Past - Newsletters

January 2023

How Anger Affects the Body

If your chill was nowhere to be found this year, you’re not alone. Public life and personal hardships provided ample fodder for flare-ups, which, in addition to costing your cool, can also take a more serious toll: According to scientists, prolonged and extreme anger can also exacerbate existing health problems, as well as affect the way we react to certain issues.

“Throughout the day and throughout the week and throughout the month, we’re activating these systems during times of frustration, anger or rage that in the short run might help you in an emergency situation,” said Dr. Ilan Shor Wittstein, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. “But in the long run, it might be quite detrimental to how these neurohormonal systems are activated as often as they are for those cases.”
Anger responses can cause a ripple effect throughout the body: From the cardiovascular system to your nervous system, it’s all fair game. These are just some of the main organ systems it can play havoc with.

The Heart
According to Dr. Wittstein, an expert in stress cardiomyopathy, also known as “broken heart syndrome,” one way to think about the heart is to imagine a house: There can be issues with the pipes, doors or the electrical system, but the house itself might seem fine.
“Rage can have effects on the arteries that supply blood on the heart, it can have an effect on the electrical system specifically that tells the heart when to beat, and it can have an effect specifically on the heart muscle itself,” he said.

So if you’re already living with conditions that affect the cardiovascular system such as high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms or high cholesterol, moments of extreme anger may leave you more vulnerable to a sudden heart attack.

When you’re filled with rage, Dr. Wittstein offered as an example, blood pressure can increase, blood vessels can constrict, inflammatory cells are released by the immune system. All of this can lead to the rupturing of plaque inside the coronary artery.

If that plaque forms a clot, blood supply in that portion of the heart can be cut off. “And that can either cause a heart attack that lands a person in the hospital, or a person can even drop dead of a sudden heart attack,” he said.

The Brain
In a sense, anger can have a positive physical effect in that it can help motivate you to get up and do something. When we’re angry and aroused, our brains are primed for fast reactions. If there’s danger or a social threat that triggers an angry state, we are more likely to act on it: the fight-or-flight response.

One possible trade-off: In that agitated state, we’re less likely to make good judgments, to listen for certain information and to be attuned to other motivations that are important for humans like values, said Dr. Royce Lee, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago.
“You might often hear a person in an angry state say or do something that they don’t really like,” Dr. Lee said. “And when they’re not angry they will regret it and wish they didn’t do that.”

According to Dr. Orli Etingin, an internist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, anger and chronic stress also affects our memory, causing it to not “work very well.”
“Forget about the fact that you’re probably sleep deprived too,” she added, “but you definitely cannot pay good attention to things.”

The Gut
You might have heard about the “gut-brain connection,” the much-discussed link between our emotions and our stomachs. Like other feelings, anger and rage can trigger gastrointestinal discomfort, malabsorption of food and loss of appetite.

“The GI tract is made up of muscle tissue and it’s innervated by nerves. So if you have a very high adrenaline output, the stomach and the intestines are going to have a hypermobility,” Dr. Etingin said. “You’re going to have cramps, you’re going to have diarrhea, because the muscles there are being over activated.”

According to Dr. William Burg, a clinical psychologist and professor at the Yale School of Medicine, small changes in your routine can help mitigate those risks. “It’s almost impossible to avoid feelings of anger, but meditation, breath work, fitness and getting a full night’s rest are all helpful ways to manage anger,” Dr. Burg said.

“If we all grew up understanding that, we probably wouldn’t be as stressed and angry as we are,” he said.

By Gina Cherelus                           

December 2022

Study discovers unique brain signature of intimate partner aggression

Why do people hurt the ones they claim to love? That question has driven researchers to discover much about the psychological and sociological predictors and consequences of intimate partner aggression. But an understanding of the neurobiological causes -- or what happens in the brain -- remains incomplete.

A new study led by Virginia Commonwealth University researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the brain activity of 51 male-female romantic couples as they experienced intimate partner aggression in real time.

They found that aggression toward intimate partners was associated with aberrant activity in the brain's medial prefrontal cortex, or MPFC, which has many functions, but among them is the ability to foster perceptions of closeness with and value of other people.

"We found that aggression towards intimate partners has a unique signature in the brain," said lead author David Chester, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences. "There is something distinct happening at the neural level when people decide whether to harm their romantic partners, a process that differs in a meaningful way from decisions about whether to harm friends or strangers." The research was led by Chester's Social Psychology and Neuroscience Lab, which seeks to understand the psychological and biological processes that motivate and constrain aggressive behavior. The study, "Neural Mechanisms of Intimate Partner Aggression," will be published in the journal Biological Psychology. The researchers were able to observe couples' brain activity during intimate partner aggression by asking participants to play a computer game against three people, one at a time: their romantic partner, a close friend and a stranger. In reality, they were playing against a computer.

The participants were tasked with pressing a button faster than their opponents. The loser, they were told, would be punished with a nasty blast of sound in their headphones. The researchers measured aggression by giving participants, and their fictitious opponents, the opportunity to select the volume of that sound blast, with higher volume representing more aggression, and lower volume representing less aggression.

"Basically, we gave participants repeated opportunities to hurt or not hurt each of these three people, and we examined how brain activity changed based on who they thought they were hurting," Chester said. "But … no one was actually hurt by this computer game, participants unknowingly played against the computer." The researchers' findings also extended beyond the lab into the real world. They had participants fill out a validated questionnaire that asked whether they had perpetrated acts of intimate partner violence prior to the study.

They found that blunted medial prefrontal cortex activity predicted some of the participants' real-world acts of intimate partner violence.
"We expected to see that intimate partner aggression was linked to a unique signature of brain activity," Chester said. "What we were surprised about was the ability of this brain signature to predict real-world intimate partner violence."
They also investigated how men's and women's neural activity affected each other's aggression. They found that women's intimate partner aggression was predicted by their male partner's brain response to perceived provocation.

"This result fits with the well-established finding that women's intimate partner aggression may very often be in self-defense," Chester said.

Taken together, he said, the study's results provide new insights into brain regions that are likely to be fruitful targets for interventions that aim to reduce intimate partner aggression and help science build an accurate brain model of such harmful acts.
Chester added that the researchers approached this study with utmost care. Couples were pre-screened to ensure they were not at elevated risk for intimate partner violence. The researchers carefully debriefed each participant individually to make sure they felt comfortable to be reunited with their partner. And they carefully debriefed both partners again as a couple to make sure there were no lingering, negative effects of the study.

"We had robust protocols in place in case anything went wrong, to safeguard the well-being of our participants," Chester said. "It is of paramount importance that studies into intimate partner aggression prioritize the safety and well-being of their participants, and we believe we achieved this goal."

While this study focused on male-female intimate partner aggression, Chester said future work is needed to examine these dynamics across a greater diversity of gender identities and sexual orientations.

Materials provided by Virginia Commonwealth University


November 2022


October 2022

New Pathways in Brain's Amygdala
Researchers at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) are pioneering an innovative brain study that sheds light on how the amygdala portion of the brain functions and could contribute to a better understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers, Alfonso Apicella, an associate professor in the Department of Biology, research associate Alice Bertero, postdoctoral fellow Paul Luc Caroline Feyen, and graduate student Hector Zurita, published their study, "A non-canonical cortico-amygdala inhibitory loop," in the Journal of Neuroscience, the flagship journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 

Conditions such as PTSD, anxiety and depression are thought to be linked to the abnormal functioning of the amygdala, which is located within the temporal lobes and plays a key role in processing emotions, actions and cognition.

"This novel research paper provides anatomical and physiological evidence for the existence of a long-range inhibitory pathway from the auditory cortex to the amygdala in the mouse brain," Apicella said. "For the first time, in our paper we show this emotional pathway."

Apicella explained that advances in the techniques for labeling individual neuronal cells made it possible to study the individual neurons extending from the auditory cortex to the amygdala.

He added that the inhibitory cortical neurons can alter the activity of the amygdala's principal neurons and can therefore directly control the output of the amygdala. The neurons contain a substance called somatostatin, and it regulates physiological functions and forms a connection with principal neurons that project to other brain regions outside the amygdala that are involved in fear and aversive behavior.

"The discovery that the amygdala receives both excitatory and inhibitory inputs from that cortex suggests that the timing and relative strength of these inputs can affect the activity of the amygdala," Acipella said.

Apicella and his research team noted that future experiments should examine whether this is a general mechanism by which sensory stimuli can influence the processes controlled by the amygdala, such as fear/aversive behavior and how the disruption of this pathway can lead to several neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as, Alzheimer's, anxiety, depression and PTSD.

Research related to this topic will continue in Apicella's lab. His research group investigates the neural basis of perception. More specifically, the researchers want to understand how cortical microcircuits process sensory information leading to behavioral outcomes.  ~ Materials provided by University of Texas at San Antonio

September 2022

June - 2022

The National Rifle Association went ahead with its gun industry convention over the Memorial Day weekend as more grim details emerged about the mass shooting that claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. Texas police agencies sought to defend against public fury over their delay in confronting the gunman—and the young lives it may have cost—with a series of sometimes contradictory explanations. These included that local police believed the assailant was barricaded alone—despite 911 calls from children begging for help from the classroom. Across the state in Houston, the NRA convention went on amid protests, though the company that made the rifle used in the massacre bowed out, as did other speakers and entertainers. For now, the national debate continues regarding the cause of the mass shooting epidemic – Is it a mental health issue or is it a gun safety issue? Reality suggests it is Both!!!

We crave action to stop mass shootings, but it seems we no longer believe things can change. Have we given up on protecting our children?

The Texas school gunman, Salvador Ramos, allegedly purchased two assault rifles just days after turning 18. When he was growing up he had a speech impediment and was bullied as a child in elementary school. It doesn’t take a genius to make a connection between the trauma of the two elementary schools. As a community of mental health specialists in anger management, crisis intervention and domestic violence, NAMA can help find new ways to apply our many effective tools, strategies, concepts, and techniques to enhance public safety.  We can add our balanced voice to both the mental health and gun safety issues. Each of us individually can consider new ways to contribute toward solving the cycle of violence plaguing our culture. We have a lot of work to do…
Rich Pfeiffer, President of NAMA

June 2022


March -2022