Have you ever had one of those days where literally everything makes you angry? You know that you’re overreacting to some degree, but you can’t help it, nothing is going right. You step into the angry zone and go with it. You might later look back on the days events and ask yourself, “What the heck was that all about?” In hindsight it wasn’t really so bad at all. What brought it all on?
The reason may well have been that you merely may have been hungry. Or, rather “hangry.” Hangry, aka “food swings,” are terms created to describe the point in your day where hunger and anger collide, that “hanger zone,” where you to and say things that you later regret. You overreact and a minor trigger becomes a larger, self created problem.
Hanger is not merely some excuse that we come up with to explain those brief moments where we lose it and act like we did in first grade, there is some solid research indicating that it is a real phenomenon that even the most stoic among us are susceptible to. It is a scientific fact, hanger exists. Marjorie Nolan, of the American Dietetic Association explains that, “When blood sugar is low the hypothalamus is triggered in several levels of hormones are affected. This imbalance then causes a shift in neurotransmitters and suppresses serotonin receptors. Serotonin is a brain chemical that helps regulate mood and appetite. It is also the brain chemical that is positively enhanced by the prescription medications Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft, and many other prescription medications that are taken by millions of Americans. Everyone has the potential to overreact when serotonin levels are not in balance
A 2014 Ohio State study showed that hunger in the form of low blood sugar can lead to increased anger and aggression in married couples. For 21 days, 107 married couples measured their blood glucose levels before breakfast and before dinner time. Each participant was given a voodoo doll that represented their spouse along with 51 pins. They were told, “This doll represents your spouse, “and were instructed to insert between zero and 51 pins into the doll each night depending upon how angry they were with their spouse. Twenty-one days later they competed against each other on a computer task and were told that the winner would be allowed to blast the loser with noises through headphones. Participants who had the lowest levels of blood sugar consistently stuck more pins in the spouse doll and blasted their spouse with louder noises. The researchers concluded that self-control and anger management requires energy, and that energy is affected by blood glucose.
Glucose from food is converted into neurotransmitters that provide energy for brain functions. Low levels of glucose undermine self-control and the ability to deal with unwanted impulses. In plain English, eat or you’ll become hangry. Lead author of the Ohio State study, Brad Bushman, stated that “The brain accounts for only about 2% of our body weight, but it consumes about 20% of our calories. It takes a lot of brain food to exercise self control.” And, as most of us already know, the most difficult emotion to control is anger.
So, how do we use this information to prevent ourselves from slipping into the Hanger Zone? If you examine your own patterns, you’ll probably find that you are most susceptible late morning, 11 AM or so, and mid afternoon, probably between 2 and 4 PM,and, if you skip breakfast or your breakfast is 20 ounces of coffee, you’re far more likely to enter the Anger Zone more often. Good Hanger Management consists of:
1. Eat something in the morning. If you can’t stomach food, then juice, yogurt, a glass of milk, or even a few pieces of cheese can be enough. High protein andlow sugar food choices are best. Eat something more substantial before the time when you slip into your own personal Hanger Zone. Too much coffee or an energy drink are flirting with disaster. If you drink coffee, keep consumption to a minimum and go easy on the sugar or use an artificial sweetener. The “sugar crash” plays a huge role in morning hanger. Rule number 1 in the morning is never reach for a high sugar food. Choose a complex carb or protein food first.
2. A mid afternoon snack can get you over the hump to avoid the mid-afternoon Anger Zone. If you are a chocolate lover, there’s good news. Chocolate increases serotonin levels more so than most other foods, more serotonin bang for the buck than virtually anything else. Don’t get carried away however. Small amounts of chocolate, the darker the chocolate the better, can actually be healthy. Even a half a bar will do the trick. One of the reasons choclate can seem to be addictive is that our brains crave foods that raise serotonin, and choclate is among the best.
3. Adjust your calories accordingly. Hanger management is not a reason to eat too much or gain weight. Include the calories in these snacks as you estimate your daily caloric needs. Eating too much can make you sluggish, and that can impact your hanger as well.
So there it is, a brief, news-you-can-use, summary of how to control your anger. Become aware of your patterns and triggers, input this information to do use. You may notice an improvement in your life as early as tomorrow morning, somewhere between 10 o’clock and 12 noon.
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