How anger and bitterness affect our health

How anger and bitterness affect our health

From the presidential debates to the mood on the streets; from our natural response to the current uncertainties and disruption of life, to the stock market’s volatility, it’s easy to see how fear, anxiety and anger threaten to steal our peace and joy these days.

Personally, I have chosen to remove myself from social media and TV news shows, making the “headlines” channels on my satellite radio my only source of news during the months preceding the presidential election. Not that I’m not interested in politics, by any means. I am very much a believer in the importance and privilege of taking part in the democratic process. Rather, I chose to avoid the constant stream of information because of how it affects my emotions.

Anger. Resentment. Fear. These are natural responses when something or someone threatens to harm us, or when blatant lies and injustice surround us.

“A tranquil heart is life to the body, but passion is rottenness to the bones.” King Solomon, Book of Proverbs.

According to an article published by the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavior Medicine (NICABM), science proves King Solomon’s wisdom to be true. The Hebrew word for “passion” in this proverb can also be translated as “envy, zeal, torment, hurt, and jealousy.” Science has concluded that these emotions are proven to generate a myriad of hormonal responses that, in time, create long-term damage to the health of the human body.

Among all negative emotions, anger is the most harmful one. According to scientific findings, anger can change your brain.

The first trigger of anger activates an organ inside the brain called the amygdala, activating the hypothalamus, which signals the pituitary gland, releasing a hormone that affects the adrenal gland’s stress hormones: cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline.

High cortisol levels cause a loss of neurons in the prefrontal cortex of one’s brain, which affects the proper function of that part of the cortex, known to help us make sound judgments and good decisions. Likewise, elevated cortisol levels kill neurons in the hippocampus, thus weakening short-term memory. High cortisol levels also decrease serotonin – the “happiness” hormone. The effect on serotonin levels generates an increase of anger, emotional pain, anxiety, and depression.

The long-term effects of these triggers are known to many of us. Stress hormones increase our heart rate, blood pressure, arterial tension, blood glucose levels and thyroid function. It increases the likelihood of the incidence of cancer, digestive, and metabolism problems.

Indeed, anger triggers a downhill snowball, wreaking havoc in its path.

I can’t help but think about how cultivating hostile feelings toward others has affected my life in the past and still affects many people I know. I could blame it on my upbringing – surrounded by hot-tempered women; my environment certainly gave me plenty of examples of heated, overly emotional responses to life’s circumstances.

The truth is – you and I can always find an excuse for our anger. We can go as far as to say we are surrounded by reasons to act in rage these days.

But at some point, we must choose whether we will allow others or circumstances we cannot control to dictate how we respond. And only we can determine that.

What we cannot do is to continue the route of unforgiveness, anger and resentment, and think that our bodies can find a way to raise cortisol levels in our brains naturally. Science and the “wisest man who’s ever lived” agree. It won’t happen. These “passions” will eventually “rotten our bones.”

Sure, we can take prescriptions to help elevate our “happy” hormones. We may take “chill” pills to help us cope with people we can’t stand. And I am not against medications to help us overcome a personal crisis. I’ve taken them myself. But there comes a time when we must dig deeper and seek healing to those things that provoke our anger, lest we become lonely, bitter and sick human beings.

We cannot help what happens in the world, nor can we change the way people treat us. But we indeed can and should find ways not to allow these external interferences to dictate how we respond. That is the only thing that we, with God’s help and by his grace, are able to control.

Patricia Holbrook is a columnist, author, blogger and international speaker. Her newly published Bible Study – Twelve Inches – is now available on her website . For speaking engagements and comments, email


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