, Gloucester, MA


March 8, 2013

On the end: Anger and its stress

If you’ve ever been wronged, offended or denied a chance to react with retaliation, you’ve felt it.

If you’ve suffered an injustice, an insult or been antagonized, you’ve felt it then, too.

It’s a capital vice, one of the seven deadly sins according to Christian ethics and is often thought of as the gateway emotion to the dismantling of personal relationships and mental health.

We’re talking, of course, about anger.

Easily categorized and referenced, anger is responsible for far more than just mental hardship. The measurable effects and changes that occur systemically throughout the body can have drastic consequences on your physical well-being.

As a physical therapist, I wouldn’t be able to comment on how to help you control it, but I can tell you what it does to your body, and perhaps that’s enough.

Anger is a response emotion. Part of the “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system, anger is a conscious choice made by a person to eliminate a threatening stimulus. What you may not know is that anger has a strong tendency to become the predominant human emotion. To be phonetically and thematically redundant, the angrier you are, well, the angrier you are.

Anger can be a useful tool to mobilize psychological resources, but it had better be in short bursts because it causes a release of cortisol into the blood stream. Elevated levels of cortisol over prolonged periods have been strongly associated with multi-system organ dysfunction and serious conditions such as adrenal exhaustion.

As always, one thing leads to another. Angry people are far more likely to wake frequently during the night, complain of constant fatigue, crave sugar and use stimulating substances like caffeine and cigarettes to get through the day. All of these items are considered to be ‘life-shorteners,’ so perhaps counting to ten might be a good option after all.

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