Everyone feels angry sometimes. Anger can be a good thing because it allows us to express our emotions. It's what we do when we're angry that can cause problems. For example, anger expressed as violence or ignoring a person is not appropriate.
What is anger?
Anger is a normal human emotion. It can range from feeling annoyed to intense rage.
What are the signs and symptoms of anger?
Anger makes your heart rate and blood pressure go up as your body produces more of the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline. This is the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response.
You may feel tightness in the chest and clenched muscles. You may feel hot and flushed and start sweating. You may feel pressure building in your head. Your heart may start to pound and you may breathe faster than normal.
What causes anger?
Anger may be triggered by situations that we think are unfair, or if we think someone has wronged us, humiliated us or put our social status at risk.
You may find that you have certain situations that are likely to trigger an anger response. If we feel resentful or overwhelmed, we may be at risk of anger.
Anger is not a mental health condition itself, but it can be a symptom of some mental health conditions, including oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, borderline personality disorder and depression.
Managing your anger
Everyone feels angry from time to time. But it’s how you show your anger that matters. If you don’t control your anger, it can lead to violence or angry behaviour like yelling, throwing things or storming out.
It’s not okay to express anger in ways that can hurt you or other people or objects.
If you think you have problems managing your anger, it may help to ask yourself these questions:
- Do you sometimes have trouble controlling your behaviour when you’re angry?
- Have you ever been angry and later regretted what you did?
- Have you ever become violent or abusive when you’ve been angry?
- Has anyone commented to you about your behaviour when you’re angry?
- Has anger caused any problems in your relationships or work life?
If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you might like to consider talking to your GP or a mental health professional about how to manage your anger better.
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Can anger be controlled?
It is possible to express anger in an assertive and respectful way. Other people are not responsible for making you angry – you can choose how you react.
You can control anger by recognising the physical signs listed above. If you notice you are getting angry, you can learn ways to calm yourself down before it gets out of control.
Tips for managing your anger
If you feel yourself getting angry, there are techniques you can try to stop yourself becoming violent or abusive. If you practise these techniques — perhaps with a friend — you’ll be able to use them when you’re losing control.
Identify the things that make you angry
If you know the things that frustrate you and make you angry, you may be able to avoid them or do things differently when you’re faced with them. When you start to feel angry, ask yourself what is causing it. If it’s a valid reason, then you can acknowledge that. But also ask yourself if your reading of the situation is correct – maybe there’s another perspective.
Spot the physical warning signs of anger
If you can identify the physical warning signs of anger, such as those above, you will have more opportunity to calm yourself before the situation escalates.
‘Time out’ means stepping away from a situation and giving yourself space. It may help to say ‘I need to take a break — I’ll come back in half an hour’. This gives you a chance to ‘cool down’.
Try taking five long, deep breaths and slowing your breathing. While you’re breathing, try to relax the muscles in your arms and face.
Talk yourself down
Telling yourself you can handle the situation can help calm you down.
You might try saying things like ‘Okay, I can handle this’ or ‘I’m not going to let this get to me’. Or you might try words like ‘relax’ or ‘take it easy’ while you breathe deeply.
Try to avoid negative statements that might make you feel angrier and which talk up the situation, such as ‘she’s always doing that’ or ‘how dare he!’.
Shifting the focus from the situation to something else, even briefly, can be enough to defuse a situation. If you can listen to music, count to 10 or call a friend, it may be enough to distract you from what is making you angry.
Picturing yourself in a relaxing situation may help. Use what you feel is relaxing — it may be swimming or lying on a beach, sitting on a mountain top, or reading to your children.
Gentle exercise, such as yoga, or other forms of stretching can relax your muscles and make you feel calmer. Taking your dog out for a walk can be a circuit breaker and change your perspective.
What are the consequences of uncontrolled anger?
Unmanaged anger that is frequent and ongoing can damage your health and relationships. It can lead to loss of control and regret. The frequent release of stress hormones can affect the brain and weaken the immune system in the long term. So, even though anger episodes may end, they may still have an effect on your health if they happen frequently enough.
What are the treatments for anger issues?
There are many different individual, group and online anger management therapies and training courses that can help a person to manage anger better.
Counselling or CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) may help you to learn more productive ways to express your anger. Assertiveness training can help you to get your point of view across, without becoming aggressive. Conflict resolution can help you resolve issues peacefully. Relaxation skills training can decrease stress and tension.
Anger management training does not dismiss a person’s anger, but tries to help develop techniques to manage anger in a healthy way.
Resources and support
If you feel that your anger is getting out of control, it may help to talk to a health professional, such as a doctor or psychologist. You may be eligible for a Medicare rebate if your GP refers you to a psychologist.
Here are some online resources that may be helpful:
- MensLine Australia — Anger Management Toolkit
- Headspace — What is anger
- SANE Australia — free counselling service — 1800 187 263
- Australian Psychological Society — Anger
Alternatively, you can call helplines such as:
- Lifeline — 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline — 1800 55 1800
- MensLine — 1300 78 99 78
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Last reviewed: February 2022