The Biology of Anger 101


Anger is like gasoline; it’s just energy.  When anger rises people become active. It’s a neutral energized state. It’s like gasoline before it’s applied to some function. Gas can be applied to run great engines or be used to create horrific firebombs, but the fuel itself is neutral until someone chooses how to apply it.  How do you apply your anger?

In some cases anger can be beneficial; psychologists recognize that “hasty and sudden” anger is connected to the impulse for self- preservation, which is shared between humans and animals, and occurs in situations when we feel tormented or trapped.  Angry humans and animals make loud sounds in an attempt to look larger and more intimidating; animals bare their teeth and stare – this behavior is designed to warn aggressors to stop their threatening behavior.   Anger is a natural emotion that has a functional value for our survival, and here is how… Biology 101 (you may want to grab a pencil!)

Anger increases:

1.  Your heart rate.

2.  It elevates your blood pressure.

3.  And it raises your adrenaline levels.

These involuntary reactions are completely supported by the sympathetic nervous system – the part of the nervous system that performs INVOLUNTARY FUNCTIONS. The sympathetic nervous system serves specifically to accelerate the heart rate (preparing the body to move), constrict blood vessels, and raise blood pressure.  Your body prepares itself for what is known as the “Fight or Flight” response, which is a term often used to characterize the circumstances under which adrenaline is released into the body.

The “Fight or Fight” response is an early evolutionary adaptation to allow better coping with dangerous and unexpected situations; it is quick and predictable. With dilated air passages, for example, the body is able to get more oxygen into the lungs in a timely manner, increasing physical performance for short bursts of time, enabling the ability to fight back or get away (like lightning in a bottle).

Anger can be a great motivator too.  When we feel that we are wronged, when we sense great injustice, anger can inspire the need for change, making anger a wonderful short-term tool in the search for solutions to life’s problems and difficulties.  Consider Martin Luther King, Jr. for example; here was a man who used his anger and frustration about the injustice of segregation to initiate powerful changes within the civil rights movement, making Martin Luther King, Jr. one of the youngest men in history to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, at the tender age of thirty-five.

Here’s the problem:  Anger is rarely a good long-term solution to long-term events.

When it comes to the topics I write about, I like to state not only the Spiritual and Psychological hazards, but also the Physical correlation to what we’re experiencing.  Every cause has an effect, and some of these effects can be devastating.  When we are angry our bodies are like pressure cookers, and our bodies can only withstand this pressure for a certain amount of time before it explodes – anger can be harmful and hazardous to your health.  It sounds dramatic, I know, but here are some facts to consider:

When we spend a lot of time harboring anger and thinking about the situation that caused this hurt your body reacts as if it’s in danger.  It activates the “Fight or flight” response, and your body releases the same stress chemicals to prepare your body to respond to imminent danger.  When you think of someone who has hurt you deeply, your sympathetic nervous system springs into action in the exact same way, but your body cannot discern the difference, it is an involuntary reaction, releasing the necessary stress chemicals to cope, which get your attention by causing physical changes.

When you are actually facing a situation where you need to fight for your life, your liver actually dumps cholesterol into your bloodstream so that it can gum up your heart in case you lose too much blood (It is incredible how the body can alter to help you cope in all kinds of situations). But what does this mean for you when you are often angry?  It’s not a coincidence that someone who is very anger-reactive has high cholesterol or heart disease – your body can only take so much abuse and anger. These stress chemicals also alter our digestion and cause our muscles to tighten.

Anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other to die. Studies have proved that uncontrolled anger affects our well-being, BUT (don’t feel dismayed) study after study states that forgiving is as good for the body as it is for the soul.

Your mind and spirit need to be in the driver seat. You may have considered the idea of seeking revenge or avoiding harm as carefully thought out responses, but they are not.  It’s your nervous system offering a response to a perceived danger. This is the primary result of stress chemicals running through your body. What’s unfortunate is that your nervous system cannot tell whether the danger you are seeing is occurring now or 10 years ago. If you choose to linger on hurtful memories that cause you anger, your nervous system can not discern whether the situation that you are recalling is happening now or back in 2001.

In order to combat this involuntary response to delayed-perceived danger all you need to do is learn to distinguish between real and imagined danger to function effectively.


1.  Are you harboring a memory that still makes you angry?

2.  Write it down.

3.  Listen to your body and simply open your awareness to how your body is responding to this memory.

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  1. Interesting, very well written though on some points I do not fully agree with results and conclusions… but I am still learning…

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