Anger can be a tricky emotion to process. It tends to come on quickly and move throughout your body igniting a response. Just as quick as it comes on it can lead to some unfortunate events—poor choices, misdirected responses, damaged relationships, violence.
We have all felt angry, but few of us really know how it works and how it impacts our overall bodies. By understanding how the process works, maybe we can better help to train our brains to think first, then react.
First Things, First
Before you’re even aware that you might become angry, a spark (disappointment, frustration, judgment, rejection, fear, etc.) activates the amygdala—located in the brain’s medial temporal lobe. This part of the brain is known to play a key role in the processing of emotions.
Once the amygdala is triggered, it immediately becomes ready to turn on the body’s stress response system, often referred to by scientists at the “HPA axis” (Hypothalamus, Pituitary, and Adrenal). This starts the chain reaction of hormones—or the spread of fire throughout.
The amygdala signals the hypothalamus, which then signals the pituitary gland by discharging the corticotropin-releasing hormone. The pituitary gland signals the adrenal glands by releasing the adrenocorticotropic hormone. Then, the adrenal gland secretes stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.
These hormones quickly get to your neurons and cells. It causes you to feel a whole lot of unpleasantness, usually making you feel like you must react in some way.
Anger might sometimes feel unexplained — but why? But the truth is it did come from somewhere, that first spark. Identifying the exact reason for your anger can help you to work on your internal self, and why you might feel the way you do. It helps you to react in a calmer, un-impulsive fashion.
For example, you are mad at your husband for coming home late after being out with his friends. Why are you really mad? Probably not because your husband was having a good time, but rather — he didn’t call and you were worried (fear) about his safety? Or, you are angry with your kids because they didn’t listen when you asked them to put their shoes on five minutes ago — you aren’t mad because they don’t have shoes on, you are frustrated because they didn’t listen. And now you are going to be late (judgment).