Dads occasionally lose their temper on their kids and remorse in the wake of these episodes keeps many up at night. But it’s not just the remorse. It’s adrenaline. The adrenaline rush from yelling triggers the body’s fight or flight response — particularly the fight part — leading to an energy surge that exacerbates problems and makes fathers nearly impossible to deal with. The best bet? Ride the wave of aggression out the door. Going for a walk helps.
“There are many everyday situations or occurrences that can cause an adrenaline rush,” Dr. Adam Perlman, a physician and director of the Leadership Program in Integrative Healthcare at Duke University, told Fatherly. “And yes, yelling at your toddler or partner when you are overly stressed from work or lack of sleep.”
When a person’s brain detects danger or a threat, the amygdala sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, which activates the sympathetic nervous system. The adrenal glands then flood the bloodstream with adrenaline, which is meant to help people react quickly. This makes a person flush, increases their heartbeat, tenses their muscles, and increases blood flow to the brain. The overall effect: extreme alertness and sensitivity. The threat doesn’t need to be real for the response to be real. An errant Lego can turn dad into a rage monster, hurting both him and the kids he loves.
“Anger will cause an adrenaline rush, again it’s part of the fight-or-flight response,” Perlman explains. And the urges that follow anger, like the impulse to scream or punch a pillow, make these adrenaline rushes last longer. “Long-term adrenaline rushes have been linked to insomnia and the long-term effects of adrenaline overload can be very harmful to your health.”
Among the many health risks, this adrenaline can cause stomach pain, heart palpitations, and increased blood pressure in the short term and heart problems in over time. Either way, this rush causes cortisol levels to rise, a stress hormone that can cause decreased memory, elevated blood sugar, decreased insulin sensitivity, weakened immunity, and fatigue following the energy jolt. “It will take a toll on your health and then make you an even less effective and loving parent,” Perlman warns. “Hitting yourself in the thumb with a hammer would wake you up in the morning also, but I wouldn’t recommend it.”
As a father of five with first-hand experience, Perlman acknowledges that lost tempers are normal for parents and points out that developing an awareness as to what sets them off can really help dads cope. Crying, stretching, deep breathing, redirecting attention to something calm. As tired as moms and dads might be, this burst of energy isn’t worth the risks.
And as bad as yelling is for a father’s health, it’s even worse for a developing child’s. Yelling changes how their brains develop and increases their risk of depression, chronic pain, and future behavioral problems.