How Your Body Reacts to Anger Triggers

By Charles H. Elliott, Laura L. Smith, W. Doyle Gentry

Your body is the first responder to anger triggers. These responses happen almost instantaneously and often without awareness. People all have their own unique pattern of physiological responses to anger triggers. Here are two examples of different responses:

Melissa notices her palms getting damp on her commute to work. Initially, she thinks that maybe her drive through traffic is causing her to feel tense. However, as weeks go by, she notices other physical signs, such as tightness in her throat and feeling excessively cold in the afternoon even though the building temperatures are ideal. Gradually, she connects these sensations to an awareness of various emotions.

On the other hand, Bob works at the same office and has different sensations on his way to work. He begins to notice tension throughout his body, an increased heart rate, and frequent stomach upset on his commute. At first, Bob has no idea why these feelings consistently accompany him on his drive to work. However, he, too, begins to connect his sensations to various feelings of unease.

So you may wonder what other kinds of physical sensations typically accompany the beginnings of anger. The following list gives you a guide to many of these sensations, although the list could be endless. We recommend that you be on the lookout for sensations like these:

  • Rapid breathing

  • Dizziness

  • Blushing

  • Face draining of color

  • Sweating

  • Body trembles

  • Hands trembling

  • Stomach upset

  • Tightness in throat

  • Clenched jaw

  • Clenched fist

  • Puffed-up posture

  • Teeth grinding

  • Headache

  • Feeling too hot or cold

  • Grimacing

  • Glaring

  • Rapid pulse

  • Voice volume and tone changes

Circle the sensations you notice occurring repeatedly. You may recognize these physical responses also frequently go along with emotions other than anger. Good observation! To know what’s what, you need to first become aware of these sensations in your body. Then you can connect them to various emotions and feelings.