Anger is a perfectly normal human emotion and, when dealt with appropriately, healthy. However, you need to be able to manage your anger. It is neither appropriate nor healthy if you cannot control your temper, and often lash out at others.
Uncontrolled and frequent outbursts of anger will affect your health and your relationships with others.
Anger management is a term used to describe the skills you need to recognise that you, or someone else, is becoming angry, and then take appropriate action to deal with the situation in a positive way. It does not mean internalising or suppressing anger, but recognising the triggers and signs of anger, and finding other, more appropriate ways to express our feelings.
Control but not Suppress
Anger management, therefore, is about learning to control your anger.
This does not mean to suppress or internalise it, which can be as damaging as frequent outbursts. Instead, it is about understanding why you are angry, and learning to manage your emotions. It is, therefore, an important element of self-control.
We all get angry at times, even people who are very good-tempered. It is actually good to be angry sometimes: for example, at injustice, or when someone’s rights are infringed. It is, therefore, a necessary part of life.
The man who is angry at the right things and with the right people, and, further, as he ought when he ought, and as long as he ought is praised.
The key to anger is to learn to manage it, like any other emotion, so that it can be channelled into appropriate action.
Anger management skills will help you to understand what is behind your anger, and then express it in a more healthy way. This will allow you to communicate your message more clearly.
Many of us have learnt behaviours to help us deal with strong emotions. Anger management may therefore be about unlearning ineffective coping mechanisms and re-learning more positive ways to deal with the problems and frustrations that lead to anger.
Do You Need Professional Help with Your Anger?
There are many anger management techniques that you can learn and practise by yourself or teach to others. However if you, or someone you know, experiences a lot of regular anger or very strong anger (rage) then you may want to seek help, usually from a counsellor.
You should seek professional help if anger is having a long-term negative impact on your relationships, is making you unhappy, or is resulting in any dangerous or violent behaviour.
If any of these statements are true for you then you may need professional help to manage your anger.
- Your behaviour has led to any sort of criminal or civil wrongdoing.
- You are violent towards your partner, children or other people.
- You threaten violence to people or property.
- You have outbursts of rage which involve deliberately breaking things.
- You have constant arguments with people close to you, your spouse/partner, parents, children, colleagues or friends.
- You feel angry frequently but internalise the emotion.
- You think that you may need professional help with your anger.
Take our Quiz How Angry are You?
See our page Anger Management Therapy to find out what to expect if visiting a professional anger management therapist.
Steps Towards Anger Management
There are a number of steps that all of us can take to help us to manage our anger more appropriately.
Step 1. Start to Understand Your Anger
Anger is an emotion like any other, and the first step towards being able to control any emotion is to understand why it happens.
Many people use anger as a way to cover up other emotions, such as fear, vulnerability, or embarrassment. This is particularly true for people who were not encouraged to express their emotions as children, but it can apply to anyone.
When you start to feel angry, look behind your anger to see if you can identify what you are really feeling.
Once you name the feeling, you will find it easier to express it more appropriately.
Step 2. Know Your Triggers and Signs
We all have certain things that make us angry, and also telltale signs that we are starting to lose our temper.
Learning to recognise both can make it easier to stop before you lose your temper.
The signs of anger are often easier to recognise. For example, people often say that their heartbeat increases when they are angry, because anger is linked to the adrenaline (fight or flight) response. You may also find that your breathing speeds up, for the same reason. You may tense your muscles—people often clench their fists when they are angry. Some people need to move around, pacing the floor—again, an adrenaline response.
Triggers are often very personal, but there are a number of general themes that can help you to identify them. For example:
- Negative thought patterns are often associated with angry outbursts. Beware if you start over-generalising (“He never helps me!” “She always leaves her shoes lying about!”), or jumping to conclusions about what people are thinking (and for more about this, see our page on The Ladder of Inference).
- People or places that you find stressful may also make it harder to control your emotions. If your anger is a mask for other emotions, it may therefore be likely to emerge. Being aware of what makes you stressed can help you to avoid those situations, or ask for help to manage them better. See our pages on Stress and Stress Management for more.
Step 3. Learn Ways to Cool Down Your Temper
Just as we all have triggers for anger, so we all have ways that we ‘cool down’. Learning some techniques means you can use them when you notice your telltale anger signs.
Some useful techniques include:
Consciously Breathing More Slowly and Relaxing
The idea behind this is to try to reverse some of the physical symptoms of anger.
A Breathing Exercise
When you start to feel tense and angry, try to isolate yourself for 15 minutes and concentrate on relaxing and calm, steady breathing:
- Inhale and exhale deeply 3 or 4 times in a row.
- Count slowly to four as you inhale.
- Count slowly to eight as you exhale.
- Focus on feeling the air move in and out of your lungs.
- Concentrate and feel your ribs slowly rise and fall as you repeat the exercise.
- Stop and revert to normal breathing if you start to feel dizzy at any time.
Even if you cannot take yourself away for 15 minutes, stopping and taking (and particularly releasing) some deep breaths can help you to relax and give you time to think.
Focus on How You Feel Physically
Take a moment to notice your body’s reactions. What has happened to your breathing? Your heart rate? What else has changed?
Sometimes, just noticing the physical changes in your body can help to calm you down, because it turns your mind to something other than the immediate problem.
Slowly Count to Ten (or More!)
Give logic a chance to catch up with your emotions.
Slowly counting to ten (preferably in your head, especially if you are with other people) before saying or doing anything will help you to avoid saying anything you may later regret. It will also help you to work out how best to get your message across.
When you are angry, you tend to tense up. Slowly stretching out can help you relax a little, which again reverses some of the physical signs of anger and therefore makes you feel calmer.
Step 4. Find Other Ways to Express Your Anger
There are times when anger is appropriate. However, exploding is not. You need to find a healthy way to express your anger calmly, so that your message is heard.
Some ways to ensure this happens include:
Plan ‘Difficult’ Conversations
If you are worried about having a conversation that may leave you feeling angry then try to take control of the situation. Make notes beforehand, planning what you want to say in a calm and assertive way. You are less likely to get side-tracked during your conversation if you can refer to your notes.
Focus on Solutions not Problems
Rather than dwell on what has made you angry, try focusing on how to resolve problems so that they do not arise again in the future.
See our Problem Solving pages for some effective ways to help you solve problems.
Give Yourself Time
Wait until you have calmed down from your anger and then express yourself in a calm and collected way. You need to be assertive without being aggressive.
Focus on the Relationship, and Don't Hold Grudges
We all need to accept that everybody is different and that we cannot control the feelings, beliefs or behaviours of others.
Instead of focusing on the immediate issue, focus on the relationship. This is more important than who is ‘right’. Try to be realistic and accept that people are the way they are, not how we would like them to be. Being resentful or holding a grudge against somebody will increase your anger and make it more difficult to control. You cannot change how other people behave or think but you can change how you deal with others but working on a positive attitude.
See our page: Emotional Intelligence
Use Humour to Defuse Situations
It is easy to use inappropriate sarcasm when angry; resist the temptation to do this and instead work on introducing some good humour into potentially difficult conversations. If you can introduce some humour, resentment will be reduced and your mood lifted.
See our page: Developing a Sense of Humour for more.
The simple act of laughing can go a long way to reduce anger, especially over the longer term. See our page on Laughter Therapy for more information.
Step 5. Look After Yourself
Any kind of emotional management is easier if you are well and healthy in mind and body.
Or, to put it another way, when we are under stress—which includes being unhealthy—it is harder to manage and our master our emotions. It can therefore be helpful to take steps to ensure that you remain healthy. These include:
Taking Exercise and Keep Fit
The hormones that we release when we are angry—mainly cortisol and adrenaline—are similar to those produced when we are stressed. When you exercise regularly, your body learns how to regulate your adrenaline and cortisol levels more effectively. People who are physically fit also have more optimum levels of endorphins, the hormones that make you feel good and therefore less likely to feel angry.
See our page The Importance of Exercise for more information.
Sleep is an important part of life and good quality sleep can help combat many physical, mental and emotional problems, including anger. When we sleep, the body and mind rest and rebuild damaged cells and neural pathways. We all know that people often feel better after a good night’s sleep. The optimum level of good quality sleep is about 7 hours a night, although everybody is different and you may need more or less than this.
Learn to Manage Your Stress Levels
Being under stress makes it much harder to manage emotions. It is worth looking carefully at your stress levels, and see if you can reduce them at all.
See our pages on Stress and Stress Management for more.
Improving Relationships and Health
Nobody likes people who constantly lash out at those around them, especially unpredictably. A constant state of anger is also bad for your heart. Getting your anger under control is a good first step towards better health and relationships.