Anger triggers a fight or flight response that floods the body with stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase, and you experience a surge of blood sugar.
When you’re in an argument, this stress response reduces your ability to discuss a situation rationally. It also reduces your short-term memory. (That’s why when you later reflect on the disagreement, you think of all the things you wish you had said!)
“When the argument gets heated, you eventually find yourself almost sounding like a caveman,” psychologist Gregory Nawalanic, PsyD, of the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, says. “If you’re watching two people debate and one person gets really angry and starts yelling, they’ve essentially lost because the calm person is going to be able to have a rational response.”
In addition to hurting your relationships, walking through life in an angry, chronic state of stress increases your risk of health issues, including heart attack, stroke, autoimmune disease, headaches, and mental health conditions.
If you feel anger rising in your spirit and your body, try these suggestions:
• Take a deep breath—literally. Inhale, hold your breath for four to five counts, and slowly exhale. Repeat as needed.
• Exercise daily to help discharge stress hormones.
• Set aside five to 10 minutes of quiet time each morning and evening.
• Establish daily intentions, such as “I will be kind,” “I will listen before I speak,” or “I will not raise my voice.”
• At the end of the day, reflect on what happened and how you responded (acknowledge mistakes without obsessing over them).
• Avoid alcohol. Alcohol can loosen your inhibitions and make self-control harder. “It’s hard enough to be rational about politics when you’re totally sober,” says Jeanne Safer, PhD, author of I Love You, but I Hate Your Politics.
• Take breaks from the news, especially anger-filled political commentary.
Christa Melnyk Hines is the author of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.