In similar fashion to a cartoon character, we clench our fists, grind our teeth, and turn lobster red when angered — without steam coming out of our ears. Although we know the external cause for our state of anger, what exactly happens to our bodies internally?
In Life Noggin’s video “The Science of Anger,” host Patrick Graziosi explains how the brain processes anger and the physical effects it has on our health. In the brain’s medial temporal lobe, the amygdala, which responds to outside stimuli, coordinates the release of neurotransmitters — cathecholamine — that leads to a burst of energy which prepares us for physical action. During this process, hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine are also released, increasing our blood pressure. This causes the blood to rush to our extremities like the face.
Blood flow also rushes to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that’s over the left eye. This area controls our judgement and helps us suppress anger, so we don’t act aggressively toward others. The neurological response is believed to last less than two seconds, which is why we’re advised to count to 10 when we’re angry.
Failure to rationalize and keep anger at bay can damage heart health. The release of epinephrine and norepinephrine during these bouts of anger constricts blood vessels and forces the heart to pump faster. This can damage artery walls and even speed up the process of atherosclerosis. The fatty plaque build-up begins to narrow the arteries and increase the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the body, which can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or death.
Next time someone cuts you off on the freeway, refrain from honking the horn and the not-so-nice hand gestures. Take a deep breath and count to 10 — for your heart’s sake.