Calm down. Chill out. Learn to relax. Take a breather. Clichés they may be, but they could save your life and that of your unborn child. Every day we hear about new cases of road rage, air rage, supermarket rage…you name it. It seems that no-one is immune, we cannot escape those feelings-- from mild annoyance to almost demonic rage--and even more alarming, we cannot, in most cases, control it either.
Anger is a completely normal, and usually healthy, emotion. We have all experienced anger due to frustration, hurt, betrayal, annoyance, disappointment, harassment and threats. It is imperative to acknowledge that anger can either help or hinder us depending on how it is expressed. If expressed appropriately, it can help achieve goals, handle emergencies, solve problems and even, to some, protect our health (the famous flight-or-fight theory bears this out). Failure to recognize and understand our anger may, however, lead to a variety of problems.
Dr Miriam Stoppard, author and pregnancy heath care guru, believes that a baby first experiences the world through its mother. The baby not only experiences external stimuli but also its mother's feelings as different emotions trigger the release of certain chemicals into the bloodstream. These chemicals then pass across the placenta to the baby within seconds of mom experiencing an emotion.
According to APA (American Psychologists Association) documentation, anger is accompanied by physiological and biological changes: when we get angry, our heart rates and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of our energy hormones as adrenaline and epinephrine are released, contributing to growing tension and causing blood vessels to constrict. This reduces oxygen to the uterus, thus compromising fetal blood supply. Even suppressed anger has long been thought to cause anxiety and depression. The Counselling Center for Human Development at the University of Florida agrees that anger can have detrimental effects on relationships, patterns of thinking, and cause many physical problems including colds, ulcers, asthma, high blood pressure (hypertension), heart problems, headaches, skin disorders and digestive problems.
The UK-based charity Tommy's, the baby charity, is dedicated to funding research into, and providing information on, the causes of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. Tommy's research has shown that long-term anger or anxiety can have detrimental effects on your baby. Some effects include premature birth (delivered before 37 weeks), a problematic birth or even result in a low birth weight (even when full term), and this is the leading cause of infant mortality. Normal birth weight is defined as greater that 5 lb. 5 oz.; moderately low birth weight is 3 lb. 5 oz. to 5 lb. 8 oz., and very low birth weight is less than 3 lb. 5 oz.
Premature babies are susceptible to a range of complications later in life, including chronic lung disease, developmental delays and learning disorders, and as adults are more likely to suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Tommy's studies have also suggested that stress in the womb could affect baby's temperament. Babies whose mothers experienced high levels of stress, particularly in the first trimester, show signs of more depression and irritability (as well as being colicky). Research has also indicated that extreme anxiety during pregnancy could double a mother's chance of having a hyperactive child.
There is also a direct link between uncontrolled anger and crime, emotional and physical abuse and other violent behavior. Humans instinctively express anger through aggression, as anger is a natural response to that which threatens us. Most people are able to control their anger, however, there are those who find it increasingly difficult and "fly off the handle" with the least provocation; and unsurprisingly it is these people who, perhaps because they are under greater stress from frequent arousal, are more likely than others to engage in habits that are dangerous to their health such as smoking, excessive alcohol use and overeating.
There are several theories as to why some people are more "hot headed" than others, and the first is that it is a result of genetics. There is evidence of some babies being born irritable and easily angered, and these signs are present from an early age.
The APA believes another contributing factor may be socio-cultural, as anger is often regarded as a negative emotion; we are taught not to display anger and so are not taught how to handle it or channel it constructively. It is also thought that family background plays a role as those who are easily angered typically come from families that are disruptive or not skilled at emotional communication. Anger is also often expressed by way of learned behaviors as we tend to express our anger and frustrations in ways learned from our parents, meaning we can unlearn and replace such behaviors with healthier patterns of coping.