Anger is a normal emotion we all experience. However, you need to know how to express it in an appropriate way to keep yourself and others safe and well.
- Anger can range from a mild feeling of irritation or annoyance to a very strong one of rage and fury.
- Anger is a normal emotion. Expressed in healthy ways, it can be used to energise us to overcome obstacles, solve problems and achieve goals. But there are also unhealthy ways of expressing it.
- If you have ever felt so furious you haven't been able to control yourself, you have a problem managing your anger.
- Four strategies to help you manage your anger are: knowing your anger, calming down or getting away, learning how to talk when you are angry, and managing your stress.
- Trained professionals such as a counsellors or psychotherapists can help you address underlying causes for your anger, learn how to de-escalate your anger, and develop new skills for managing it.
- Sometimes anger is linked to a health condition such as depression or alcohol or drug use, and attending to those issues can help you manage your anger better.
What is anger?
Anger is a normal emotion that can help us push through challenges and achieve personal goals. However, it’s important to learn how to express it in a way that is appropriate for you and that keeps others safe. Poorly handled anger can become a problem that affects your relationships with other people in your personal life and at work.
If you have ever felt so furious you haven't been able to control yourself, you have a problem managing your anger. Other signs of being affected by anger could be less obvious and include:
- always being irritable, with little things making you angry
- when anger is your main response to situations
- you get aggressive, violent or nasty when you're angry – remember yelling at and insulting others is verbal abuse, and just like physical assault is not OK
- feeling depressed and avoiding being around friends or family
- using drugs or alcohol to make you feel more relaxed or calm.
Anger can be a sign that you are dealing with too much stress at work or at home. It can also sometimes co-exist with certain health conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar disorder. Also, some medicines can cause aggression. See your doctor if you think any of these may be the underlying cause of your anger.
What is anger management?
Anger management is about making sure you are in charge of your anger, rather than your anger being in charge of you. If you stay in charge of your anger, you can express it in ways that are healthy and safe for you and everyone else. If your anger takes charge of you and you lash out with your words or your fists, you and other people are at risk of being hurt.
If you keep all your angry feelings bottled up inside, that puts you under stress and that is not good for your health. It may lead to smoking, drinking or using drugs to keep your anger pushed down.
Although you can't control how you feel, you can control how you behave. That means you can feel angry and express it without being nasty or aggressive.
What are some strategies to manage my anger?
There are four key strategies to help you manage your anger. These are to:
- know your anger
- calm down or get away
- learn how to talk when you are angry
- manage your stress.
1. Know your anger
Get to know which situations or people tend to trigger your anger. And if something is bothering you, then preparing what you want to say beforehand can help you, such as if you need to have a difficult conversation with your partner or someone at work.
It can be useful to think of your anger as a volcano. If it’s just rumbling at a low level, you may be able to calm down before you react. If it’s threatening to spill over, you need to get away from the situation.
Get to know the signs in your body that your anger is building up before it spills over:
- your heart beats faster
- you breathe more quickly
- you may clench your jaw or your fists.
Get to know the thoughts that are a sign that your anger is building up before it spills over. Clues include phrases such “It’s not fair”, “This always happens to me”, "He or she always/never does x”. “He or she did that on purpose to get at me”.
2. Calm down or get away
- Take a deep breath in, pause and then very slowly let it out.
- Count to 10 before you speak.
- Say something to yourself to help you calm down, such as “It’s OK” “Stay calm”, or “Take it easy’.
- If you need it, take a timeout from an intense situation.
- Go for a walk or hit a punching bag to let off steam.
3. Learn how to talk when you're angry
If you have a way to express your anger with your words, you are less likely to have to keep it bottled up inside you or to have it spill out in a rage. Knowing how to express your feelings with words helps keep you in charge rather than the feelings being in charge of you. Some things that help include:
- Learning about words for feelings. Sometimes, people get angry because they don’t have the language for what they are feeling.
- Use humour where you can to de-escalate your own feelings and others.
- Use ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’ statements. This helps the other person to better hear what you are saying without getting angry themselves.
- Describe the other person’s behaviour that you are angry about, rather than accusing them of any particular motives, or saying ‘always’ or ‘never’.
- For example, instead of “You are such a jerk for forgetting me. You’re always doing that and it shows you don’t care about me", you can say “I’m feeling angry because you forgot to pick me up when you said you would”.
4. Manage your stress
Being less stressed helps you to better manage your anger. Do this through:
- regular exercise
- learning relaxation or mindfulness techniques, such as yoga or meditation
- getting good sleep
- eating well.
Do I need professional help for my anger?
It’s important that you get help if you:
- have ever been violent when you are angry
- feel at risk of being violent when you get angry
- feel like hurting people in other ways when you are angry, such as by being verbally abusive or making threats
- are unable to express your anger and it’s all bottled up inside you.
What support is available if I have anger management issues?
Talking with a trained professional such as a counsellor or psychotherapist is a good way to get help with anger management. They can help you address any underlying causes for your anger, learn how to de-escalate your anger, and develop new skills for managing it.
For example, when another driver cuts you off, for instance, you might think, “You idiot! Everyone’s trying to make me late today!” Instead of thinking bad thoughts about the other driver, for example, you can learn to think instead, “Whoa! That was an accident waiting to happen.”
Ask your GP if they can recommend someone, or you can find a counsellor yourself.
- Controlling anger before it controls you American Psychological Association
- Anger Mental Health Foundation, NZ, 2014
- How to control your anger NHS, UK, 2016
- How a psychologist can help you manage your anger American Psychological Association
- Suls J. Anger and the heart: perspectives on cardiac risk, mechanisms and interventions. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2013 May-Jun;55(6):538-47.