Speaking of temper… Here’s a blog post that talks about the physiological impact of anger.
This is pretty important, especially for TBI survivors. Anger and temper flares are very widespread among folks who have experienced head injury — even mild traumatic brain injury — but even so, they are woefully under-researched.
Personally, I feel there’s not nearly enough good information out there for folks to use — both survivors, family members, and the doctors who help them. It’s a problem.
I’m in the process of documenting my own anger/temper issues, talking about how I experience them, and describing ways I’ve found to deal effectively defuse — or at least deflect — the temper flares I have. And believe me, I do have them. Especially after my last TBI.
Sudden, extreme, inexplicable temper flares can be emotionally, socially, and physically debilitating. From the blog post I mentioned above, here are some of the ways anger affects our bodies:
- Muscles that are needed to fight or flee become very tight, causing an “uptight” feeling.
- Chemicals known as catecholamines are released causing us to experience a burst of energy (which causes a sugar deficiency, so that an angry person may “shake from anger”).
- Heart rate accelerates: Because of our anger, the usual (average) heart rate of 80 climbs to 180 beats per minute.
- Blood pressure rises: An average blood pressure of 120 over 80 suddenly soars to 220 over 130, sometimes even higher.
- As the body prepares for survival, it safeguards itself against injury and bleeding. Likewise, an angry person’s body releases chemicals to coagulate (clot) the blood, creating a situation that’s potentially dangerous. Although there is no physical injury, the clot is formed, which can travel through the blood vessels to the brain or heart.
- Rate of breathing increases to get more oxygen into the body.
- Increased blood flow enters our limbs and extremities.
- Attention narrows.
- Hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline) are released which trigger a lasting state of arousal.
“If anger has a physiological preparation phase during which our resources are mobilized for a fight, it also has a wind-down phase as well. We start to relax back towards our resting state when the target of our anger is no longer accessible or an immediate threat. However, it is difficult to relax from an angry state. The adrenaline-caused arousal that occurs during anger lasts a very long time (many hours, sometimes days), and lowers our anger threshold, making it easier for us to get angry again later on. Though we do calm down, it takes a very long time for us to return to our resting state. During this slow cool-down period we are more likely to get very angry in response to minor irritations that normally would not bother us…. High levels of arousal (such as are present when we are angry) significantly decrease your ability to concentrate.”
Which means, the naturally hyperaroused, hypervigilant, brain fog state in which we already exist is only exacerbated by anger. We need to consider this. We need to see ourselves. We need to make a change.
Our bodies are already stressed, tensed and on edge any normal day. Why make it worse by not controlling our anger? It is, after all, an emotion that is within our capability to focus, modulate and contain.
The long-term effects of too much uncontrolled anger are in the same ballpark as the effects of long-term unaddressed PTSD, from what I can tell. In both cases, the physical system is dragged down, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year… and what do we have to show for it? Yet more stress.
That being said, I wish I could say I just have PTSD, but my TBI makes it even more difficult for me to parse things through and manage my anger at times. I have to follow specific guidelines to keep myself in check, and I need to keep an eye on myself on a regular basis, lest my anger/temper/freak outs get way out of hand. I’ve lost jobs because of temper flares. And I’ve hurt a lot of people I care about. Uncontrolled temper flares have done plenty of damage to my heart and the hearts of others. So, I owe it to myself to keep my anger in check.
And I owe it to myself to keep in mind the physical effects that uncontrolled anger has on me. Somehow, my brain finds it easier to wrap itself around objective, non-emotional reasons for staying chilled — like the physiological effects listed above.
Objective data is one more tool in my toolbox for living well, despite multiple TBIs.
Oct.9.2011 – And here’s one more tool I’ve discovered since I first wrote this: TBI/PTSD anger management by using the breath