and what it feels like—to be angry. However, our experience with and expression of anger can vary: Some hold it in until they can scribble down their feelings in a journal; others don’t dream of holding themselves back and lash out furiously instead. This begs the question: is there a right or wrong way to express anger? This question is multifaceted. Simply put, it’s important we manage our anger properly so that we don’t experience any negative side effects on our physical or mental health.
What Is Anger? Is It a Healthy, Normal Response?
We’ll delve into the potential side effects of anger, but first, we should understand the functionality of anger a little better. Here are some good-to-know tidbits about anger, offered by Psychotherapist John Sovec:
- Although anger feels like a big dominant emotion for most people, in psychology it is often viewed as a secondary emotion. This means that anger is an easily accessed and primal response while behind it are the true triggering emotions such as frustration, abandonment, loneliness, and loss.
- As a biological response, anger releases huge amounts of cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream, which over the long-term, interfere with the body’s ability to heal itself.
- Occasional anger is fine for the body as long as there is recovery time for the body to clear itself of cortisol and adrenaline. Constant and building anger are detrimental to the body and often are ignored because a person has become accustomed to living in a toxic and over-stimulated environment.
In summary, yes, it’s healthy and normal to feel angry from time to time! However, if we don’t take the time to manage and recover from our anger, we’re at risk of suffering from negative effects—both physically and mentally.
The Physical Effects of Anger: Can It Make You Sick?
As Sovec introduced, anger can be dangerous when the individual succumbs to it too often and without dealing with it properly. Below, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Patrice Douglas, explains just how harmful anger can be to our physical health and answers the important question: “Can anger make me ill?”
“Anger can absolutely harm you or even kill you due to the wear and tear it has on your body. When we are angry, it takes three seconds for our body to go into full fight or flight mode, which means our body is ready to take on an attack. When angry, we stay in this state for approximately 30 minutes each time we are mad throughout the day. This creates exhaustion and wears on our bodies causing immune systems to decrease, which means we become sicker more often. Having our body in attack mode can increase blood pressure and rapid heart beating, which can ultimately cause heart attacks or a stroke. Many people report feeling exhaustion and headaches when having anger issues. While anger is an extremely important emotion to have as it alerts us when something is wrong and change needs to happen, health-wise it can be dangerous if it occurs frequently and/or lasts for too long.”
We can exhaust our bodies with anger, which then leads to weaker immune systems. And a weaker immune system means a greater risk of becoming sick. So, the answer is yes, unresolved or continuous anger can lead to you becoming ill more often. It can also lead to higher blood pressure, gastritis, and migraines.
How Can Anger Affect You Mentally?
What about the mental and emotional effects of anger? Sure, none of us like to writhe with anger or lash out at our loved ones, but we also don’t fully realize the implications this can have on our minds. Caleb Backe, Health and Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics, agrees and explains the spiral of negativity you might enter: “Everyone knows that anger is unpleasant, but not everyone realizes just how much it can affect your mental (and physical) health. It puts you in a funk, which can lead to feelings of hurt, self-doubt, and isolation. As you stew in your anger, you might push others away, even those who care for you the most, and this only serves to worsen your mood.”
All in all, it’s important that you learn to manage your anger, so you don’t suffer from these negative effects on your mental health or your physical health. If you’re struggling to express or understand your anger, consider meeting with a mental health professional. Anger management counseling specifically can help you to get to the root of your angry tendencies and control them.
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