Anger is a natural emotion. Mild forms of anger include displeasure, irritation or dislike. Anger can come as a reaction to criticism, threat, or frustration. This is usually a healthy response. Anger may be a secondary response to feeling sad, lonely or frightened.
When anger turns into rage, it can impair judgment and thinking, making people more likely to do and say unreasonable and irrational things.
Contents of this article:
What is anger?
When anger turns to rage, judgment can be impaired.
Anger is a normal human emotion, but when it gets out of control it can become destructive, leading to serious problems at work and in personal relationships. It can undermine a person's quality of life.
Anger is not just a state of mind. It triggers an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline levels. Anger has survival benefits, and it forms part of the fight or flight response to a perceived threat or harm.
Humans and other animals often express anger by making loud sounds, baring teeth, staring and adopting postures as a warning to perceived aggressors, in an attempt to stop their threatening behaviors. It is rare for a physical attack to occur without these signs of anger appearing first.
What causes anger?
Anger may happen instinctively in humans and other animals to protect territory, offspring and family members, secure mating privileges, prevent loss of possessions or food, and other perceived threats.
Factors that commonly make people angry are:
- Grief, on losing a loved one
- Sexual frustration
- Disappointment or failure
- Rudeness and injustice
- Use of or withdrawal from alcohol, drugs, medications, or other substances
- Physical conditions, such as pre-menstrual syndrome
- Physical or mental illness
- Being teased, bullied, or humiliated
- Stress, for example, over deadlines or financial problems
- Traffic jams
- Sloppy service
- Being told you have a serious illness.
The Counseling Center at California State University in Bakersfield, CA, explains that underlying anger is caused by a "perceived loss of control over factors affecting important values." The values may be related to pride, love, money, justice, and so on.
How can anger make you ill?
When a person is angry, the body releases stress hormones, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. The heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and breathing rate increase.
Regular anger can eventually make people ill, because recurrent, unmanaged anger can result in a constant flood of stress chemicals. This can lead to metabolic changes that eventually undermine the individual's health.
The following physical health problems may occur:
- Hypertension, or high blood pressure
- Irritable bowel syndrome, or other digestive disorders
- Skin disorders
- Heart attack
- Lower pain threshold
- Weakened immune system, resulting in more infections, colds, and influenza.
Emotional and mental consequences of frequent, uncontrolled anger include:
- Depression and moodiness
- Eating disorders
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Self injury
- Low self-esteem.
What is anger management?
Anger management involves skills of recognizing the signs of anger, and taking action to deal with the situation in a positive way. It does not mean holding the anger in or avoiding angry feelings. Anger is a normal, healthy emotion when expressed appropriately.
Anger management teaches people how to recognize frustrations at an early stage, and to settle them in a way that allows the person to express their needs, while remaining calm and in control.
Coping with anger is an acquired skill.
Anger management helps a person to identify what triggers their emotions, and how to respond for a positive outcome.
A person whose anger is having negative consequences on a relationship, or is leading to violent or dangerous behavior may be advised to see a mental health counselor, or to take an anger management class.
Signs that a person needs help include:
- Being in trouble with the law
- Frequently feeling that they have to hold in their anger
- Having numerous arguments with people around you, especially family or colleagues
- Getting involved in fights
- Hitting a spouse or child
- Threatening violence to people or property
- Breaking things during an outburst
- Losing their temper when driving, and becoming reckless
Anger management therapy
Anger management therapy can help to identify triggers and solutions.
Anger management therapy may be in group sessions, or one-on-one with a counselor or psychotherapist.
If the person is diagnosed with a mental health condition, such as depression, anger management should take this into account.
In anger management training, a person learns to:
- Identify what makes them angry
- Respond in a non-aggressive way to anger triggers, before getting angry
- Handle the triggers
- Identify moments when thought processes are not leading to logical and rational conclusions, and to correct their thinking
- Return to a state of calm and peace when anger surges
- Express feelings and needs assertively in situations that normally lead to anger and frustration, without becoming aggressive
- Redirect energy and resources into problem solving rather than anger.
First, the person needs to learn to fully recognize their anger. The following questions may help:
- How do I know when I am angry?
- What type of people, situations, events, places, triggers make me angry?
- How do I respond when I am angry? What do I do?
- What impact does my angry reaction have on other people?
It can help to understand that anger and calmness are not clear-cut emotions. Anger can range from mild irritation to full rage. Knowing this can help people to understand when they are really angry and when they are just irritated.
Emotional symptoms that may develop as a person moves from irritation to rage include:
- A desire to escape from the situation
- Sadness or depression
- Desire to lash out verbally
- Desire to lash out physically.
The following signs may also occur:
- Rubbing the face with the hand
- Fidgeting, or clasping one hand with the other
- Pacing around
- Becoming cynical or sarcastic
- Losing the sense of humor
- Becoming rude and abusive
- Crave substances that the persons thinks will relax them, such as alcohol, tobacco, or drugs
- Speaking louder
- Screaming or crying.
Physical symptoms that can occur include:
If not treated, anger problems can lead to further psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.
- Grinding teeth
- Clenching the jaw
- Upset stomach
- Elevated heart rate
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Hot flashes in the face or neck
- Trembling hands, lips or jaw
- Tingling at the back of the neck.
If a person can recognize whether they are irritated, angry or furious, they can use anger management techniques to control the situation.
Making an anger plan
The next step is to devise an anger plan, which may include:
- Taking time out, to have space to reflect and calm down
- Changing the subject, if a particular conversation includes an anger trigger
- Using relaxation techniques
- Delaying a response, for example, by counting to ten.
This slows down the process, and allows time to recover a logical thinking pattern.
Keep an anger diary
Recording the feelings during an episode, and what happened before, during, and after may help a person to anticipate anger triggers, and to cope when episodes occur.
Understanding what happened, what worked and what did not work can help to achieve a more effective anger management plan.
It is important not to repress the anger, but to express it when the person has calmed down, in an assertive, non-aggressive way.
It is helpful to change such thoughts as "Everything's ruined" to, for example, "This is frustrating, but it is not the end of the world."
Words like "always" or "never" can make an angry person think there is no solution, and they can humiliate and alienate other people.
Regular exercise can regulate levels of adrenaline and cortisol levels, as well as increasing levels of endorphins, the natural feel-good hormones. You will also sleep better; a crucial factor for good mental health.
If a person is bothered by something, planning what to say beforehand can help prevent the conversation from getting sidetracked.
Focusing on the solution, not just the problem is more likely to resolve the issue.
Letting go of the resentment helps, because bearing a grudge fuels the anger and makes it harder to control. Other people are the way they are, and accepting this can help.
It is better to avoid harsh, sarcastic humor, but good humor can help to dissolve anger and resentment.
Timing is important. If evening discussions tend to turn into rows, possibly due to tiredness, change the times when you talk about important matters.
Anger can increase breathing and heart rates and tense up the muscles, but this can be reversed this by deliberately slowing the breathing and systematically relaxing and loosening the muscles.
Getting at least 7 hours of good quality sleep every night contributes to good mental and physical health. Sleep deprivation has been linked to a number of health problems, including anger.