This factsheet is for people who would like information about managing their anger.
Everyone feels angry at times, but it's important to know how to express your feelings in a healthy way without lashing out, shouting or becoming violent. The key is to learn how to react calmly when something causes you to feel angry.
• About anger
• Further information
• Questions and answers
• Related topics
Anger is a natural feeling, experienced when you feel frustrated, hurt, rejected or hostile. It's a powerful emotion, and unless it's managed properly, it can have a devastating effect on your family, your work and your overall wellbeing.
Anger can be caused by the way we react to things such as other people or situations, or by worrying about personal or financial problems. Unsettling memories from the past can also lead to angry thoughts and feelings. It's important to understand that it's not people or events that make you angry, but your reaction to them.
Anger varies in intensity, ranging from mild irritation to violent rage. Like other emotions, feelings of anger have an effect on the rest of your body; your heart starts to beat faster, your adrenaline levels increase and your blood pressure and temperature rise.
Different people deal with difficult situations in different ways. This can vary from being calm to becoming aggressive and appearing unable to cope. You may react immediately to what has caused you to become angry, while others suppress their feelings.
Built-up feelings can cause you to explode when it all becomes too much. Anger can lead to intimidating, violent or bullying behaviour making those around you feel worried and frightened.
If you find your anger overwhelms you when faced with difficult situations, your behaviour could well be affecting your relationships at home and at work, and even how you feel about yourself. You should consider looking at the way in which you handle your anger.
Your GP will be able to discuss the different options available to manage your anger, although you might find you can deal with your anger yourself.
Before you visit your GP, it's helpful to try to understand your own pattern of behaviour and what may have happened in the past to trigger your anger. Try to work out what makes you angry now and think about your life at home when you were growing up. Did members of your family get angry and lash out, or did they bottle up their feelings, causing resentment? Were you able to voice your opinions as a child, or were you often told just to be quiet? How do you feel about the way you handle anger now?
If you are carrying around angry feelings from your childhood, it's important to acknowledge them, but you should also try to change your attitude towards these feelings. Talk about them and try to accept that nothing can change what has happened in the past. Hanging on to angry feelings from years gone by can cause you unnecessary problems, but if you can identify them, you may be able to change the way you deal with current situations.
If anger is building up, deal with it. Don't let it simmer away up until you have a violent outburst. If possible, take yourself away from the situation and think about it. The British Association of Anger Management recommends that you look at the bigger picture and consider the consequences of your behaviour before you react.
Do you pack too much into your life and are you struggling to cope with all that life demands of you? You may simply need to do less of the demanding tasks and spend more time doing things which you find relaxing. Find a pleasurable, active way to let off steam which will prevent tension build-up and increase your self-confidence.
Look after yourself
Make sure you eat a balanced and healthy diet, and that you get enough sleep. Lack of sleep and food can make you feel irritable. Are there things in your busy day which other people could help with? Does everyone at home or work do their fair share throughout the day? Do you put too much pressure on yourself to be a perfectionist? It may help to regularly talk things over with a friend or member of the family.
One of the best ways to relax is to enjoy yourself and have some fun. Give yourself treats and rewards for positive actions, attitudes and thoughts. Even simple pleasures such as a relaxing bath, a pleasant walk or an interesting book can help.
It's important to try to get some balance in our lives. Nowadays life is often stressful and it's easy for pressures to build up.
Learning to remain calm
To do this, breathe deeply from your diaphragm (just below your lungs) in long, slow breaths to give your heartbeat a chance to slow down. This breathing technique may help you feel more relaxed:
• sit or lie in a comfortable position
• take a deep breath in
• hold this and count to three
• slowly breathe out
• continue this until you feel more relaxed
• you can then carry on with what you were doing but with a calmer frame of mind
Coping with confrontation
Confrontations are not always easy to deal with. It's important that you try to express yourself assertively without shouting or losing your cool. You can do this by preparing what you want to say and staying calm. If you find yourself in a heated discussion, try to remember the following:
• it's OK for someone else to have a different opinion
• make yourself clear - try using phrases like, "I feel angry with you because…"
• be clear about what you expect to come out of the discussion
• keep your cool and remember to breathe
• be patient and remember to listen to the other person too
• don't take anything personally
It's important to sort out disagreements with people. If you don't, anger will build up and is likely to turn into resentment, which can cause even more anger. If you face the situation and deal with it calmly and reasonably, you are more likely to sort it out without it developing into a serious problem.
Visit your GP if you feel that you need further advice on dealing with your anger. He or she may suggest counselling. There are several types of therapies or counselling which can help you look at why you become angry. They can help you work through your problems and gain a greater understanding of your feelings and actions.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
This is a type of counselling which helps you to change the way you think about certain situations and how you behave. Unlike some other therapies, it focuses on the "here and now" problems and difficulties. Instead of focusing on the causes of your distress or symptoms in the past, it looks for ways to improve your state of mind by boosting your self esteem and confidence.
Anger management programmes
These are focused sessions designed for people who may have had a single violent episode, or who have been violent in the past and now feel unable to make changes to their behaviour. Your GP can offer advice. These programmes often involve one to one counselling and working in groups. Some are one-day courses, and others may take place over a period of weeks or months. These programmes look at the rules of anger management and how to express your angry feelings calmly.
This will teach you how to express your feelings and needs in a calm, considered way that is respectful of the other people around you. It may help if your problems are due to a difficulty expressing your anger constructively. You can ask your GP about this and find out about assertiveness training classes from your local library. For further information see Related topics.