Anger is a natural response to threats and attacks, injustice and disappointment.
Anger releases the pressure that builds inside and can be essential to deal with problems and move on. But if anger isn’t dealt with in a healthy way, it can have a significant effect on your health and well-being.
What is anger?
Anger is a basic human emotions. It is a physical and mental response to a threat or to harm done. Anger takes many different forms from irritation to rage or resentment that builds over many years.
At any point in time, a combination of physical, mental and social factors interact to make us feel a certain way. People vary in their experience of anger. Our feelings are influenced by our emotional make-up, our perspective on the world, what happens in our environment and our situation. Like other emotions, anger rarely occurs in isolation.
How does anger work?
As we go about our lives, we are constantly making decisions good or bad, safe or unsafe etc. How we interpret an event or experience influences how we feel about it. If we think we are in danger, we feel afraid. If we feel we have been wronged, we may feel angry. These feelings determine how we react to the situation and we can translate meanings into feelings very fast. With anger that speed may mean that we react in ways we later regret.
How do our bodies respond to anger?
Many of our emotions are linked to a particular physical response. Anger gets the mind and body ready for action it arouses the nervous system, increasing the heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow to muscles, blood sugar level and sweating. It also sharpens the senses and increases the production of adrenalin, a hormone produced at times of stress.
At the same time as these physical changes, anger is thought to affect the way we think. When we are first faced with a threat, anger helps us quickly translate complex information into simple terms: ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for instance. This can be useful in an emergency as we do not waste valuable time weighing up information that doesn’t instantly affect our safety or well being.
However, it may mean that we act before we have considered what else is relevant and made a rational decision about how to behave. Remember that we can look at the situation and deal with it differently. When anger gets in the way of rational thinking we may act aggressively, this may come from the survival instinct or to protect someone.
Why do we get angry?
Reasons for getting angry include:
- a threat to us or others
- a blow to our self-esteem
- financial loss
- over principles
- a disappointment
If we think someone has wronged us on purpose this can make us angrier. If we’re having a bad day and are in a state of constant tension, we are more likely to snap when something else goes wrong.
Anger can surface years later that has its roots in abuse or neglect long ago. Sometimes anger stays locked inside us for decades because it wasn’t dealt with sufficiently at the time.
How do people behave when they are angry?
Anger isn’t always negative it can be a force for good. Moral outrage can motivate individuals to campaign for change, right wrongs and influence rule change in our society.
Are Anger and Aggression the same?
Anger is an emotional state and aggression is just one of the ways that people behave when they are angry. Aggression often takes over when people act on their instinct to protect themselves or others. Alcohol can make some people act more aggressively and drug use can similarly lower our inhibitions.
Some people who are angry get their own back indirectly by making other people feel guilty and playing on that guilt. Others develop a cynical attitude and constantly criticise everything, but never address problems constructively.
Some people internalise their anger. They may be furious inside and may physically shake but they don’t show their anger in the way they behave around others.
People who internalise their anger may self harm when anger strikes as a way of coping with feelings they can’t express another way. This may give temporary relief, but it doesn’t solve the problems in the long term.
What kind of problems can be linked to anger?
Anger becomes a problem when it affects us or other people. Anger is the emotion most likely to cause problems in a persons relationships. People with long term anger problems tend to make poor decisions, take more risks and are more likely to have a substance misuse problem.
Long term and intense anger has been linked with mental health problems including depression, anxiety and self-harm. It is also linked to poorer overall physical health including conditions, such as:
- high blood pressure
- coronary heart disease
- gastro-intestinal problems
How can I manage my own anger?
When you feel the first surge of anger boiling up inside you, pause for a moment. Think about what has made you angry think about the consequences of exploding in a rage and then choose how to respond.
Even in the middle of an argument, it’s not too late to take a deep breath and choose to express your feelings differently. Give rational thinking time to kick in.
- count to ten before you act
- breathe deeply to help you relax
- if you feel the urge to throw something or hit out, try a soft cushion which won’t hurt you
- try screaming or shouting
- imagine yourself in a relaxing scene
- distract yourself or take yourself out of the situation that made you angry – do an activity to take your mind off it
- do a creative activity
- Talk to a friend who will help you get perspective on the situation.
There are other activities which may help you almost immediately, later the same day or if you make them part of your lifestyle longer term.
- work off your anger through exercise
- use relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation
Being assertive is a healthy way to express anger take ownership of the situation and your feelings.
- tell people that you are feeling angry and why
- talk slowly and clearly
- use the word “I” to make it about you, not about them
- make requests rather than demands or threats
- say “I could” and “I might” instead of “I must” or “I should”
Good communication skills can help you get your message across. Keep the lines of communication open. Listen to other people’s point of view. Assuming you know where they stand can create a problem where there is none and escalate a situation from bad to worse.
Work out what makes you angry and how it makes you behave. Think about it when you are not feeling angry. Talk it through with someone who you trust and who knows you well.
- what triggers your anger?
- what signs tell you that you’re on the brink of uncontrolled anger?
- have you fallen into any unhelpful patterns of behaviour?
- what have the consequences been?
- what works to calm you down?
- are there any triggers in your daily routine or your environment that you could change?
Protect your mental health
People in good mental health are better able to cope when things go wrong; feeling stressed makes it harder for us to cope with problems. The following are some of the things known to be good for our mental health.
- keep physically active
- eat a balanced diet
- drink sensibly
- keep in touch with friends and loved ones
- take time to relax and enjoy yourself
- accept who you are and do something you’re good at
- care for others
“Now I play the drums. It’s a very good way of dealing with my anger. When I feel worked up, I think ‘I’m just going to pound something for a few hours.’ It works really quickly. It takes my mind off it and then I just enjoy playing.”
How can I deal with other people’s anger?
Being on the receiving end of anger or just being a witness to it can be tough. If other people’s anger is having a bad effect on you, you should not have to put up with it.
Anger tends to be catching, but staying calm yourself can help both of you. If you get angry as well, things can quickly escalate.
- bear in mind the tactics that calm people down use them yourself and remind the other person what can help them relax or distract themselves
- help them to consider why they are angry and encourage them to explain it to you calmly
- explain that sometimes anger is justified, but it can also make people lose perspective unnecessary aggression makes things worse
It may help to take yourself away from an angry person. Give them time to cool down, wait a few minutes, then talk to them when they seem less agitated and may be more able to look at the situation neutrally.
No one needs to put up with violence. If you are afraid or feel threatened by someone’s anger, you should ask for help. If you have been assaulted, call the police.
Where can I go for further help?
If you are worried about your own anger or another aspect of your mental health, going to your GP is a good place to start. They may be able to suggest ways you can manage your anger yourself or they may refer you for further support. You may be able to get help on the NHS or pay for it yourself.
Talking therapies such as counselling or CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) can help people explore what makes them angry, work out why anger has become a problem for them and learn how to change the way they respond to the situations that typically make them angry. Talking therapies are usually provided over a course of several weeks or months.
Anger management courses often involve counselling and group work with other people with similar problems. The courses take place either over a day or a weekend or in sessions over a period of weeks.
Domestic violence programmes help people whose anger leads them to violence against members of their family. They usually help people take responsibility for their actions and understand their impact on those close to them. They may also ask people to change other parts of their life such as addressing any problems with alcohol or drugs.
Local support groups can be a way for people with a problem in common to share their experiences and support and encourage each other to change their behaviour. They may be led by someone who has themselves had a problem with anger in the past.
Faith leaders or others of the same community can help people reflect and get perspective on a situation that has made them angry. They will help set the situation in the context of the values that the faith follows.
Anger management courses
The British Association of Anger Management runs weekend and evening courses for people who want help dealing with their own anger and for people who work with those who have difficulties with their anger.
Call 0845 1300 286
You can find more information about talking therapies and how to find a therapist on our information page.
Relate can help people talk through relationship difficulties, whether they are married, living together, in a same-sex relationship, separated, divorced or single.