April 15, 2014

Misty Watson: When blood sugar drops, anger rises

It wouldn’t have taken 107 married couples and 21 days to figure out that being hungry makes people angry.

It would have only taken spending one busy day with me, a day so busy that I didn’t have time to eat regularly.

In my world, hunger always equals anger. My self-control goes right out the window when my blood sugar level drops. I also get shaky and light-headed. And the little bit of filter I have becomes nonexistent.

Just ask my spouse or my co-workers or my closest friends and family. They’ve pretty much all been on the receiving end of my rage when all I really need is a granola bar.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday states that spouses are more aggressive when their blood sugar levels are low. We need energy to maintain our self-control and the energy to do that comes from glucose derived from the foods we eat.

My initial reaction upon hearing this on the radio Tuesday morning was “And you needed a study to tell you this?! What’s next?! Telling us our children misbehave when they’re hungry?! Of course people are angrier when they’re hungry.”

Then I ate some breakfast and my aggression toward the ridiculousness of conducting this study subsided.

Once I read the abstract, I realized the study is pretty interesting, and I wish I had been a part of it. Couples were asked to measure their glucose and aggressive impulses. They were given a voodoo doll that represented their spouse, and each night could stick up to 51 pins in it, depending on their level of anger. Then they competed with their spouse and the winner was able to blast their spouse with loud noises.

The spouses with the lowest glucose levels used more pins and did longer and louder noise blasts.

I’m sure my husband Chris is happy we weren’t asked to participate in this study, though. On a good day my voodoo doll of Chris would probably have had no fewer than 25 pins. His voodoo doll of me would have never had more than 25 pins. (Don’t worry. Our marriage is very stable and our balance works. He just laughs and tells me to go fix a peanut butter sandwich when I’m getting irritable.)

Now this isn’t to say that hunger is always the reason we’re snippy with others. There are a lot of factors at play — stress from work, physical or emotional pain, feeling lonely or feeling tired/sleepy.

This is when I go back to pHALT, an acronym for potty/pain, hungry, angry, lonely and tired, which I’ve mentioned before. It’s a checklist to see what’s making children act out so you don’t discipline children unjustly when they just need to be fed.

Think about how you react to those around you in each of those circumstances. How often do we say something like “I’m sorry I snapped. I had a bad day at work and I’m so tired and hungry because I had to skip lunch for a meeting and I’m angry at something my boss said to me plus I stubbed my pinky toe on your shoes when I walked in the door.”

Though pHALT was developed for parents to better meet the needs of their children, I find it is often just as effective when used on adults, myself included.

I want to clue those who conducted this study in on this checklist. In fact, if I had known the phone number to the radio station where they were discussing this study Tuesday morning, I would have called them and shared it there.

When I get snippy, I try to take a deep breath and assess the situation. Why is my self-control gone?

I’m sure at least four out of five times the solution would be found in a handful of trail mix.

Murray County native Misty Watson is a staff writer and photographer for The Daily Citizen. You can contact her at mistywatson@daltoncitizen.com, facebook.com/MistyWatsonDCN or on Twitter, @mistydwatson.

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