Often it’s after you missed lunch at work, or you’re starving but you need to sort the kids out first. Your frown is making a tight knot in your forehead, and just about everything is annoying. This has been informally titled “Hangry”, an amalgam of ‘hungry’ and ‘angry’, since the 1990’s. Not everyone gets it, but you might find you do following a brain injury.
My hangry episodes.
I can range from grumbling somethings in the wrong place, to shouting “You moron! Move over!” at middle lane drivers on the motorway. Please don’t write in telling me your reasons for hogging the middle lane if you do this. Believe me, I’m well aware of your arguments, but you’re just wrong. Wish more of you got points and a fine for it as you clearly don’t understand how your actions contribute to accidents. THAT’S WHY IT’S AGAINST THE HIGHWAY CODE!!
Sorry about that. That’s always been a pet hate of mine, but I admit I probably get more animated about it these days. In fact I could write a whole book on just that, but I won’t.
I have however, started to realise it might co-inside with my hunger levels when I can’t hold back from shouting abuse. (Don’t worry, the windows are always closed so it’s unlikely I offend anyone.) I don’t think this used to happen to me before my brain injury, but if it did it wasn’t nearly as noticeable.
Why hangry happens.
In short, your digestive system breaks down what you have eaten into sugars, amino-acids and free fatty acids. This allows them to be directed to the organs that need this energy and nutrients to complete their functions. As the brain consumes 20% of your energy, and relies heavily on glucose (the fiendish sweet tooth that it is) if your levels drop too far, it begins to struggle. You might find concentration a bigger problem than usual, your speech might become slurred, and in general you make more mistakes.
But mammals have evolved over over the last 120 million years, so surely the body has a response to this? I mean cave man couldn’t demand his dinner on the table by 6.30 pm if he had failed to find anything. And yes it has got something up it’s sleeve for this, but it’s less than ideal.
Your sugar fiend of a brain can make your system increase the levels of hormones that increase the bloodstreams sugar levels. But before you start cheering for your clever brain, it’s greedy response comes at a price. The 4 hormones it uses in this process include epinephrine and cortisol, AKA adrenaline. You might remember from 7 Executive dysfunction challenges after brain injury that these stress hormones induce the “flight or fight” response. This can leaves us feeling edgy and make us more snappy. And if you have a brain injury, you need to try to reduce your stress levels. As I wrote in Stress has a big impact on brain injury these hormones can interrupt the creation of new axons, which we need for learning and memory. Important for everyone, but vital for a brain injury survivors recovery.
How to avoid becoming hangry.
Well, eat before you get too hungry. But there some some foods which are unhelpful so try not to be tempted. Sweets, chocolate, crisps (that’s potato chips to my American friends) might be quick and easy, but are not a great option. They are loaded with glucose which makes your levels shoot up, but then you have a sugar crash, leaving you in the same if not worst position as you were before. Foods high in nutrients are much better, like fresh vegetables and protein. Fruit also has lots of sugar, so whilst it has great vitamins, try to find something less sweet, like carrots.
Having a routine can help too. Don’t skip meals, and if you are going to have dinner a bit later because you’re going out, have a light snack before to tide you over. No one wants to be grumpy when they have that well earned visit to the restaurant. I know sometimes it ends that way if the service is bad, or some brat starts a food fight, but let’s give ourselves the best chance of having a good time.