angry people
Mental & Emotional Health

The Anger Epidemic: How It Affects Mental and Physical Health

Irate people seem to be everywhere these days, on airplanes, in cars, at school, on social media platforms and at political rallies across the country.  In fact, voter rage often makes more headlines than the candidates seeking office.

Has anger reached a fever pitch in America?

According to a November 2015 national survey conducted by NBC, Survey Monkey and Esquire magazine, half of Americans reported feeling angrier today than they did just a year ago.  Read the complete survey results here and visit this link to take a quiz connected to see how your feelings compare to the survey respondents.

While this increased anger is a concern, it’s important to remember that anger is a natural human reaction tied to the body’s fight or flight response.  The challenge is to find ways to experience these intense feelings but not let them spiral out-of-control.

What’s So Bad About Being Mad?

Here is what happens when the body feels the first flicker of anger:  The brain’s amygdala instantly springs into action, sending an internal alarm and triggering the adrenal glands to release both adrenaline and testosterone.  Sensing these changes, the body responds by tensing muscles, increasing the heart rate, raising blood pressure and flooding the body with stress chemicals.

Internally, these reactions transpire in a matter of seconds.

Signs of the anger then become visible to others as the body displays changes in facial expressions, stance and breathing rates.

“Anger is a survival response that happens automatically when we feel threatened or unsafe,” said Donald Altman, M.A., LPC, speaker and author of “101 Mindful Ways to Build Resilience: Cultivate Calm, Clarity, Optimism and Happiness Each Day.”

Most individuals will experience anger by feeling mad or even livid in the short-term, yet they can moderate these intense emotions and eventually let them go.  They don’t allow their anger to fester and consume their lives.

However, an increasing number of people are being held hostage by their unresolved feelings of rage. If not released, the anger may become ingrained and adversely affect personal and professional relationships as well as mental and physical health.

“If anger happens enough, it gets hardwired into the brain and becomes a habit,” said Altman.

This deeply rooted anger is especially challenging.  To cope, some people have learned how to compartmentalize their wrath.

Donna Highfill, a midlife writer, author, and speaker, describes herself as a passionate person who is quick to react.  She can rage for 30 seconds over a dropped pencil, but she won’t seethe for years over a situation.