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Anger Management

What is anger?

Anger is a strong feeling of displeasure or hostility. Although anger is a basic human emotion, feeling angry can be a problem for many people. This is because many people believe:

  • nice people shouldn't be angry
  • becoming angry means losing control
  • if others are angry at me, I must have hurt them in some way and am therefore responsible
  • anger means the end of a relationship or the end of loving or being loved
  • anger is sinful.

Some people have trouble controlling their behavior when they are angry and may do things that are hurtful or destructive. These people need to learn to control how they express anger. Other people keep their anger bottled up inside. These people need to learn that it is okay to express anger in a controlled way. Everyone should express anger through words rather than through physical violence.

Pain, fatigue, poor sleep, emotional stress, alcohol or drug use, and mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder can increase angry feelings and behavior. Whether you yell and hit or keep it all inside, long-term anger can damage your health and your relationships.

What physical changes occur when I get angry?

During an angry episode, your blood pressure and heart rate rise. Anger releases "fight or flight" hormones, and some people do not return to normal right away. They stay tense and on edge for awhile.

What kinds of difficulties do people with anger problems face?

People who express too much anger often end up feeling alone and distant from others because their sullen, hostile, or sarcastic behavior can make people turn away from them. A vicious circle is then set up: they feel angry because of the way others are reacting to their anger.

People who feel it is wrong to ever be angry can be out of touch with all of their feelings. They may be unable to feel joy or love. They may fear they would not be loved if others knew how much anger was inside them, so they always hide it. Then, because anger can almost never be completely hidden, they may act it out. They may do things like being late or not keeping promises.

How do problems with anger develop?

People who grow up in healthy families may quickly blow off steam and get over angry feelings. They resolve the conflict and move on.

But when there are serious problems within a family, everyone in the family may feel angry much of the time. They may often have outbursts of anger and feel that their angry impulses are not under their control. Or they may always "act nice" and expect the same of others. In other words, people with a lot of anger inside may be either out of control or too controlled. The anger becomes a big problem and guilt about it adds to the problem.

For some people, the goal is to learn how to control their expressions of anger and to express anger less often. For others, the goal is to learn how to express anger more often. Both types of people should aim toward expressing anger in words rather than through actions and in a controlled way.

How can I tell if I have problems with anger?

A good way to judge is something called the "cop at the elbow" rule. If you explode even when you could get in serious trouble, such as being arrested, you may have a real physical or psychological disorder.

To check your level of anger, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I easily lose patience with people?
  • Do I often feel that life is unfair to me?
  • Do I say threatening or nasty things when I am angry?
  • Do I get angry enough to hit, throw, or kick things?
  • When I really lose my temper, am I capable of physically hurting someone?

What can I do when I get angry?

Talking with a sympathetic friend, spouse, healthcare provider, or therapist about life stresses can help you calm down.

It can help to learn relaxation techniques. The 3 basics of relaxation are:

  • slow down your breathing
  • relax all the body muscles one group at a time
  • visualize a comforting or pleasant scene.

Self-statements can also be helpful. These statements can replace old ways of thinking. Some helpful self-statements are:

  • I am disappointed, but I can handle this without blowing up.
  • This will pass, and I can take a few deep breaths while it does.
  • I can relax my body, and not be upset.
  • I don't need to prove myself here.
  • I do not have to let this bother me.

Time-outs can also be useful. When you feel yourself getting tense or frustrated, say to the other person, "I'm beginning to feel angry and I need a time-out." Time-outs work best in this way:

  • Set a specific amount of time (15 minutes to 1 hour).
  • Leave the situation (for instance, take a walk or go into another room).
  • Calm yourself mentally with deep breathing and self-statements.
  • Do something physical such as walking, jogging, or bicycling.
  • Return to the situation and continue the discussion if the anger does not return. If the anger returns, take another time-out. Do not drink or use drugs during the time-out.

What is a healthy way to feel and deal with anger?

Healthy anger management involves 5 steps:

  • Feel it without judging it. Admit to yourself that you are angry and note where in your body you are feeling it (such as a pounding heart or sweaty palms).
  • Question it. Ask yourself about its true cause (like hurt feelings or fear).
  • Express it. Use "I" statements such as "I feel like you just don't care" rather than sounding like you are blaming the other person by saying "you just don't care".
  • Learn to use it to make positive changes in your life (for example, by changing jobs).
  • Let it go. Focus on releasing the anger and feeling calm again.

If you still have problems handling anger, talk with a healthcare provider or mental health professional.

Written by Lee Scheingold, MSW.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-05-24
Last reviewed: 2009-10-17
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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