What does anger cost you?

There are times when anger is a useful ally when you need to stand up for yourself or someone you care about. But sometimes we court anger as if it were a pretty mate. We breed it, breathe life into it, and grow it like a plant. My question is, what does that do for you? How does this manifest in your body?

As you may recall from biology or health class, when you get angry you're engaging the sympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system. This sets a whole process of preparing your body for fight or flight, into motion. Stress chemicals are released and you feel a surge of power. For some people this is exciting and enjoyable; for others it is unpleasant and upsetting.

Do this enough and it creates stress on your body, mind and spirit. It can affect memory, shrinking your hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for memory) and cause inflammation, high blood pressure, and many other negative health effects. Your adrenal glands, that sit on top of your kidneys, can become depleted if you engage in enough stressful activities. It also erodes the quality of your life and your relationships (as seen from the angry people above). For more information about how stress affects us, check out Robert Sapolsky's great book, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.

What makes you mad, and how can you prevent yourself from getting angry unecessarily? One of the things that leads to having a problem with anger is how you appraise a situation. If you think you're right all the time and everyone else is wrong, it often leads to judgment and contempt for your fellow humans. This can lead to anger. If you think that people should fulfill your expectations and when they don't, you hold grudges, that can also lead to anger.

What's at stake? As mentioned above, your physical health suffers when you get mad all the time. So do your relationships with other people and ultimately yourself. You may feel lonelier when people in your life don't want to be around you anymore. So I ask again: what is causing your anger? Your health and peace of mind depend on figuring this out, and changing it.

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