Anger is a natural feeling that affects everyone. Things that can make you feel angry include:
Mild types of anger can be expressed as annoyance or irritation. However, for some people, anger can get out of control and cause problems with relationships, work and even the law. Uncontrolled anger can lead to arguments and physical fights. It can cloud your thinking and judgment and may lead to actions that are unreasonable and/or irrational.
In a recent survey for the Mental Health Foundation, 28% of adults said they worry about how angry they sometimes feel, and 32% have a friend or relative who has problems dealing with anger.
Physical signs of anger
Everyone has a physical response to anger. Your body releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which increase your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and breathing (called the 'fight or flight' response).
This allows you to focus on the threat and react quickly, but it can also mean that you do not think straight, and maybe react in ways you might regret later on. When your body has to cope with large amounts of stress hormones due to angry outbursts, you may become ill.
Reactions to being angry
How people react to feeling angry depends on many things including the situation, their family history, cultural background and stress levels.
It may be shown in many different ways, including:
Other people might react to anger by hiding it or turning it inwards against themselves. They can be very angry on the inside but feel unable to let it out.
It is important to deal with anger in a healthy way that does not harm you or anyone else.
Dealing with anger in a healthy way includes:
recognising when you get angry,
taking time to cool down, and
reducing your general stress levels in life.
You can also look at what makes you angry, and how you deal with those feelings. Anger management courses involve group discussions and counselling. If you feel you need help controlling your anger, see your GP.
If uncontrolled anger leads to domestic violence (violence or threatening behaviour within the home), there are places that offer help and support. Talk with your GP, or contact domestic violence organisations such as Refuge or Women’s Aid.
Tips to control anger
Anger management is a form of counselling to help you cope with any angry feelings you may have that affect your health, work, social behaviour or personal relationships.
Recognise your anger signs
Your heart beats faster and you breathe more quickly, preparing you for action. You might also notice other signs, such as tension in your shoulders or clenching your fists.
If you notice these signs and you struggle to stay in control, try to get out of the situation.
Count to 10
Counting to 10 gives you time to cool down so you can think more clearly and overcome the impulse to lash out.
You tend to breathe in more when you feel angry. Make sure you breathe out for longer than you breathe in, and relax as you breathe out. This will help you to calm down and think more clearly.
Managing anger in the long term
Once you are able to recognise the signs that you are getting angry and can calm yourself down, you can start looking at ways to control your anger more generally.
Exercise is one of the best ways to release built-up anger and tension. Running, walking, swimming, yoga and meditation are just a few of the activities that boost your production of the 'good mood' hormones (such as endorphin) and help reduce stress.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a breathing exercise that focuses on the contraction (shrinking) and release of your diaphragm muscle, which separates your chest from your abdomen. When you breathe in, you fully inflate your lungs. This can help you to unwind. A simple guide is as follows.
Listening to calming music, such as classical or 'sounds of nature' music, can help you relax. It can slow your pulse and heart rate, reduce stress hormones and lower your blood pressure.
Massage and relaxation
The kneading and stroking movements in massage relax tense muscle and improve your circulation.
Some people find that attending relaxation classes are good at reducing stress levels and help to control anger. Meditation, yoga and Pilates may also be helpful.
Talking about it
Discussing your feelings with a friend can be useful, and can help you get a different perspective on the situation.
Looking at the way you think
Examples of unhelpful ways are thinking are: ‘It’s not fair’, or ‘People like that should not be on the roads’.
Thinking like this will keep you focused on whatever it is that is making you angry. Let these thoughts go, and it will be easier to calm down.
Do not use phrases that include:
Certain types of counselling, or 'talking therapies', can help you explore the causes of your anger so that you can understand and work through them.
Counselling involves talking with someone who can help you to find your own solutions to your problems and gain a greater understanding of your feelings and actions.
It is usually provided over a course of several weeks or months.
For more information, see Health A-Z: counselling
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is based on the theory that most unwanted thinking patterns and emotional and behavioural reactions are learned over a long period of time. The aim is to identify the unhelpful thinking that is causing your unwanted feelings and behaviours and to learn to replace this thinking with more realistic and balanced thoughts.
A number of professionals use CBT, including clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, psychiatrists, nurses, counsellors and social workers. It is practised by clinical psychologists within the NHS, although this is not available everywhere and tends to vary across the UK.
Many private therapists use CBT; the British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies and the UK Council for Psychotherapy hold registers of accredited practitioners (see Useful links).
CBT is usually provided over a course of several weeks or months.
For more information, see Health A-Z: CBT
Anger management programmes
A typical anger management programme may involve some one-to-one counselling and working in a small group. The programmes may consist of a one-day or weekend course, or in some cases it may be over a period of a couple of months. Speak to your GP to see if they offer anger management courses in your area.
Domestic violence programmes
This type of programme may last up to 18 months and is necessary if you cannot control your temper and are violent to members of your family. The main focus of this programme is to provide help and support so you will be able to take responsibility for your actions and understand how it affects others.
You will need to cooperate with the programme requirements, including tackling any other issues you may have, such as reducing your alcohol intake.