What You Need To Know About Anger If You Have PTSD

If you or a loved one suffers from PTSD (or any other anxiety disorder) you may deal with a lot of anger issues. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, anger is a common response to trauma. It's well known that anger can affect relationships, but it can also cause increased heart rate and diastolic blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease.

Therefore, anger management is crucial to better relationships and better health. In order to manage anger, it's important to understand where it comes from. Here's what you need to know.

PTSD & hyperarousal

When someone has PTSD, they feel like they are being attacked or could be attacked at any moment. People who have PTSD often have a cluster of symptoms which are collectively referred to as hyperarousal. The symptoms of hyperarousal include:

  • irritability
  • feeling jumpy
  • feeling on guard
  • inability to concentrate
  • difficulty sleeping

Some of these symptoms tend to feed off of each other. For example, you may be irritable if you have difficulty sleeping, or you may feel jumpy if you are feeling on guard as if you are teetering on the edge of a PTSD episode.

Fight or flight

You've probably heard the adage: fight or flight. Fight is associated with anger and flight is associated with fear. These are generally survival instincts that are used when someone is faced with an event or situation such as a PTSD trigger. When someone has the symptoms of hyperarousal listed above they tend to react with anger, especially those who have been trained to fight and have been in combat. Each subsequent reaction or PTSD episode may compound their symptoms due to increased serotonin in the amygdala.

Amygdala & flashbacks

When you feel angry, you probably feel your body tense up and your blood may feel like it's boiling. These are the physical effects of anger. This is due to a surge in chemicals throughout your body when you feel angry, including a surge of serotonin in your amygdala, which is a part of your brain that has to do with your emotions. Even though serotonin is often thought of as a happy hormone, it is used in other ways that can adversely affect people with PTSD.

Serotonin is used by your amygdala to store events in your long-term memory. Each time a traumatic event occurs, the cells in the amygdala increase in sensitivity to serotonin. Therefore, each time you experience a trigger that makes you feel angry and serotonin is released, it causes your memory of traumatic events to become stronger. It is believed that this is what causes flashbacks.

In fact, a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed animals did not develop PTSD when serotonin was blocked and, therefore, unable to interact with amygdala cells.

Fortunately, there is prescription medication available that blocks the serotonin receptors in your amygdala. This can help reduce the number of flashbacks that are experienced, as well as keep the memories from getting stronger with each subsequent traumatic event or episode of anger.

Treatment for PTSD & anger management

In addition to blocking serotonin with medication as was mentioned earlier, it's important for people with PTSD and their loved ones to seek counseling in order to learn how to manage and cope with anger issues. Counseling sessions with a professional therapist to learn anger management are just as important as appointments with a psychiatrist for mental health and medication. When it comes to counseling for anger management and PTSD, there is no one-size-fits-all method. Only a therapist is able to recommend a counseling program after a thorough evaluation.