Understanding Anger – The Causes, the Effects and the Solutions

by | Mar 15, 2020 | Anger, Depression, PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), Stress


What is Anger?


Anger is a gift from nature that motivates us to take action. Usually seen as a negative thing, it is in fact a positive emotion. It moves us forward to protect ourselves and make necessary changes. However, it is a fact that excessive and or unprovoked anger can cause major problems with our relationships, our jobs and our friendships. In addition, the way it affects us physiologically can have a detrimental effect on us if anger levels are high for long periods of time. This article explains how seemingly irrational anger erupts, the physical effect it has on us longterm, and how we can reduce the effects on us and others. 


Emotional thinking makes us stupid


This is one of the main issues for many of our clients.

Imagine for a moment that you have two brains which cannot work together. You have a thinking brain ; this is where you keep track of your finances, plan holidays, do mathematical sums, basically anything logistical. You also have an emotional brain; this is the part that keeps us safe. For example, you are walking along the pavement and a car comes round the corner a little too fast. Then it starts to lose control, and it’s heading straight for you. Overthinking at this point is likely to result in potentially fatal hesitation. 

However, that doesn’t happen. In an emergency situation you will react in an instance with no thought at all. In fact, to ensure this happens, our thinking brain is actually limited during this time. Effective though this is in a dangerous situation, this is unfortunately what happens to all of us, whenever our emotional levels rise. Our thinking brain leaves the building; It is temporarily offline, because as we’ve said these two elements of the brain can’t work together.


Anger is a powerful emotion


Can you perhaps remember a time that you got angry? It’s happened to all of us at some point. We’ve all said or done something in the heat of the moment that we’ve later regretted. Anger is a powerful emotion and any strong reaction raises our emotional levels. Since these two parts of our brain can’t work together, we are now really limiting the abilities of our thinking brain. 

At this point our thoughts take the form of ‘all or nothing’, black and white thinking, because we cannot apply any logic to the thoughts. Some examples of this type of thinking would be: I will always be like this; No one understands; I’ll never get another girlfriend / boyfriend / job.  In reality, there’s usually little or no evidence that this is the case. This is just the emotional brain running riot without allowing the thinking brain to apply any logic to the thoughts you are having. 

Fully rehearsed, just waiting for the cue…


Let us imagine that someone close to you has said or done something that has upset you and you’re struggling to let it go. On one hand you maybe trying hard not to judge them for their actions and are trying to forgive and forget. However, on the other hand the thought of the incident just keeps going round and round in your mind. And depending on what kind of mood you’re in determines how angry you get with them. The angrier you get with them the more emotion is tagged to these thoughts. 

Now, it’s a function of our brains that it tries to bring about what we focus on. In this case you may have been angrily thinking about what you should have said or what you’ll say when you see them. If you have kept running the story over and over in your head fuelling it with more and more anger, then the brain will make sure that when the time comes and you see this person, your actions match your thoughts. So when you do see them, although part of you knows you’re over reacting, you’ve been angrily rehearsing having a go at them, with plenty of emotion behind the thoughts. 

…and action


This is our cue because, remember, emotion motivates us to take action. When we get our chance and we’ve been rehearsing this moment all day, we let them have it with both barrels. You shout and scream all the things you have been rehearsing. This may come as a shock to the other person, who may be wondering where has all this come from. Unlike you, they probably haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it, having left it behind this morning, last week or even 20 years ago.  


The longterm, physical effects of anger 


Anger has an extremely negative effect on us physically as well as mentally. The presence of stress hormones, such as Cortisol and Adrenalin over long periods can lead to reduced immune system function. It also increases risks of heart attack and strokes, and can affect our short-term memory and ability to plan ahead. Also, it decreases Serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ chemical. This in turn can make us feel pain and anger more easily, creating a vicious circle. Additionally the decrease in Serotonin can increase aggression and can lead to depression. So it makes sense to tackle the causes of our anger if we can, and to limit the damage that it can do.


So what can we do about it? 


It isn’t easy to stop being angry, especially when we go from 0-60 before we’ve even realised it sometimes. What we can do is recognise our triggers and take steps to calm down quickly and also implement some life habits that can help. The NHS have some useful tips on how to reduce anger and calm down quicker.  


Get some help with your anger


Sometimes at the root of the anger there is trauma or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and it can help have some therapy to deal with it. When we are triggered into anger by such events, it can mean that we are unable to stop the spiralling temper and high emotional reactions. Getting to the root of it and helping the brain to process it differently can make a huge improvement to our reaction to the situation. It can also stop us from reacting to other situations that we perceive as being the same. To understand more about how the brain processes trauma and how this can link to anger, see our resource page here

I hope this information has been useful. You can head over to our website for more resources and information, and as ever if you know someone who would benefit from a clearer understanding of anger, please share. 

Wishing you all the very best,



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