How Anger Affects the Brain and Body [Infographic]

Anger can be one of the most challenging emotions that we work with.

Clients are sometimes afraid of their anger. Or, maybe they consider it inappropriate to even feel this way at all.

Not only that, when anger is misdirected, it often leads to poor choices, damaged relationships, and even violence.

But anger can actually be an asset to our clients . . . as long as it’s channeled properly.

So how can we help clients express their anger more effectively?

Here’s a tool you can use to help clients understand the impact of anger on the brain and body. Click To Tweet

It begins by helping them understand how anger is triggered, and what happens in the body and brain – especially when anger is chronic or unprocessed.

So we thought it would be helpful for you to have a way to illustrate this for your clients. (And please feel free to make a copy of this to share with them.)

Click the image to enlarge

If you’d like to print a copy to share with your clients, just click here: Color or Print-friendly

(When you make copies to share, please be sure to include the copyright information. We put a lot of work into creating these resources for you. Thanks!)

Now we’d like to hear from you.
How will you use this in your work with clients?
Please leave a comment below.

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187 Comments

  1. Francis McAndrew says:

    The graphics help explain and give another level of learning. Also it always seems to work better when they have some homework to help them eplain to others what they learned

  2. Very informative and interesting article. I believe anger like all emotions is good if expressed appropriately.

  3. Joe Davis, PHD says:

    Thanks.

  4. Maureen Wright says:

    I like the graphic. It illustrates more specifically the simple diagram I draw on the board at the beginning of all my Anger Management classes. I will be making copies and handing them out during my Stress lesson in the Anger Management curriculum.

  5. Trish Johnson says:

    I find it very productive to give my clients tools to understand the workings of their brain – it reduces a sense of shame and stigma and empowers them to work with it. Your Infographics are just brilliant – thank you!!!

  6. Dorette says:

    thank you! I find it very interesting!
    Being an estate agent, anger comes & goes!
    Regards
    Dorette

  7. Marion houghton says:

    I will use the info for myself and increase my awareness of my own anger and then share with clients in the therapeutic moment.

  8. Joanne says:

    I will use it to talk with clients about how anger is affecting their brain and health.

  9. Debra says:

    I have been angry , depressed , and anxious most of my life and my neurologist told me I have brain damage .

  10. Denise says:

    Excellent resource. I really want to learn more about this fascinating subject! Thanks for sharing this amazing information !

  11. Dolores says:

    I denied my anger for many years( perhaps social norms).
    Became depressed – for myself, the physical effects of anger were affecting my body. Without my conscious awareness of the underlying anger.
    For me, actual anger was a good catalyst to get me moving in the right direction.

    Have others used depression to cover up old angers??

  12. Bob Cable says:

    The downloads A Quick And Simple way To Think About the Brain and How Anger Affects your Brain And Body are much appreciated. NICABM continues to produce excellent and affordable teaching and training materials. Thank you!

  13. Jacqueline says:

    Would love it if sounds true could make different versions of this, for anxiety, fear, shame and sadness. I’m not sure if the somatic response is the same. What a great teaching tool-

  14. Jacqueline says:

    This is great. Thank you. I’d be careful re which clients to show this to and probably impart bits of it verbally, and then show all once the client knows they have some control over their nervous system, a mindful way of coping, and a recognition of self. Once clients can see their emotions/anger as moving waves, with triggers, I’d use all of this incredible educational tool. I just think that before someone can ground, or find self and curiosity/compassion, some of my clients get anxious and angry due to fear of the effects of their anger (lower immune function). I also find it interesting that fear is at the bottom of list re anger, whereas I see it at the top of the list: fear, shame, sadness. Fear seems to bind with so many challenging emotions.
    Love it. Thank you!

  15. Juanita Ross says:

    Education!

  16. Thank you. I appreciate knowing this causal chain of reaction and the effect on our body.

  17. Jayaraja says:

    I imagine I will use this work when I’m working with groups and one to one to help some people have a conceptual grasp of what goes on when they get angry, to help develop perspective and resilience.

  18. Jayaraja says:

    Ruth and team, I really appreciate the work you do to make a difference in the world. I find I am often inspired by the work you share and it contributes hugely to my ongoing learning.

    Thanks seems to small a word to capture my gratitude.

    hug and much love

    Jayaraja

  19. Lynd@ R says:

    Thanks that is very useful pictorial representation of what happens inside the individual when we are angry and how many aspects of the body are involved. Therapeutically, I think if this information is coupled with clear information about how the body functions to assist the individual to reduce anger and reactivity would be the most helpful. Is there a clear diagram for this also?
    thanks again
    Lynd@ from Australia.

  20. Sally Tarvid,LCSW, USA says:

    This info graphic explains, in simple language, the physical aspects of anger & stress. It will serve as a reminder to clients the importance of being aware of the effects of excessive anger & stress on the brain and body. Thank you for this helpful tool.

  21. anneka SKirrow says:

    I am currently involved in running a group for boys aged 13/14, the group is focused on recognising angry and guilty emotions and we are incorporating a number of brain based ideas into the group, this is a great resource for us.

    I also lecture part time on working therapeutically with Children as part of a Master of Social Work degree at Flinders University and will incorporate this there also!

    Thanks
    Anneka Skirrow

  22. sol says:

    great tool! thanks

  23. Liz Allison says:

    Thank you for this very useful tool which will be useful in my work with parents who struggle with self regulation amongst other issues. I find the resources you provide of great value and appreciate your freely sharing resources

  24. John Newbauer says:

    Very nice explanation.

  25. Justus Lewis says:

    Thanks. This will come in very useful in a course I am about to run.

  26. Suzanne Cloutier says:

    thanks.. i am offering few sessions on emotional balance (don’t like the word regulation) and this will be certainly something to add.
    Nicely done!

  27. Great diagram and clear explanation.
    I primarily work in mental health counselling with children, youth, and their parents or caregivers, and am always looking for resource materials to share and to help people.

  28. HARRIET SMITH says:

    Personal experience with most of the above….3 inflammatory states in the body created by the above ie glucose, cholesterol, psoriatic skin and arthritis, according to algo-rhythms predicts a cardiac event in 5 yrs. of not corrected. I was an RN, and crashed due to all of the above.
    it was finally discovered that I had severe and chronic sleep apnea,( O2 sats fell to %66, no stage 4, ,never a full hours’ sleep.
    My personal, professional, stress doubled along the way. Nutrition was bad, no exercise,..rarely became angry…till several yrs later, when I lost my job, my career,my passion, my financial security, our house, and nearly went bankrupt.,then I growled. The treatment for psoriasis was Toctino ( and Methotrexate) causing strong side effects. I went hypothyroid,and MRI showed no Grave’s disease. As well, I had to get Prism RX to correct eye-trauma strabismus 50 yrs ago, which worsened with recent mild concussion. ps my husband is profoundly deaf when sleeping so he did not notice or hear me. Surprisingly I did not get a cold or flu ( I kept getting the annual shots) till 2015 when I worked with numerous children, and got pneumonia.
    Nurses are in denial, but there is a push to have more compassion with emotional issues…..my problem is one way that depression can evolve. Nurses could use a dose of this information.

    I am still healing my immune system. Cognitive functioning could be improved, I am beginning Tai Chi next week , and go to group therapy weekly…It took far too long to diagnose this condition.

    Thank you so much for your insights, and knowledge.

    • Caroline Brennan says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Its a hard road to travel when we keep going and then are forced to stop. Our bodies keep hinting that all is not ok, but we keep going. I did anyway. I now realise that the body is so much smarter than the mind. If we listen to it, pay heed to its rumblings, and respect its need for difference in our thoughts and or lifestyles, act upon those needs, we will do ok. To ignore them is at our peril and our poor hardworking body gets the brunt of it.

  29. Thanks for the great diagram on how anger affects the body. I often describe all of this to clients and have been looking for a more specific diagram and yours it it. Well done and will use with my clients.
    Best regards,
    Nancy F Cohen, LCSW

    • HARRIET SMITH says:

      yes…Sometimes simple is better. I appreciate that, and so do people with whom I share..it is a very complicated path.

  30. Varghese John says:

    Thankyou for the valuable information you keep providing. Keep up the good work.It gives a sense of community.
    Coming to `anger’, it is evidently clear that it has an effect on our entire system, at the physical and the nervous, emotional and organ levels. Isn’t a more holistic method of treatment needed, taking the `individual’ as a whole ?

  31. I think it’s important to stress that anger, like any emotion, has its place. Problems can arise when anger becomes compacted and compounded over the years. This happens when we block anger or it is blocked by others by shaming us for feeling angry. This happens a lot with children, particularly if children are angry with their parents. It’s often just “unacceptable” so where does the anger go if it’s unfelt and unexpressed? Into the body as symptoms.

    Women are also often shamed for being angry, it’s not “feminine” to feel anger and certainly not to express anger, the same with fear for men. But not feeling our anger and not finding healthy ways to express it is the problem, not anger itself.

  32. What a terrific study…. I so appreciated the diagram…. The visual mapping definitely helps me to connect with the embodiment of the experience of anger and to better understand the layers of responses- physiological and psychologically…
    This is definitely going in my psycho-ed repertoire.
    Many thanks

  33. Marina says:

    Thank you very much for the materials that are really helpful for my patients.
    I enjoy very much my learning with you!

  34. Thank You nicabm team ~ this graphic along with the information will be really helpful for clients to better ‘see’ the invisible of what is going on…putting them in a better place (informed) to help them be the observer of their self and others when experiencing anger..,.and thus be in a place where they can better respond.

  35. Susan says:

    I love this graphic. Thanks for sharing. Just the right amount of science.

  36. Sue Harrhy says:

    Good visual! Great information. If I have any feedback, it is that it can be a overwhelming to see all the negative impacts of stress etc, and clients can feel even more worried about their future.
    Now we need the antidote! : ) It’s important to share that there are things that change this trajectory.
    Thanks for sharing

  37. Tricia Mugridge says:

    Great illustration to use with clients

  38. Bill says:

    It was very helpful information. The concepts that are presented are easy to understand. The diagrams are helpful and informative.

  39. Isabel says:

    When I explain this to clients I usually draw it out and now I can use this instead of my sad drawings! Thanks!

  40. Janet MacDonald says:

    I like this diagram and plan to use it with my Mindfulness teaching programs, it will fir nicely with making connection between the mind and body.
    Thank you!
    Janet

  41. I combine BodyTalk with psychotherapy and often work with the HPA axis in clients with PTSD and generalized anxiety. The fight/flight/freeze response can involve both anger and/or fear – either or both of which can become anxiety for the patient when they are suppressed. This infographic will be very helpful to show them what is happening. I love it when my patients want to understand their biology! And I love learning about it, too.

  42. Wolfgang Lauer says:

    Hi excellent. I am a pastor working as a volunter also as a trauma educator with often traumatized prisoners and their non-medics helpers and family members in brazilian prisons. I also work in Berlin Gêmany wirh refugees. Within the context of calming highly stresses persons your section on the neurology of anger is very relevant for those I seek to help throgh relevant information for ‘self healing’ processes. I wNt more such information.

  43. Jan Jones says:

    I work with teens and feel this resource will be so helpful in encouraging them to learn about their body and mind and how to understand and work with their own process.
    ThAnks

  44. I am having brain issues in my frontal lobe. One says it’s not alsheimers, dementia or tumors and they will rule things out. Now my neurologist is treating me with, alsheimers medication. I got a second opinion and is sending notes to take me off that medication. My husband has Alheimers, earlier stages, but is affecting his moods. This is causing me enough stress that I was unable to do my counseling. The brain fascinates me and this chart makes so much sense to me. Hope to learn more…

  45. A great resource to share., thank you. I find that information about the brain shared with clients helps to mitigate some of the shame / guilt / blame response. This helps build trust attunement, allows for a sense of curiosity & then space to unpack the layers that may be triggering anger.

  46. Vicki says:

    Well if we are not being threatened and we don’t need the anger to protect ourselves, then it is correlated with some form of ego problems. I did not get what I deserve, feeling rejected, not getting the reaction we were expecting, it all comes down with how we size up the environment egotistically. We even get angry because someone votes for another candidate, egocentric. There are so many things to get angry about, and it is not going to help your quality of life. Anger is wasted energy if you don’t need it to protect yourself. Constant anger will lead to depression, when turned inward. The way out of anger is to get out of your head, and try to feel more love and compassion for others.

  47. susan says:

    WILL THERE be a follow up to answer the question posed above? ie “So how can we help clients express their anger more effectively?

    • CAroline says:

      I like your comment. Because if clients get the ideas that agner is not good for them…what solution they have?? If they repress it….then they will have more anger, and then repress it again, then more risk to explose… I think the clue is first to accept the anger, to lear from it, deal from it. Each emotions has a message to share to us…if we suppress it, we don’t hear the solution, the change we can make it to feel better.

  48. Hilary says:

    The hand out is a great tool for clients to be taught by and refer to and possibly share with others. The layout is simple and easy to follow.
    Thank Ruth you it’s a great share.

  49. Joanne Ruppel says:

    If this infographic was titled “How Unacknowledged Anger Affects Your Brain and Body”, it would be accurate and helpful. With a critical word missing from the title, it sends the completely wrong message- that one shouldn’t ever feel anger. Chronic repression of anger, a technique usually learned in childhood when needs are not met or ridiculed, will cause disease in brain and body (and sometimes erupt in rage-which is still not anger recognition). But anger itself is just a emotion; it does not have to become a chronic stressor on the brain and body. Please change the title so more people will use the infographic, as it can be very helpful information.

    • CAroline says:

      I like your comment. Because if clients get the ideas that agner is not good for them…what solution they have?? If they repress it….then they will have more anger, and then repress it again, then more risk to explose… I think the clue is first to accept the anger, to lear from it, deal from it. Each emotions has a message to share to us…if we suppress it, we don’t hear the solution, the change we can make it to feel better.

  50. Judy Meagher says:

    Tools like this that can be used as a handout, are really appreciated.
    I think it really helps clients to understand the way their body is working in regards to anger.
    I don’t believe it will scare people.

  51. The only issue I have with the illustration is that frustration and disappointment are not something that comes in from the environment. It seems to me that hese emotional experiences emerge from shifts in affective states and processes that arise from non-conscious, primal organismic valuing and sub-cortical appraisals of stimuli. Our attention is directed to important cues by these primal processes in which we inpute or code stimuli for relevance or significance to our safety, needs for homeostasus, attachment, social connection, in accordance with our values etc.. Some hold that this involves far more right hemisphere and sub-cortical processes than what is accounted for in the too-down cogntive appraisal theories of emotion theory. We ascribe the meaning of stimuli with non-conscious appraisals, which are further processed in higher cognitive centers. So, it seems odd to see subjectively experienced affective shifts as something that “comes in” pre-pacaged from the environment.

    • Flo says:

      Very good point. Thank you

  52. Angela says:

    Looks like a great way to scare people into not acknowledging anger!

  53. Donna Mills, LPC says:

    It really helps to have a picture to go with the explanation, and all the facts in one place – thank you so much!

  54. FIONA MACDONALD says:

    Interesting but we’ll known. I would’ve more interested in what your opening paragraph offers but this short article then doesn’t deliver- information on how to channel anger more effectively. Felt a bit like this was clickbait.

  55. Lyn Reilly says:

    Centacare SW NSW facilitates a 6 weeks mixed gender “Anger Management – It’s All The Rage!” program as part of its Post Separation Cooperative Parenting (PSCP) Program for separated parents experiencing moderate to high levels of conflict. This is a psycho-educational program designed to assist participants to be aware of and understand the body’s reaction to stress, and particularly the way the brain works in managing emotions. Education is the key to understanding. This article is excellent and will definitely benefit our clients. Thank you for sharing!

  56. Thank you !!!!
    Really great helpful resource .

  57. Eliza Kieding says:

    I was so excited to see what you had to say about anger, since I have seen some interesting ideas on anger on the Next Level Practitioner program. I have concerns that this chart would only increase clients inhibition to acknowledging the anger that is already so taboo, already so hidden in it’s expression. How to help clients express their anger more effectively is something that concerns me greatly, and I am wondering how you thought this would help Ruth. Forgive me if I am missing something here. I can be a bit slow at times.

  58. Margaret Bunzick says:

    I have many clients with anger issues, this is an opportunity to educate people, and hopefully offer a more productive way to channel anger

  59. Julane Swyden says:

    Thank you for these resources! Greatly appreciated. This visual is especially good.

  60. Rama Bassham says:

    That is an awesome graphic on the topic. I use information like that with teen aged clients and find that a psychoeducational approach that teaches them about their brain-body processes is an important component to nurturing mindful attention and the ability to separate the observing from the experiencing. I will definitely use the graphic with the appropriate client group and with teachers in professional development training.

  61. yvonne solorio says:

    Thank you! I rarely write my comments, and feel that I am not showing my gratitude for your helpful information, suggestions and professionalism. I will make efforts to be more communicative in the future. yvonne

  62. Traci O'Sullivan says:

    Excellent tool!!
    Thank you…
    I will share with clients in session so they can have a visual of the process I described as well as understand more clearly how important tools like mindfulness and yoga/ stress management and accepting and understanding anger and other underlying negative factors…..
    Traci O’Sullivan ..M.A.

  63. An extremely helpful visual in presenting the neural pathways in the structural components of the Brain.
    Forever appreciative!

  64. Extremely interesting. Another look at the HPA Axis!
    Thank you very much!

  65. A well illustrated succinct infographic that I will use daily in my work with my clients who struggle so painfully with anger as a result of trauma and the consequent intimacy difficulties. Thank you so much !

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