Anger and rage are two of the most powerful emotions people can experience. They both have the ability to affect people in different ways and can sometimes be helpful or harmful. Rage is a much more intense emotion than anger, and it can sometimes have dangerous effects on a person’s physical health. Anger is more common than rage, and it can often be helpful in achieving certain goals. In this blog post, we will explore the differences between rage and anger and discuss how they can both be beneficial or detrimental to a person’s well-being.
What are anger and rage, and how do they differ?
Neuroscience considers anger to be one of the seven primary emotional systems in the mammalian brain. (The others are Fear, Caring, Seeking, Panic, Lust and Play.) These primary emotions are the biological responses to what’s going on outside and how that might affect the individual’s survival. They are not psychological emotions, which can be a reaction to what’s going on inside, i.e. our thoughts and beliefs about a situation.
Anger, therefore, has a biologically positive role to play in keeping us alive and propagating our species. When flight and freeze are not viable options to threat, we need anger for the ‘fight’ reaction to kick in. Today, anger has become an adverse reaction because we are unable to distinguish the triggers that genuinely threaten our existence from those that we believe threaten our well-being.
Both anger and rage are emotional outbursts. Anger is a feeling or emotion that a person has when being offended or when wronged. Rage can be considered to be an action in retaliation to the anger that a person has. Rage is a situation when a person is not able to handle their anger in a proper way.
There are three types of anger which help shape how we react in a situation that makes us angry. These are: Passive Aggression, Open Aggression, and Assertive Anger. If you are angry, the best approach is Assertive Anger.
Not all anger is the same, and not everybody feels angry about the same things. There is variation in the degree of anger felt, the expression and, most intriguing of all, in the perception of threat. What sets Donald off may sail over Goofy’s head.
Rage is a much more intense emotion than anger. It is often characterised by feelings of uncontrollable fury, irritation, and resentment. Rage can be triggered by various things, such as frustration, injustice, or even physical pain. When someone experiences rage, they may feel like they are about to explode. They may also have difficulty thinking clearly and may act impulsively.
The Anger Response
When we recognise the danger and succeed in eliminating it, anger fulfils its purpose. We slay the sabre-tooth, and all is well again. But what happens in today’s world, where the triggers may not be as straightforward as a sabre-toothed tiger?
Like all our other emotions, anger has two components:
The Physiological Manifestation – How our bodies react.
The Cognitive Aspect – The thinking and interpreting, only a little of which is conscious.
Anger is a very primitive emotion shared by all vertebrates. It’s a primal reaction to an external threat. Anger is always ABOUT something – a recognition of danger to our survival.
When we recognie the danger and succeed in eliminating it, anger fulfils its purpose. We slay the sabre-tooth, and all is well again. But what happens in today’s world, where the triggers may not be as straightforward as a sabre-toothed tiger?
We’re accustomed to thinking of anger in terms of overt violence and aggression. But anger can be much more subtle than that. It can run deep beneath the surface like a powerful underground stream, feeding the desire to get back at the cause of all the hurt and misery and fear. Grudges can be held for years.
How do anger and rage affect our physiology?
* The above image comes from a useful infographic – You can view the full PDF here.
The amygdala is part of the limbic system in the brain. Composed of two almond-shaped structures, part of its function is to be alert to danger. The amygdala sends out warning signals to the hypothalamus before the cortex has time to process the information. The body, therefore, starts reacting before we are cognitively aware of the reaction.
When faced with a trigger situation, the hypothalamus reacts by
- activating the sympathetic nervous system (SNS)
- releasing corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) to stimulate the pituitary gland.
The SNS activates the adrenal medulla (the inner part of the adrenal glands), which floods the bloodstream with adrenaline (also called epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine).
Adrenaline increases the heart rate and rushes blood to the muscles, readying them for action. Blood is rushed to the brain as well (some people can feel the head rush). Adrenaline also works with the liver to release stored glycogen, converting it to glucose and spiking blood sugar levels.
Noradrenaline works with adrenaline to ready the body to deal with stress. It can also narrow the blood vessels, resulting in high blood pressure. Noradrenaline also makes you happy. High levels can create euphoria, making it difficult to let go of the anger-equals-fight response. This makes sense when you consider fighting to the death – a completely illogical concept unless you view it as survival for the species, not the individual.
Meanwhile, the pituitary gland releases an adrenal corticotropic hormone (ACTH) that alerts the adrenal gland to produce corticosteroid hormones. About 30 of these hormones pour into the bloodstream affecting the cardiovascular system, converting carbohydrates to energy, affecting the immune response and inflammatory reactions, etc.
It takes a long time for the body to wind down from this highly aroused state. Anywhere from a minimum of 20 minutes to several days! During this cool off period, we react to even minor irritants with an anger that would usually be out of proportion for us. If the trigger situation remains unresolved, the body will continue to be in a state of readiness, leading to all kinds of health issues.
What are the effects of anger and rage on our bodies?
Anger is a normal and healthy emotion, but it can become problematic if not managed constructively. When we are angry, our heart rate and blood pressure increase, and we may experience a rush of adrenaline. This physical response can be helpful if we need to defend ourselves from a physical threat, but it can be harmful if we are angry all the time. Chronic anger has been linked to many health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
Rage is a very powerful emotion that can have a negative impact on our physical health. It has been linked to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and even cancer. If you find yourself feeling rage frequently, it is essential to seek help from a mental health professional so that you can learn how to deal with your anger in a healthy way.
Research shows that anger affects several of the major systems in our body. Notable amongst these are the cardio-vascular system, the respiratory system and the immune system. Anger also affects the pancreas and brain processing. Here is a shortlist of a few of the health problems linked to destructive anger.
- Acid reflux
- Breathing difficulties and asthma
- Chest pain
- Coronary heart disease
- Decreased bone density
- Excessive eating
- Frequent colds and coughs
- Gastric ulcers
- Heart attack
What can you do to take control of anger and rage?
As we mentioned above, anger can be productive. It can spur you on to make changes in your life or fight for what is right. But when it gets out of control, it can have a negative effect on both your physical and mental health. Rage, however, is not productive. If you find yourself feeling angry often or raging often, then it may help to create a diary.
Include the following in the diary. Not only will this help you notice patterns, but it can also be useful when seeking help.
- Who do you feel safe enough to express your anger to?
- Then for each period of anger:
- Date and time you were angry
- Who / what made you angry?
- How angry were you?
- What was your response, what action did you take?
- What your thoughts were at the time
- How did your body feel?
As well as keeping a diary, there are some things you can do in the moment to help. These include:
- Hitting pillow/cushions
- Ripping up old newspaper
- Write or draw your feelings and then rip them up
- Pretend to talk to the person who made you angry
- Shout in a safe place
- In a safe place, throw car sponges filled with water whilst shouting
- Physical exercise
Talk to your doctor or mental health professional about ways to deal with your anger in a healthy way. There are also support groups available to help you learn how to cope with your anger.
Charles has worked with many people who have been controlled by rage and anger. If you ready to take that power back, book a free 15-minute chat with Charles via the button below.