Wellness Toolbox

Managing Anger

​At one time or another, most of us have had the experience of exploding in anger at a seemingly small thing like getting cut off in traffic or being made to wait in line. We may be unaware of the irritation growing inside as many little annoyances build up to a mighty anger. 

We all find ourselves in different situations daily that we respond to emotionally. Interactions with our friends, families and co-workers cause us to feel and express a range of emotions like happiness, sadness, anger and excitement all in the same day. There are times we can feel overwhelmed and respond inappropriately. When this becomes a pattern it is likely to impact our quality of life and relationships. It is important that our responses, both feelings and behaviors match the situation. How we perceive, interpret and then respond to situations is an indication of how emotionally healthy we are.

What is a Healthy Emotional Response?

A healthy emotional response means that you can appropriately adjust your responses to each unique situation. It means being in touch with your thoughts and feelings, and in control of your behavior so that your feelings are in line with the situation. If we over-react or disconnect we are likely to create situations that cause distress and are unproductive. Being adaptive means being emotionally flexible, able to access a wide range of emotion, knowing what emotion is appropriate, and knowing when and how to control emotional intensity. Healthy emotional responses are key to everyday wellness.

How Angry are You?

Anger is a warning sign that tells you something is wrong in a situation. Anger is an unpleasant emotion, but it is also a normal, healthy emotion. It is a natural response to perceived threats. Anger becomes a problem when you do not manage it in a healthy way.

If you find yourself becoming increasingly irritable, you may benefit from learning skills to manage your anger.

In essence, anger is a warning bell that tells you something is wrong in a situation.

Anger involves a few different elements, such as:

Your emotions. Feelings such as sadness, disappointment or frustration.

Your body. Physical signs include muscle tension, increased heart rate and increased blood pressure as your body releases adrenaline — the fight-or-flight hormone.

Your thinking. How you think can cause or worsen anger, or it can help you cope with it in a healthy way. For example, your anger may be fueled by thoughts that the world is against you, or that your partner never does what you ask. A healthy response would be to acknowledge that it's OK to be frustrated, and look for solutions instead of focusing only on what's wrong.

Your personal history. Some people react angrily to certain situations, like losing a parking space, while others take it in stride. You may have built up years of feeling unheard, ignored, sad, frustrated or disrespected. Also, if you were taught that being angry is a negative thing, you may never have learned how to express anger appropriately — so your frustrations fester and make you miserable, or build up until you explode in an angry outburst.

A Healthy Approach to Anger

Expressing yourself in an assertive — not an aggressive — way is the healthiest approach to handling anger. Being assertive means that you state your concerns and needs clearly and directly, without hurting others or trying to control them.

Suppressing anger is attempting to hold in or ignore your anger. This can be a problem if you don’t express yourself when you need to.

Out-of-control anger is a learned behavior, so you have to unlearn it. It may help to get counseling or to take an anger management class to help change your response to frustrating situations.

If your anger regularly causes you to do things you regret, hurts those around you, or is taking a toll on your personal relationships, you can likely benefit from either counseling or an anger management course.

If you have run-ins with the police, physically harm someone, know that people are afraid of your reactions, or you try to intimidate someone with your anger, you definitely need help controlling your anger. You may benefit from an anger management class, counseling or both.

Tips to Handle Conflict

  • Use 'I' statements when describing a problem. This will help you to avoid criticizing or placing blame, which can make the other person angry or resentful — and increase tension. For instance, say, “I’m upset and overwhelmed with doing the housework myself. Would it be possible for you to help me?”
  • Don't hold a grudge. If you can forgive the other person, it will help you both. It's unrealistic to expect everyone to behave exactly as you want.
  • Use humor to release tensions. Lightening up a tense moment can help diffuse tension. Don't use sarcasm, though — it can hurt feelings and make things worse.
  • Practice relaxation skills. Learning skills which help you de-stress can also help control your temper when it may flare up. Practice deep-breathing exercises, visualize a relaxing scene, or repeat a calming word or phrase to yourself, such as "Take it easy." Other proven ways to ease anger include listening to music, writing in a journal and doing yoga.

Anger-related Symptoms

Expressing anger inappropriately can be harmful to your health. Whether you're overly passive and suppress your anger, whether you're prone to violent outbursts, or whether you're quietly seething with rage, you may be prone to headaches, sleep difficulties, high blood pressure or digestive problems. There's even some evidence that stress and hostility related to anger can lead to heart attacks.

Confronting Anger

What can you do if someone whose anger is out of control confronts you?

Usually the safest thing to do, if possible, is to walk away. If you stay, the situation may escalate into violence. It's important to take reasonable precautions to protect yourself. If leaving the situation is difficult or impossible, try not to engage the other person in a manner that's likely to increase the angry behavior.