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Fact Sheet

Dealing with anger

Everyone gets angry at one time or another. Anger is a normal and healthy human emotion. However, anger can be a difficult emotion to express and manage, particularly if we have often been taught not to show or express our anger. It is not uncommon to feel guilty or ashamed about being angry, even though it’s a very normal and necessary emotion.
While anger itself is a normal and healthy human emotion, when anger gets out of control, it can lead to problems in personal relationships, particularly if anger leads to emotionally or physically abusive behavior or other acts of violence.

Why do people get angry?

There are many different reasons why people get angry. Some reasons why you might be feeling angry include:

  • You may have been treated unfairly
  • You might feel you have no control over things
  • You could be stressed or under a lot of pressure
  • You might be experiencing body changes, which cause major mood swings
  • You could be depressed
  • You might just have a personality that has a short fuse.

All of these things can lead to anger, which is, in itself, a normal and healthy emotion. Anger only becomes unhealthy when it’s expressed in a way that hurts others or yourself. When anger gets out of control, people can behave in ways that are destructive. Likewise, if you bottle up your anger and don’t express it at all, you might find that it will come out in ways that you didn’t expect. There are many ways of expressing your anger, but becoming violent is never okay.

The good news is that people can learn to manage their anger. In some cases this means learning to express anger in healthy ways, learning to keep yourself calm and controlling your reactions, avoiding people or situations that make you angry or enraged, or leaving a situation if you feel yourself becoming angry or losing control.

Expressing anger in healthy ways

Let’s suppose you are in a cafeteria line, just about to get your tray, when someone steps in ahead of you. Anger starts bubbling up, but what should you do? Here are a few options that give you healthy ways to express your anger.

Option 1: Communicate assertively—not aggressively—before your anger gets out of control.

Being assertive doesn’t mean being pushy or demanding; it means expressing your feelings and needs in a way that is respectful of yourself and others. An aggressive response might be “Hey, buddy, who do you think you are? Go to the back of the line.” An assertive response might be “Sorry, but I think I’m next. The line forms over here.”

Option 2: Recognize your anger and keep calm.

Anger isn’t just emotional—a physiological response actually occurs when a person gets angry. Heart rate increases and muscles become tense. These physiological responses can actually be cues that signal a person that they are becoming angry. Recognizing those cues and learning how to calm internal responses when faced with a person or situation that arouses anger can help angry feelings subside. Different relaxation strategies might also be helpful, such as breathing deeply, repeatedly telling yourself to remain calm or take it easy, counting from 10 backwards, or visualizing an image that helps you relax or feel calm. These responses can also be used before coming face to face with the person or situation - almost as a way to anticipate or prepare for what is stressful.
Remembering to slow down and stopping to think before reacting can also help you keep your cool. Reacting impulsively to what someone else says or does can fuel anger. By slowing down and stopping to think, you are better able to listen and really hear what the other person is trying to communicate. By stopping to think you can also give yourself time to think of other ways of solving the problem you’re facing.

Option 3: Be aware of and adjust your way of thinking.

At times the things we say to ourselves - or how we think—when faced with a situation or person who makes us angry, can actually fuel the angry feeling. The scientific term for changing your thinking is “cognitive restructuring” and it’s a technique rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy. Changing the way you think means switching up the irrational kinds of messages you give yourself to those that are more logical. For example, switching from “this guy must be cutting in front of me on purpose” or “I must keep my spot in line” to “I’d prefer that this guy would leave after I point out that I was here first, but I can survive if he doesn’t.”

Option 4: Avoiding or leaving a stressful situation.

In some cases, a person can identify the situations that often trigger their anger. Staying away from the situation isn’t always an option, but in some instances it could. For example, if you know that it really pisses you off to see your old girlfriend hanging with her new boyfriend, you might want to avoid going to their favorite place to hang out. It doesn’t mean you will never go where they are, but maybe avoiding them initially while you are getting over the break up might help you keep your cool.
Also, if you feel yourself getting angry, another option is to leave the situation before things escalate. Sometimes people feel that leaving isn’t always easy to do because “reputation” or “being respected” might be involved. Cognitive restructuring might be useful as a way of challenging these thoughts.

Other ways to manage your anger…

  • Count to 100. It sounds cliché, but when people are angry, they can say or do things that they regret later. If you feel that you are becoming angry, do something to cool down, like counting to 100.
  • Leave the room. If a situation is getting to the point where people are yelling or are possibly even being violent, leave the room and tell them you will talk about it when everyone is calm.
  • Work off some steam. Doing something active like kicking a soccer ball, punching a pillow, or going for a run can help you release some angry energy and calm down.
  • Play video games. If you feel as if you are going to get into a fight, it’s better to do it in a video game than in real life. This can also be a good way to release some anger and energy.
  • Play some tunes. Strap on the headphones and play your favorite music for a while.
  • Sit in a quiet place. Go to a park or wherever you feel calm and just chill out. Try and think about why you are angry, as well as some solutions to the problem you are having.

What can I do if I keep getting angry?

If you find that you keep getting angry, or that you are lashing out and regularly becoming violent toward people or things, it may be helpful to speak to a friend or family member, or a health care professional like a counselor or your doctor. Speaking to someone may help you identify why you’re getting angry and help you deal with your anger so you don’t need to resort to lashing out. Check out the Get Help section for more information about what these professionals can do to help you.

For more information

American Psychological Association online

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