Anger is a normal human emotion. In itself, anger is not a problem unless it is expressed in harmful ways.
Anger can create trouble in relationships, work, health, day-to-day living or with the law.
Life Psychologists can help you understand anger and learn better ways to handle and express it.
Losing your cool from time to time doesn’t mean you have an anger management problem. Psychologists look at trends in your behaviour, emotional symptoms and physical symptoms to diagnose an anger disorder.
You might think the emotional symptom of anger-related problems are limited to anger, but a number of emotional states could indicate that you are failing to deal with anger in a positive and healthy fashion. Constant irritability, rage and anxiety are possible emotional symptoms.
If you feel overwhelmed, have trouble organizing or managing your thoughts or fantasize about hurting yourself or others, you could be experiencing an anger disorder or another issue.
Strong emotions often bring about physical changes to the body, and anger is no exception. Letting anger issues go unaddressed can put your overall health at risk. Some physical symptoms of anger-related problems include:
- Heart palpitations or tightening of the chest
- Increased blood pressure
- Pressure in the head or sinus cavities
Uncontrolled anger looks different from person to person. Some people are quietly seething at the world most of the time. Some can’t help but dwell on events that made them mad. Others have quick tempers and may even exhibit aggressive or violent behaviour.
Uncontrolled anger can be hard to define. Unlike depression (which can be thought of as a dysfunctional form of sadness) or anxiety (a dysfunctional form of worry), uncontrolled anger doesn’t have a name or an official diagnosis.
Nevertheless, anger can be dysfunctional, and people who experience it often don’t realise how big a problem it is. That’s because in the short term, anger can be effective. Blowing up at your kids might seem like a good strategy if it results in them doing their chores. Losing your temper at work might feel productive if it gets your coworkers to do things your way.
Unfortunately, people often fail to see the long-term consequences of uncontrolled anger. Those can include health effects such as high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease, as well as social disharmony among family members, friends and coworkers.
You might need some help learning to control your anger if you recognise any these signs:
- Your friends or family members have said they think you have an anger problem or have distanced themselves from you as a result of your behaviour.
- You have discord with coworkers.
- There are business establishments where you’re no longer welcome.
- You feel angry a lot of the time.
- You’re nursing a grudge or thinking about getting revenge.
- You have been or think about being aggressive or violent when angry.
Individuals who have trouble controlling anger or who experience anger outside of a normal emotional scope can present with different types of anger disorders. Different experts have published contradicting lists of anger types, but some widely accepted forms of anger include:
- Chronic anger, which is prolonged, can impact the immune system and be the cause of other mental disorders
- Passive anger, which doesn’t always come across as anger and can be difficult to identify
- Overwhelmed anger, which is caused by life demands that are too much for an individual to cope with
- Self-inflicted anger, which is directed toward the self and may be caused by feelings of guilt
- Judgmental anger, which is directed toward others and may come with feelings of resentment
- Volatile anger, which involves sometimes-spontaneous bouts of excessive or violent anger
Anger management is about knowing the triggers and early warning signs of anger, and learning techniques to calm down before the situation gets out of control. It is about learning and practising better ways of expressing anger if necessary.
Recognise when you get angry
- List things that can trigger your anger. This might be things like running late for an appointment, your teenager leaving dirty dishes or a co-worker blaming you for something you didn’t do.
- Consider if you able to avoid any of these triggers, at least some of the time?
- Are you able to do something in these situations that would help you feel differently?
- Notice the physical warning signs that you are getting angry: pounding heart, flushed face, sweating, tense jaw, tightness in your chest or gritting your teeth. The earlier you can recognise these warning signs, the more successful you will be at calming yourself down before your anger gets out of control.
Work on responses that help with your anger
Develop a list of things to say to yourself before, during and after situations in which you may get angry. It is more helpful if these things focus on how you are managing the situation rather than what other people should be doing. Psychologists call this type of thinking ‘self-talk’.
- “I’ll be able to handle this. It could be rough, but I have a plan.”
- “If I feel myself getting angry, I’ll know what to do.”
- “Stay calm, relax, breathe easy.”
- “Stay calm, I’m okay, she’s not attacking me personally.”
- “Act calm, I can look and act calm.”
- “I managed that well. I can do this. I’m getting better at this.”
- “I felt angry, but I didn’t lose my cool.”
Take time out
Step away from a situation or an argument if you feel your anger getting out of control. Go outside the room or for a walk. Before you go, make a time to talk about the situation when both of you have calmed down. During time out, plan how you are going to stay calm when your conversation resumes.
Strategies for managing anger include counting to ten, smiling, playing soothing music, talking to a good friend, or focusing on some simple, mechanical task like polishing the car or folding laundry.
Practice relaxing strategies
Practise some relaxation strategies like breathing deeply from your diaphragm, or progressively relaxing all of your muscles.
Learn assertiveness skills
Ensure that anger is channelled and expressed in clear and respectful ways through assertiveness training. Being assertive means being clear with others about what your needs and wants are, feeling OK about asking for them, but respecting the other person’s needs and concerns as well and being prepared to negotiate.
Try to acknowledge your anger
Admit when a particular issue has made you angry by telling yourself and others. Letting someone know that you felt angry when they did or said something is more helpful than just acting out the anger.
Change the way you think about things
When you’re angry, your thinking can become exaggerated and irrational. Try replacing these thoughts. Instead of telling yourself “I can’t stand it, it’s awful and everything’s ruined” reassure yourself that “It’s frustrating, and it’s understandable that I’m upset about it, but it’s not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it”.
Avoid negative words
Avoid using words like never or always (such as “you’re always late!”). These statements are usually inaccurate, make you feel as though your anger is justified, and don’t leave much possibility for the problem to be solved.
Consider who you are angry at
Make sure you think about who you express your anger to. Take care that you are not just dumping your anger on the people closest to you, or on those less powerful than you. Don’t yell at your partner, children, dog or cat when you are really angry with your boss.
Rehearse anger management strategies
Practise some anger management strategies with a friend. Ask them to help you to act out a situation where you get angry, so that you can rehearse other ways to think and behave. Practise saying things in an assertive way.
You can also use your imagination to practise your anger management strategies. Imagine yourself in a situation that can trigger your anger.Imagine how you could behave in that situation without getting angry. Imagine a situation where you did get angry. Replay the situation in your mind and imagine resolving the situation without anger.
Write things down
Sometimes it can help to write things down. What is happening in your life? How do you feel about the things that are happening? Writing about these topics can sometimes help give you some perspective and help you understand your feelings. What are some options for changing your situation?
Hundreds of research studies have explored the effectiveness of therapies for treating anger. Several large analyses of the published research suggest that overall, approximately 75 percent of people receiving anger management therapy improved as a result.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
In CBT, patients learn to identify unhelpful or negative thought patterns and change inaccurate beliefs. One CBT-based anger treatment is known as Stress Inoculation. This method involves exposing the person to imaginary incidents that would provoke anger, providing opportunities to self-monitor their anger and practice coping methods.
Though there has been less research on other methods for treating anger, several appear to show promise. Those include:
Can help family members resolve conflict and improve communication. It may helpful in addressing anger problems directed at a romantic partner and/or children.
This is an approach in which therapists help people use self-reflection to focus on the psychological roots of their emotional distress.
Anger often goes hand-in-hand with other problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression or alcohol problems. Life Psychologists can help treat those conditions while also providing strategies for managing the anger that goes along with them.
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You can seek help from a psychologist if you feel your anger is out of control. Your psychologist can assess if your anger is a problem, and help you understand your anger. Together, you can work out how to get what you want in a better way.
They can advise you about other resources to help manage your anger, such as support groups, books and courses. Your psychologist can also help you manage other problems that may be associated with anger, such as depression, violence or personal relationships.
- Life Psychologists are highly trained and qualified professionals, skilled in providing effective interventions for a range of mental health concerns, including anger.
- A Life Psychologist can help you to identify and address factors that might be contributing to your stress and the most effective ways to address stress using techniques based on best available research.
- Life Psychologists usually see clients individually, but can also include family members to support treatment where appropriate.
A medical check-up with a GP might also be helpful to see if there is an underlying health issue.