Anger is a natural, healthy emotion. However, it can arise out of proportion to its trigger. In these cases, the emotion can impede a person’s decision-making, damage relationships, and otherwise cause harm. Learning to control anger can limit the emotional damage.
Anger is a common response to frustrating or threatening experiences. It can also be a secondary response to sadness, loneliness, or fear. In some cases, the emotion may seem to arise from nowhere.
Feeling angry often and to an extreme degree can impact relationships and a person’s psychological well-being and quality of life. Suppressing and storing up anger can also have a damaging and lasting impact.
The journal CNS Spectrums reported in 2015 that 7.8 percent of people in the United States experienced “inappropriate, intense, or poorly controlled” anger. This was more common among adult males.
Tools and techniques can help people come to terms with anger triggers and respond to these in more healthy ways.
In this article, we explore the steps a person can take at home, as well as the therapeutic options available.
What is anger management?
Catching anger before it reaches full rage is key to managing it effectively.
Anger management involves a range of skills that can help with recognizing the signs of anger and handling triggers in a positive way.
It requires a person to identify anger at an early stage and to express their needs while remaining calm and in control.
Managing anger does not involve holding it in or avoiding associated feelings.
Coping with anger is an acquired skill — almost anyone can learn to control the feelings with time, patience, and dedication.
When anger is negatively affecting a relationship, and especially if it is leading to violent or otherwise dangerous behavior, a person may benefit from consulting a mental health professional or attending an anger management class.
However, there are initial, immediate techniques to try. Some people find that they can resolve these issues without seeking professional assistance.
Mind, a major mental health charity in the United Kingdom, identifies three main steps for controlling anger:
Recognize the early signs of anger.
Give yourself time and space to process the triggers.
Apply techniques that can help you control the anger.
In the moment, anger can be difficult to stop in its tracks. However, detecting the emotion early can be key. It can allow a person to redirect their thought process to a more constructive place.
Anger causes a physical reaction in the body. It releases adrenaline, the “fight-or-flight” hormone that prepares a person for conflict or danger.
This can have the following effects:
a rapid heartbeat
tension throughout the body
restlessness, pacing, and tapping of the feet
clenched fists and jaw
sweating and trembling
These physical effects can signal a proportionate response to a situation.
Regardless, recognizing the signals early can help a person assess whether the trigger warrants this physical response.
If necessary, they can then take steps to manage their physical stress.
Taking a step back
Buying some time can be fundamental in limiting an angry response. This can involve simple measures.
When confronted with a trigger, it may help to:
count to 10
go for a short walk
make contact with a person who is not immediately involved, such as a friend, family member, or counselor
It can help to vocally express the thoughts behind the anger to a person who is not the focus of the reaction.
This can help defuse the situation and more clearly identify the cause of the intense feelings.
Anyone in the U.S. who is struggling to voice their anger can contact support groups, such as the Crisis text line, for assistance.
Applying management techniques
These can help calm a person or distract them long enough to process the thoughts in a constructive way.
Different techniques are effective for different people, but finding a method that works can be instrumental in defusing episodes of extreme anger.
Some techniques include:
Deep, slow breathing: Focus on each breath as it moves in and out, and try to spend more time exhaling than inhaling.
Easing physical tension: Try tensing each part of the body for a count of 10, then releasing it.
Mindfulness: Meditation is one example of a mindfulness technique, and these can help shift the mind away from anger during triggering situations, especially after consistent practice.
Exercise: Physical activity is a great way to use up excess adrenalin. A brisk run or walk or combat sports, such as boxing or martial arts, can be useful outlets for aggressive or confrontational feelings.
Find alternative channels for anger: It can help to express anger in a way that limits harm to others, such as tearing newspaper, crushing ice cubes over a sink, or punching or screaming into a pillow.
Create distractions: Distraction techniques, such as dancing to energetic music, taking a relaxing shower, or building, fixing, writing, or drawing, can provide distance from the issue.
When preparing to bring up frustration with a peer, it can help to plan what to say. This can help maintain focus and direction in the conversation and reduce the risk of misguided anger.
Also, focusing on solutions rather than problems increases the chances of a resolution and reduces the likelihood of an angry reaction.
Getting at least 7 hours of quality sleep every night also contributes to mental and physical health. Researchers have linked sleep deprivation to a number of health problems, including irritability and anger.
Group or individual therapy can help a person identify and manage triggers.
Some signs that a person may need professional or medical help include:
being in trouble with the law
frequently feeling that they have to hold in their anger
regularly having intense arguments with family, friends, or colleagues
getting involved in fights or physical confrontations
physically assaulting a partner or child
threatening violence to people or property
breaking objects during an outburst
losing their temper when driving and becoming reckless