Anger and Anger Management

Anger is an emotion that we all experience from time to time. This emotion is characterized by tension and hostility. Usually, it arises from frustration, feeling that you’ve been injured by someone, or perceiving an injustice (1).

In many cases, anger can be a helpful reaction that motivates us to take action to make positive changes. For example, we might feel angry when we learn about the effects of climate change, which might then motivate us to start recycling or composting.

Although it’s quite normal to experience anger at times, for some people it can become an emotion that is intense, difficult to control, or leads to aggression.

This can create problems in our lives, at work, socially and legally. Anger is not the same as aggression, although the two are often associated. Anger - which is an emotion - can be a trigger for aggression, which is behavior that is intended to cause harm.

It’s common for people who frequently struggle with anger to also experience other mental health challenges like depression, anxiety, shame or substance abuse. Chronic anger can also lead to health problems like heart disease (2).

So, if you think you have a problem with anger, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. Therapy can help you learn to manage and overcome anger issues and associated challenges.

Prevalence of anger

A recent survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation in the United Kingdom found that (3):

  • 32% of people reported having a close friend or family member who struggles to control their anger
  • 12% reported having trouble controlling their own anger
  • 28% reported worrying about how angry they sometimes feel

However, there are effective therapies available to help people manage anger. The American Psychological Association reports that around 75% of people who take part in therapy for anger management experienced improvements (4).

Symptoms of anger

Both internal and external events can trigger the emotional reaction of anger. This means that the trigger could be thoughts, memories, a person, or actual events.

The physical signs of anger are due to the activation of our body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. These include:

  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches or dizziness
  • Feeling hot
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Increased rate of breathing

Remember, anger is a normal emotion to experience and it not always problematic. Feeling these physical signs does not necessarily mean there’s a problem. In fact, these physical symptoms can also occur when we are feeling other emotions, such as anxiety or excitement.

Signs that you may need help managing your anger include:

  • You have been aggressive or violent when you have felt angry, or have thought about being aggressive or violent when angry
  • You feel angry a lot of the time
  • You think about revenge or find it hard to let go of perceived wrongdoings
  • Family or friends have said that they think you might have a problem with anger
  • Your relationships, socially or at work, are under strain or damaged (4)

How to manage anger

Getting a handle on your anger can help you to feel happier, more relaxed, and have better relationships. There are many resources available to help you learn strategies to better manage your emotions and control the physical symptoms of anger. Consider one or more of these options:

  • Therapy. Therapy can help you to recognize and avoid anger triggers and learn strategies for managing anger when it does occur. Therapists can also assess and treat any associated or underlying mental health challenges. You might participate in therapy in individual or group settings. Types of therapy to consider and tips for choosing a therapist are discussed more, below.
  • Relaxation: Learn relaxation and breathing techniques to help you to reduce the physical sensations of anger.
  • Identify your triggers: Pay attention to the things that trigger feelings of anger for you. Greater awareness can help you to prepare for managing such situations in the future. You might also try to learn the early warning signs of anger in your body, such as feeling hot or tense, for example. This allows you to act early to take evasive action or use calming strategies to de-escalate your anger.
  • Time out: If you feel an intense anger reaction, remove yourself from the triggering situation. You might want to, at times, avoid or find alternatives to things that make you feel angry. Schedule breaks into your day to help manage stress and reduce your vulnerability to unhelpful anger reactions.
  • Exercise: Many studies have shown that exercise can improve mood (5). Doing something physical, like going for a run, may be a more helpful way to express anger.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs: These substances can cause us to feel disinhibited, which may increase our vulnerability to an anger response.
  • Checkups: Chronic anger has been associated with a number of health problems, like high blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Make sure you see your physician for a checkup to monitor these risks and protect your health.
  • Hotlines: If you’re having thoughts of suicide or need immediate support, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. The Crisis Text Line is available for help without having to speak by texting HOME 741741. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is at 1-800-799-7233.
  • Social supports: Stay connected to friends and family or try phoning a helpline. Talk to someone you trust about how you feel, as they may be able to offer a different way of looking at things that changes how you feel.
  • Support groups or anger management classes: Many people find it beneficial to learn alongside others who are experiencing similar difficulties. Use your zipcode to search online for anger management support groups at your location.

Anger: Therapy types to consider  

The particular approach taken depends on your individual circumstances as well as your therapist. That said, some common therapeutic approaches to anger management include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapy helps to change unhelpful patterns of thinking, behavior and emotions. It can help you to develop new and more helpful coping strategies and beliefs, and become aware of anger triggers.
  • Mindfulness practices: Mindfulness teaches you to become more aware of your body's sensations and therefore increases early recognition of anger. It can also help with anger management by helping you not to automatically react to thoughts or feelings.
  • Family or Couples Therapy: It can be helpful to involve family members or partners to learn to communicate with each other more effectively and learn conflict-resolution strategies.
  • Psychodynamic Therapy: This therapy explores how the past may influence current patterns of thought, emotion and behavior associated with anger.
  • Stress inoculation, problem-solving and exposure-based therapies: These kinds of interventions have also been found to be helpful for anger management (2).

What to look for in a therapist for anger management

There are several factors to keep in mind when selecting a mental health professional, including:

Education and credentials: Look for a licensed mental health professional who has specialized training and experience in anger management. It can be helpful to take a look at therapists’ biographies; this is often where they note their experience and specializations.

Personal fit: It’s important to find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable working with and trust. The trusting working relationship between you and your therapist, known as the “therapeutic alliance” can have a huge impact on the efficacy of therapy.

Talk in advance: The best way to judge how you might feel about your prospective therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call (you can do this with our vetted Zencare therapists). Most therapists will be happy to oblige. This gives you the opportunity to ask about:

  • Their qualifications
  • Their training and experience in anger management
  • What type of therapy they suggest for anger management, and what that will be like
  • Their participation in insurance plans and cost of therapy

Try to speak to a few different therapists before making your mind up.

Sources and references:

1. American Psychological Association, Dictionary of Psychology
2. American Psychological Association, “How to recognize and deal with anger
3. Mental Health Foundation, “Boiling Point: Problem anger and what we can do about it
4. American Psychological Association, "Understanding anger"
5. Physical Exercise for Treatment of Mood Disorders: A Critical Review