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How Anger Affects Your Health

Many people don’t see anger as a problem. When frustrating things happen maybe a relationship fails or you get written up at work you’re able to handle it without blowing up or stuffing your feelings.

But not everyone feels comfortable with being angry. As a people pleaser, I prided myself on not getting mad. Growing up I became a master at sensing other people’s feelings, but in doing so, I had learned to ignore my own.

Sometimes anger can be good for you, if it’s addressed quickly and expressed in a healthy way. In fact, anger may help some people think more rationally. However, unhealthy episodes of anger when you hold it in for long periods of time, turn it inward, or explode in rage can wreak havoc on your body. If you’re prone to losing your temper, here are seven important reasons to stay calm.

What Are the Types of Anger Disorders?

Individuals who have trouble controlling anger or who experience anger outside of a normal emotional scope can present with different types of anger disorders. Different experts have published contradicting lists of anger types, but some widely accepted forms of anger include:

  • Chronic anger, which is prolonged, can impact the immune system and be the cause of other mental disorders
  • Passive anger, which doesn’t always come across as anger and can be difficult to identify
  • Overwhelmed anger, which is caused by life demands that are too much for an individual to cope with
  • Self-inflicted anger, which is directed toward the self and may be caused by feelings of guilt
  • Judgmental anger, which is directed toward others and may come with feelings of resentment
  • Volatile anger, which involves sometimes-spontaneous bouts of excessive or violent anger

What you can do:

When sharing, keep the focus on yourself and how you feel when you’re angry. Avoid comments that blame or criticize others for your reactions. Instead, you use phrases like, “I feel,” or, “When you said x, I felt y.” Acknowledging your truth avoids blame and invites cooperation.

How Unexpressed Anger Impacts Health

Because anger is a physiological reaction not just a feeling studies have linked the stress of continuous anger with health problems. Suppressed anger gets stored in the body as tension.

Rage contributes to high blood pressure and studies have linked high levels of hostility with an increased risk of respiratory problems.

Research has shown that continuous levels of anger contribute to:

  • Increased risk for heart attack and stroke;
  • A weakened immune system making it harder to fight infection;
  • Heart disease, connected to repressed anger;
  • Increased levels of anxiety; and
  • A shortened lifespan due to the impact on the body.

These physical signs are your body’s way of getting your attention. Stuffing angry emotions contributes to depression and anxiety.

What you can do:

When you feel anger, pay attention to the early, physical signs of anger like increased heart rate, sweating, and muscle tension. Use those signs as guideposts to take a break, relax or get support. Find ways to express anger physically to release the body’s tension.

How Unexpressed Anger Impacts Emotions

You can’t manage emotions without identifying them first. For instance, fear is often felt in the stomach, anger shows up in the head, and upper body. Sadness feels like a heavy heart. Joy radiates from the center and is felt all over.

Once you have identified how you feel emotionally, it’s important not to judge yourself for having them. Feelings aren’t good or bad. They are a natural part of life. Identifying emotions takes practice and a willingness to be gentle with yourself.

There is a saying in 12-step programs… “You have to feel it, to heal it.”

What you can do:

Avoiding feelings often leads to addictive behaviors like using alcohol, drugs, or stress eating, particularly when angry. Any compulsive activity serves to cover up painful emotions. So instead, give yourself permission to feel all your feelings, be mindful of them. Name the feelings and choose healthier ways to process them. 

How Unexpressed Anger Impacts Values

Normally, you have no desire to hurt someone. But when anger is suppressed for long periods of time, it becomes more difficult to control. Even the most mild-mannered person can experience rages because denied anger has to leak out eventually.

The more these feelings are ignored, the more they may contribute to abusive behavior even if that is not in your nature. That’s why catching the feeling early is so critical.

Years ago when I was going through an incredibly painful time, my anger got the best of me and I became uncharacteristically enraged. I was trying to police someone else’s behavior, and I wasn’t taking care of myself. Not paying attention to my anger led to a huge blow up. That’s what happens when anger isn’t honored: it explodes.

What you can do:

Pay attention when you need a time out. Had I removed myself sooner I would have avoided raging behavior. Identify early warning signs of anger to assess when to remove yourself from the situation. Knowing when to leave an argument keeps everyone safe.

The Effects of Anger on Trust

When anger isn’t honored, a false image gets created. You say everything’s fine but you don’t look fine. People pleasing behaviors become a way to gain approval and avoid conflict. This is often the beginning of codependency. Pretending to be something you’re not creates problems.

Family and friends might not know what to expect because your tone and demeanor don’t match. Denying angry feelings creates confusion in relationships because others have no idea what’s bothering you. You feel invisible and secretly resentful.

What you can do:

Healthy relationships thrive on authenticity. Admitting what bothers you takes courage but also rebuilds trust. People who love you want to hear what you have to say.

Final Thoughts

Emotions are temporary. Let yourself feel your emotions and they will pass. Managing anger requires paying attention to what you need, not ignoring the need or the feeling. Anger signals you to pay attention: something isn’t quite right. It’s never wrong or weak to express feelings, despite what some of us heard as children.

Recognizing the consequences of unexpressed anger can provide the motivation to change it. Try to pinpoint the signs of anger early enough so you can express it without hurting yourself or the ones you love. You’ll be glad you did.

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