Feeling angry: Mental health and what to do
Anger is an integral part of the body's "fight, flight, or freeze" system, which helps protect us from threats or danger.
However, high levels of unresolved anger may have a negative impact on health. According to the American Psychological Association, anger has links with inflammation in older adults. This could lead to chronic diseases.
Research from 2015 suggests that the overall lifetime prevalence of intense, inappropriate, or poorly controlled anger in the general population in the United States is 7.8%. Anger seems to affect more men than women, and it also seems more prevalent among younger adults.
This article looks at the potential causes of anger, how to self-manage it, possible treatments and therapies, and when to see a doctor.
Causes of feeling angry
Problems relating to a specific person may trigger feelings of anger.
People can become angry for many reasons, and everyone experiences anger differently.
Events or circumstances that cause an angry outburst in one person may not affect another person at all.
Someone might experience anger if they feel:
- attacked or threatened
- frustrated or powerless
- invalidated or unfairly treated
Circumstances that may trigger feelings that lead to anger include:
- problems that a specific person, such as a coworker, partner, friend, or family member, has caused
- frustrating events, such as being stuck in a traffic jam or having a flight canceled
- personal problems that cause extreme worry or ruminating
- memories of traumatic or infuriating events
- physical or psychological pain
- environmental conditions, such as uncomfortable temperatures
- feeling that goals are unachievable
- personal offense due to unfair treatment, insults, rejections, and criticism
Anger can also play a significant role in grief. Many people feel angry when they are dealing with losing a partner, close friend, or family member.
Signs and symptoms
The signs and symptoms of anger can vary from person to person. Anger affects the mind and body in a variety of ways.
Effects that anger may have on the body include:
- increased heart rate
- feeling hot
- tightness in the chest
- stomach churning
- clenching jaws or grinding teeth
- tense muscles
- shaking or trembling
- leg weakness
- feeling faint
Effects that anger may have on the mind include feeling:
- anxious, nervous, or unable to relax
- easily irritated
- sad or depressed
- like striking out physically or verbally
Other behaviors and feelings associated with anger include:
- becoming sarcastic
- losing sense of humor
- yelling, screaming, or crying
- acting in an abusive manner
- craving substances such as alcohol or tobacco
Physical, emotional, and behavioral cues can help a person recognize when they are experiencing the intermediate stages between low and extreme anger levels.
It is important to note that anger and aggression are different things. Anger is an emotion, whereas aggression is related to how a person behaves.
Not everyone with anger behaves aggressively, and not everyone who acts aggressively is angry.
Anger itself is not classified as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5). For this reason, there are no diagnostic criteria for anger issues.
However, anger is associated with many mental health conditions, including:
- antisocial personality disorder
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- bipolar disorder
- borderline personality disorder
- conduct disorder
- intermittent explosive disorder
- narcissistic personality disorder
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
- oppositional defiant disorder
Feeling angry is not always a sign of a mental health condition, but speaking to a doctor can help a person determine the underlying cause.
Pausing before reacting can help a person control their anger.
Everyone has a reaction to anger, but some techniques can help ensure the anger does not get out of control.
Strategies for managing anger include:
- Recognizing the warning signs. Being aware of the changes in the body, emotions, and behaviors that result from anger can help someone decide how they want to react to a situation before they act.
- Pausing before reacting. Walking away from the situation can buy the person some time to think and take back control.
- Counting to 10. Taking a few seconds to count slowly to 10 can reduce the intensity of the anger.
- Releasing tension in the body. To release tension, unclench the jaw, drop the shoulders, and uncross the arms and legs. Roll the shoulders back and stretch the neck to either side if holding tension here.
- Listening. It can be easy to jump to conclusions when angry. If having a heated discussion, take some time to stop and listen before replying.
- Exercising. Doing cardiovascular exercises such as running, cycling, or swimming can help release the energy that might otherwise become aggression.
- Finding a distraction. Listening to music, dancing, going for a walk, writing in a journal, or just taking a shower can all help prevent anger from escalating.
- Changing negative thought patterns. In the heat of the moment, the situation can seem much worse than it really is. A method called cognitive restructuring can help people challenge and replace angry thoughts.
- Using relaxation techniques. Using relaxation strategies, such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, may help alleviate feelings of anger.
When to see a doctor
If a person's anger is affecting their relationships, work, and other areas of their life, they may wish to seek advice from a doctor.
Indicators that anger has become a problem include:
- regularly expressing anger through disruptive or destructive behavior
- feeling as though anger is having an impact on physical or mental health
- experiencing anger more often than other emotions
Some of the disruptive ways a person might express anger include:
- Aggression and violence: This can include shouting, swearing, throwing things, and being verbally abusive, threatening, or physically violent.
- Internal aggression: This can include self-harming, self-hatred, not eating, and isolating oneself.
- Passive aggression: This can include ignoring people, refusing to do tasks, and being sarcastic but not explicitly saying anything angry or aggressive.
In these cases, it is important to seek support and treatment. Expressing anger through aggression and violence can harm friendships, family relationships, and relationships with coworkers, and it may have serious consequences.
Treatment and therapy
Taking anger management classes may help a person with anger issues.
A family doctor will make an assessment and determine whether a person's difficulties with anger are related to a physical condition or a mental health issue.
If it is a mental health concern, a doctor will most likely refer the person to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor.
Making a thorough diagnosis can help them recommend the best line of treatment.
Possible treatments for difficulties with anger management include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- anger management classes
Anger is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. Sometimes, it can even motivate people to right wrongs or make improvements in their lives.
Common triggers for anger include circumstances, events, and people that a person perceives as threatening, deceiving, frustrating, or disrespectful.
Many resources are available to help people manage anger, such as talking therapies and anger management classes.