Like other emotions, anger is experienced in our bodies as well as in our minds. In fact, there is a complex series of physiological events that occur as a person becomes angry.
The adrenal glands flood the body with stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. The brain shunts blood away from the gut and towards the muscles, in preparation for physical exertion. Heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increase, the body temperature rises and the skin perspires. The mind is sharpened and focused on the source of the anger (Better Health Channel).
The physical signs or symptoms of anger are varied and can include:
- Increased heart rate
- Dramatic increases in the breathing rate
- Unconscious tensing of muscles, especially in the face and neck
- Veins becoming visible due to an increase in blood pressure
- Dryness in the mouth and throat
- Teeth grinding
- Changed facial colouring – most commonly the face turns red but can become pale
- Feeling hot or cold
- Shaking in the hands
- Feeling a surge of power (due to the release of adrenaline)
Fear, excitement and anxiety also trigger the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response and commonly manifest in similar physical reactions. While it can be difficult to tell anger apart from fear, the presence of anger-triggering thoughts is one sure way people can tell the difference. The other telling sign is that fear is more likely to result in a person feeling ‘cold and clammy’ whereas people who are angry often report feeling ‘hotheaded’ although it is not always the case.
There is also a physiological wind-down phase once the target of people’s anger is no longer accessible or an immediate threat. It is difficult to relax from an angry state as the adrenaline-caused arousal that occurs while people are angry can last for hours and sometimes days. During this slow cool-down period people are more susceptible to anger therefore more likely to get very angry in response to minor triggers.