By Chijioke Iremeka
Experts say bottled-up anger, which means keeping one’s feelings or emotions inside instead of expressing them, can have a profound effect on the human brain and body.
According to him, studies have shown that suppressed anger can lead to physical and mental health problems including brain overload, loss of memories, high blood pressure, heart disease, and headaches among others.
The experts said that persistent bottling up of one’s anger, a situation medically known as ‘anger suppression,’ can lead to psychological consequences, including increased stress, anxiety and even physical health problems.
According to the National Library of Medicine, anger suppression refers to the frequency with which angry feelings are experienced but not expressed for certain reasons.
The medical journal noted that bottling up anger may be associated with conflict avoidance, guilt, irritability, decreased life satisfaction, rumination, and depressive symptoms.
“Individuals who suppress their anger also have a stronger perception of lacking social support and like emotion suppression in general, anger suppression is associated with psychological costs and maladjustment,” the journal added.
A clinical psychiatrist at the Nawfia Psychiatric Hospital, Nawfia, Anambra State, Dr. Jude Elemuo said that anger can express strength at one point and, weakness, depending on several factors.
He stated that bottling up anger is a form of anger that is not expressed and it is often the result of feeling that one can’t or shouldn’t express one’s anger.
“This can be due to a variety of reasons, such as feeling like it’s not appropriate to show anger in a certain situation or being scared of the consequences of such anger expression,” he said.
This condition, according to him, is different from repressed anger, which is when one is not even aware that one is angry, saying that with suppressed anger, you may be aware that you are angry but choose not to express it.
According to him, for the fear of causing harm to people in an environment where emotional expression of anger is often stigmatised, misunderstood or even judged to have a bad temperament, people, especially the men, whom society sees as superhumans tend to bottle up their anger.
He noted that the act of suppressing anger requires a constant mental effort to redirect cognitive resources away from other important tasks and this brain overload can lead to mental fatigue, reduced focus, and impaired decision-making.
Speaking on how this affects the body, a health and wellness expert, Dr. Christine Bradstreet, said that anger triggers a release of cortisol and one of the results of cortisol is an increase in the uptake of calcium ions through the cell membranes of one’s neurons, saying that this increased uptake of calcium ions causes one’s nerve cells to fire too frequently and die.
Dr. Bradstreet, who is also a transformation specialist, said that too much cortisol over time leads to a loss of neurons in the areas of your brain called prefrontal cortex and your hippocampus.
“The prefrontal cortex is a part of your brain, and it’s located in the area of your forehead in charge of planning and personality development. While the hippocampus is in charge of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system,” the author of ‘Anger is killing your brain cells,’ added.
Corroborating her position, a Professor of Medicine and the Chairman, of the International Institutes of Advanced Research and Training, Chidicon Medical Centre, Owerri Imo State, Philip Njemanze, said when anger is suppressed, the brain perceives a threat but does not allow an outlet for emotional release, and this leads to a surge in stress hormones like cortisol.
He noted the fact that almost all the activities of the body are monitored and regulated by the pituitrin, a hormone that is secreted by the pituitary gland (master gland) in the brain, the brain tends to overlabour itself when it continues to store up interpreted information without acting on them.
He said, “Remember that the pituitary gland is connected by a stalk to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Together, the brain and pituitary gland form the neuroendocrine system. This system constantly monitors glands and organs to determine whether to send or stop the chemical messengers (hormones) that control their functions.
Njemanze, who also was a Principal Investigator in studies of brain physiology in hypergravity in High-Performance aircraft funded by the Pentagon, said that anger suppression leads to brain overload.
He noted that the suppression requires a constant mental effort, diverting cognitive resources away from other important tasks, and this cognitive load can lead to mental fatigue, reduced focus, and impaired decision-making.
Njemanze, who was at one point, Principal Investigator in studies of brain physiology in hypergravity in High-Performance Aircrafts funded by the Pentagon, said anger, fear and anxiety trigger the body’s flight response when the adrenal glands flood the body with stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.
According to him, when this happens, the brain shunts blood away from the gut and towards the muscles, in preparation for physical action, saying that with this, heart rate and blood pressure increase the body temperature will rise and one’s body begins to vibrate.
Njemaze said that the constant flood of stress chemicals and associated metabolic changes that go with ongoing unmanaged anger can eventually cause harm to many different systems of the body as the body has lost the regulation of the majority of its activities.
On the way out, he said, good counselling by a professional would help to reassure people with suppressed anger to express it in a certain way that would not be damaging to themselves and others.
Sequel to this, the American Psychiatric Association is focusing on expressive anger and aggression in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
“Western culture generally encourages the expression of emotions rather than suppression. To date, most studies on suppression have concluded that suppression negatively affects social outcomes,” the psychiatrists said.
However, a study, ‘Anger in brain and body: the neural and physiological perturbation of decision-making by emotion,’ by Sarah Garfinkel and team, published in the National Library of Medicine, the authors said individuals with high trait anger were speeded up by subliminal anger primes.
The authors said, “Within the brain, anger trials evoked an enhancement of activity within dorsal pons and decreased activity within visual occipitotemporal of the brain and attentional parietal cortices.
“Activity within grey matter, occipital and parietal regions increased linearly with evoked blood pressure changes, indicating neural substrates through which covert anger impairs semantic decisions, putatively through its expression as intuitive arousal.
“The behavioural and physiological impact of anger states compromises the efficiency of cognitive processing through action-ready changes in the autonomic response that skew regional neural activity,” the study stated, thus affecting the functionality of the brain.
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