Clinical Notes on Anger and a Cool Herbal Chart

by Sheila Luna, Clinic Manager, CN, CCH

Did you know that your brain reacts to anger before you even realize you are angry?

After a specific client session, I became interested in learning a bit more about this emotion. In our relationships, we often see that anger can be triggered by frustration, judgment, or rejection. But additional sources include disappointment and fear.

Fear is a particularly important one. Each day when I watch the news I see fear-provoking stories. Natural disasters, environmental changes, political events… Some people live in fear, daily, and this greatly impacts their health. Then there are those of us who get a daily dose of fear that transforms into anger. Anger is believed to be both a positive and a negative emotion, having the ability to right wrongs, motivate people and bring more justice into the world. However, anger also has a downside. This downside brings with it some pretty significant health risks – physical, mental and psychological.

So how does it work? That source of anger causes an area in the brain called the amygdala to activate another area of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus releases a hormone (CRH) that signals the pituitary gland to release its own hormone (ACTH). All of that occurs in the brain.

Next, ACTH travels through the blood to the adrenal glands, small glands located on top of each kidney. The adrenals produce your sex hormones as well as the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. These hormones travel around your body through your bloodstream causing even more changes such as

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure and arterial tension
  • Increased blood glucose level
  • Increased blood fatty acid level
  • Decreased thyroid function
  • A decrease in certain immune cells
  • Decreased blood flow to digestive system
  • Decreased salivary flow

New science suggests that an excess of the stress hormone cortisol may decrease your happiness level due to its ability to potentiate monoamine oxidase A, which is involved in the breakdown of serotonin, another hormone. When serotonin is low we may feel an increase in aggressive behavior, more anger, and more pain.

The release of cortisol due to anger leads to poor decision-making and a decreased ability to plan for the future. This is because elevated cortisol decreases the number of nerve cells in an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (PCF). In addition to affecting the PCF, excess cortisol also damages neurons in another area of the brain called the hippocampus. The functional effect is the impairment of short-term memory, as well as diminishing the formation of new memories. This is one reason we don’t remember arguments very well.

Too much anger can interfere with memories, good decision making, mood, and many body systems, tissues, and organs. When you are working to support a client with anger problems, be sure to screen for symptoms associated with the cardiovascular system, nerves, endocrine dysfunction, digestive problems (including an overtaxed liver), etc. and make your protocol inclusive.

While working with the whole person, herbalists have historically used herbs to specifically address the type of anger that is presenting.

Recently, I saw a social media post polling clinical herbalists about herbs used for anger. From this post I compiled a list of these herbs with added actions, energetics, and tissue/system/organ associations. You can see the pdf here. The experiential use section was the information gathered from the poll. By studying the chart you may notice that the herbs many herbalists are currently using for anger support also work on targeted tissues, organs, and systems that are often compromised in people with chronic anger issues.

Lastly, you may also want to suggest a mindfulness practice, breathing techniques, a quiet walk in Nature, or even an excellent referral to a mental health practitioner who could provide additional tools.