- Mental Health
Dealing with your Anger - Angry?
Dealing with Anger
Anger, like love or sadness, is a normal human emotion. Anger can propel
us to protect ourselves and others, and to speak out against injustice. But
when anger gets out of control -- when it’s expressed as abuse or
humiliation of other people -- or turned inward, it can lead to serious
problems. Your relationships with others, including those you love, can
suffer, and so can your own emotional and physical health.
It’s possible to learn how to control your anger. If you take the time to
understand what makes you angry, learn how to calm yourself before you
have an outburst, and take steps to express your anger in a calm and
constructive way, you can avoid being overwhelmed by your feelings.
You’ll also feel more in control of your life.
Problems unmanaged anger can cause
We all feel angry sometimes. A co-worker may say something annoying, your
partner may show up late for dinner, your child may have left a jacket at school
again. Inconveniences like these may make you feel angry briefly, but for most
people the feeling comes and goes quickly. They are able to express their anger
by saying calmly, “It upsets me when you don’t call to say you’ll be late. I feel like
you’re taking me for granted.”
For some people, however, feelings of annoyance don’t just go away. Their
emotions may lead to an angry outburst that is hard to control. And some people
-- women more often than men, according to one study -- turn their anger
inward, against themselves. Being unable to manage your anger can affect your
life in many ways. It can:
• Hurt your relationships with spouses or partners, friends, family members, and co-
• Affect your job performance.
• Lead to physical and emotional harm to others.
• Affect your physical health. Studies show that people who have angry outbursts --
or who bottle up their anger -- are more likely to develop heart disease.
• Affect your emotional health. Unmanaged anger can also lead to sleeplessness and
Ways to manage anger.
• Problems unmanaged anger
• Understand why you’re
• Learn how to calm yourself
• Express your anger in a
• Develop a new approach
to handling problems
• Work on communication
• Do you need help? 2 z Dealing with Anger
Understand why you’re angry
Understanding what makes you angry can help you begin to manage this strong
emotion. Anger can sometimes mask other feelings, such as sadness or fear,
which you may need to address. Some people find that they can develop a better
understanding of the causes of their anger just by spending some time thinking
about these. Others find that it helps to do the following:
• Keep a notebook. Keeping a notebook or log of the times during the day when
you’ve become angry can help you identify what triggers your emotions. (For
some people, simply the act of writing things down makes them feel calmer.)
Look for patterns. When do you get angry? Do you tend to be angry when you
get home from work? Near the end of the workday when you feel extra pressure
to finish what you’re doing? It may also help to note who was there, what the
situation was, and how you were feeling at the time.
• Get help from others. Often talking with another person about your anger can help.
A trusted friend, leader in your faith community, counselor, or therapist can help
you gain perspective on your feelings. Your employee assistance program (EAP)
or the program that provided this publication can help you find resources and
support for managing anger.
Learn how to calm yourself
Try to be aware of signs that you may be about to go out of control. You may
clench your fists, feel increasingly irritated or frustrated, or become so tense that
your breathing becomes shallow and fast. If you feel an angry outburst coming
on, it’s possible to take measures to stop it. Do the following:
• Count to 10, or 20, or even 100, if that’s what it takes to get you feeling calm again.
• Do deep breathing. To relax yourself, you need to breathe from your diaphragm,
not your chest. Breathe in to a slow count of 5, then breathe out as you reverse
the count. Repeat until you are feeling more relaxed. (If you are prone to tension
and irritability, make a point of doing this several times a day.)
• Try progressive relaxation. Start with deep breathing. Then tense and relax each of
your muscle groups to a slow count of five, alternating the sides of your body:
make a fist with your right hand, then release; make a fist with your left hand,
then release; tense your right arm, then release; tense your left arm, and so on.
Continue with your legs, stomach, backside, shoulders, neck, and face. After
you’ve finished, tense your entire body, then relax. End with deep breathing.
• Give yourself a script. Come up with a message you can say to yourself when you
feel an outburst coming on. “Calm down. Listen. It’ll be OK,” or “Defuse it,
don’t lose it.”
• If you are a spiritual person, draw on the teachings of your faith. Some people find that
it’s helpful to say a prayer or read a short, inspirational passage. 3 z Dealing with Anger
• Look at a picture that makes you feel calm and happy. Keep in your wallet or purse a
small photograph, postcard, or picture that makes you feel good. Look at it for a
few moments when you begin to feel upset.
• Go somewhere else. Differences cannot be resolved when anyone is in an angry
state. Remove yourself from the situation that is making you angry. Let the other
person know that you need to take a break and will be back in a few minutes. If
possible, try a short walk outside or up and down the hallway in your workplace.
Sometimes people suggest that someone who is feeling angry should “vent” the
anger in an aggressive physical way -- by hitting a punching bag, for example. But
recent research shows that venting actually makes angry people feel angrier.
You’re more likely to ease the tension if you do something physical but less
aggressive but will still “burn off” some energy, such as walking or running.
Express your anger in a nondestructive way
Once you’ve calmed down, it’s important to express your anger but in a way that
doesn’t frighten, hurt, or humiliate others or that isn’t harmful to you.
Pretending that you aren’t angry may keep the feeling bottled up inside you and,
in the long run, make you feel worse.
When you feel more relaxed and in control -- this could be 10 minutes later or,
for some people, the next day -- describe what upset you to a friend or write it
down in a journal. If you think that you can talk with the person you were angry
with without losing control, do that. But take a few precautions to keep your
anger from flaring up again.
• Plan what you are going to say. Writing down what you want to say will help you
feel more confident.
• Talk slowly.
• Listen to what the other person has to say without interrupting.
If you find yourself losing control, apologize. Then stop and tell the person you
need to take time out again to calm down.
Develop a new approach to handling problems
Some people get angry about everyday inconveniences because it’s the only way
they know how to respond. But it’s possible to teach yourself new approaches.
Many problems, even troubling ones, can be managed calmly if you have a plan
for dealing with them.
• Break them down into small steps. Ask yourself, what is a small, first step you could
take to resolve your situation? 4 z Dealing with Anger
• Seek help. Talk with others who have faced similar problems about how they
handled them. Talk with your doctor, a leader in your faith community, or a
counselor. They can provide you a safe and supportive environment to express
your concerns. The program that provided this publication can help you find
resources and support for managing anger.
• Consider taking an anger-management course. Anger-management classes may help
if you are having trouble dealing with your anger on your own. These classes are
offered by many hospitals, community organizations, and health maintenance
organizations (HMOs). They typically teach you new ways of dealing with anger
through a combination of physical and mental techniques and workbook
exercises. You can also take online anger-management courses.
Some problems (a chronic medical condition in the family, for example) may not
go away. But if you approach problems like these with a plan for coping with
them, and try hard to stick to the plan, you can gain a greater sense of control.
Work on communication skills
Interactions with other people are less likely to turn into confrontations if you
pay attention to your communication skills. It can help to do the following:
• Listen to others. When you talk with others, especially about sensitive issues, try to
listen hard to what the other person is saying, rather than thinking about what
your response will be. Avoid interrupting. When the other person has finished
speaking, try saying calmly, “Thank you, I’ve listened carefully to what you’ve
• Briefly restate what you heard the other person say. This can help prevent
misunderstandings and lets the other person know that you have listened. To
make sure you heard it accurately, check it out with the other person. Then ask
the person to listen carefully to what you want to say without interruption.
• Avoid starting sentences with “You” or “You always . . .” It tends to put people on the
• Be civil. Using simple words like “Please,” “Thank you,” and “You’re welcome,”
even when you feel annoyed, can keep conversations calmer and more respectful.
5 z Dealing with Anger
Do you need help?
If you feel that you can’t control your anger or you are afraid you might hurt
someone else, it’s important to get help immediately. Ask your doctor for a
referral to a counselor who can help you. The program that provided this
publication can also tell you how to find help.