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  • Writer's picturePatricia Faust

Elaborating on Anger in America



In November of 2021, I wrote a blog – Does Anger Define Americans Today? I wanted to elaborate on some of the findings in that blog because America is certainly going through a very stressful and fearful time. When I write a blog, I research current articles to support whatever I am writing about. My key words for this search were – “level of anger in America”. I received 47,600,000 results! America – I think we have a problem!


It is hard not to notice that American are operating on their last nerve. Tempers are short, rudeness prevails, and anger is rampant. There is little that has brightened our moods aver the past few years. Recent surveys indicate that anger had risen in the country even before the 2020 crisis. A Gallup poll conducted in 2018 concluded that American’s stress, worry, and anger had intensified that year. The emergency weekly surveys conducted in 2020, by the Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t specifically ask about anger. But they did reveal that American are anxious and depressed. Both anxiety and depression can manifest as anger.


The Physiology of Anger

Like other emotions, anger is experienced in our bodies as well as in our minds. But the emotions that are triggered in our minds dramatically affect our bodies. The Amygdala, the two almond shaped structures in our brain are threat central. Our fight or flight response is initiated in the amygdala. Its primary responsibility is to keep us alive and so it is always on alert. Because it is always primed to warn us about threats, it initiates response before the cortex (responsible for thought and judgment) can check on the reasonableness of our reaction. Our brain is hardwired in such a way as to influence us to act before we can properly consider the consequences of our actions. This means that we need to understand that managing anger properly is a skill that must be learned, instead of something we are born knowing how to do instinctually.


As you become angry, your body’s muscles tense up. Inside your brain, neurotransmitter chemicals known as catecholamines are released causing you to experience a burst of energy lasting up to several minutes. This burst of energy is behind the common angry desire to take immediate protective action. At the same time, your heart rate accelerates, your blood pressure rises, and your rate of breathing increases. Your face may flush as increased blood flow enters your limbs and extremities in preparation for physical action. Your attention narrows and becomes locked onto the target of your anger. Soon you can pay attention to nothing else. In quick succession, additional brain neurotransmitters and hormones (among them adrenalin and noradrenalin) are released which trigger a lasting state of arousal. You are now ready to fight. (Physiology of Anger, https://www.mentalhelp.net/anger/physiology/)


The Prefrontal Cortex

All is not lost in the battle for control. As your emotions are raging, your prefrontal cortex (located behind the forehead), can keep your emotions in proportion. If the amygdala handles emotion, the prefrontal cortex handles judgment. The left prefrontal cortex can switch off your emotions. Getting control over your anger means learning ways to help your prefrontal cortex get the upper hand over your amygdala so that you have control over how to react to your anger feelings. Use some relaxation techniques like deep breathing, to reduce your arousal and decrease your amygdala response. Then use cognitive control techniques which help you practice using your judgment to override your emotional reaction. (Cognitive control is the process by which goals or plans influence behavior. Also called executive control, this process can inhibit automatic responses and influence working memory. Cognitive control supports flexible, adaptive responses and complex goal-directed thought. Natureportfolio)


The Social Costs of Anger

The social cost of anger is high. There are significant social and emotional costs to be angry all the time. Hostile, angry people are less likely to have supportive, healthy relationships. Because of their anger issues, they have fewer friends, are depressed, and are more likely to become verbally and/or physically abusive towards others. Because anger reduces intimacy within personal relationships, partners and other family members tend to be more guarded and less able to relax in their interactions with hostile people.


Having healthy relationships with family, friends, coworkers, and colleagues is very important to maintaining physical and brain health. This support network helps ward off emotional problems and serious health conditions including heart disease.


Unfortunately, angry people frequently have cynical attitudes toward others and are unable to recognize and utilize support when it is available. Because hostile people don’t realize the impact their behavior has on others, they don’t realize that they are pushing people away when they refuse or ridicule genuine attempts at helpfulness. Angry people also tend to smoke, drink, and eat more than their less angry counterparts. Without a social network of people to dampen these tendencies, the probability of serious health consequences is high. Individuals who cannot get a grip on their disruptive, aggressive behavior are likely to suffer not only increased risks for health problems but serious social problems as well. (Social Costs of Anger: https://www.mentalhelp.net/anger/)


Of course, we only have control over our own behavior. But America feels like it is a powder keg right now. It is imperative that we use our prefrontal cortex and make deliberate decisions and actions. Even though our brain is built for survival we must use our emotions in a positive way to bring about calm and reason. We all have a duty to stop, think, and act in a way that promotes a more positive future. Our brains are absolutely able to do this.


References:

Physiology of Anger. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhelp.net/anger/

Social Costs of Anger. Retrieved from https://mentalhelp.net/anger/social-costs/







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