Hunger has a strange effect on our emotions. Even the nicest folks can get a little upset, irritable, and snippy the minute they start to feel those familiar pangs down in their stomach. One solution is to eat, of course. But when that’s not an option, there is another way you can avoid transforming into a bad Snickers commercial.
A recent study, published in the journal Emotion, attempted to recreate the phenomenon of “hangriness” in order to see how and why it happens. The study, led by Jennifer MacCormack, a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in psychology and neuroscience, involved riling up already hungry people with a lengthy, annoying computer exercise that was designed to crash.
As they were about to finish, participants would be greeted with a pre-planned “blue screen of death,” then blamed by research personnel for causing it to happen. Yeah, that would make just about anyone upset. Add on to the fact that one group had been fasting for five hours beforehand, and you’ve got yourself some hangry study participants.
“…it activates many of the same bodily systems, like the autonomic nervous system and hormones, that are involved in emotion. For example, when you’re hungry, your body releases a host of hormones including cortisol and adrenaline, often associated with stress. The result is that hunger, especially at greater intensity, can make you feel more tense, unpleasant and primed for action — due to how these hormones make you feel.”
What’s more is that this same principle might apply to other physical states as well, says Elizabeth Davis, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside. She tells NPR Science that studies like this suggest that our emotions are more closely tied to our physiology than we once thought, and that other physical states may have their own versions of hangry.
But how do you stop this from happening? After all, nobody wants to accidentally say something terrible in a meeting merely because they skipped breakfast. Besides eating something right freakin’ now, MacCormack offers three simple tips for the hangry folks out there:
- Be aware of your hunger: The most important thing you can do is recognise that you’re hungry and that you are at risk of becoming hangry. When you feel your stomach growling, stop and tell yourself to tread lightly. A little mindfulness goes a long way here and keeps you from crossing that line. It doesn’t hurt to warn others of your potential hangriness, either.
- Inject positivity into your situation: Context matters when it comes to hangriness. Some situations, like being stuck in traffic or near the end of a stressful deadline, are going to increase the likelihood of being hangry. Recognise these situations when you’re more on edge than usual and attempt to change the atmosphere. MacCormack says pleasant music, amusing podcasts, and other things you enjoy can help lower the stress of the situation, thus reducing your risk of becoming hangry.
- Pay more attention to your body: Get more familiar with your bodily cues and pay attention when you usually get hungry throughout the day. Plan ahead and bring snacks so you don’t get hungry in the first place. Prevention is the best way to stop it.
When hunger pangs get you down, MacCormack says insight is everything. It’s important you remember to separate your mind from how something is making you feel: that person isn’t terrible, you’re just hungry; that car that cut you off isn’t worth the road rage, you’re just hungry; that isn’t the longest, most pointless meeting of your life, you’re just hungry.
Be aware of your hunger, try to make a crummy situation better, then go have a snack when you finally get a chance — you’ll be fine.