Managing Anger

Managing Anger

Anger is a normal human emotion. Everyone feels annoyed, frustrated, irritated, or even very angry from time to time. Anger can be expressed by shouting, yelling, or swearing, but in extreme cases it can escalate into physical aggression towards objects (eg. smashing things) or people (self or others). In some cases, anger might look much more subtle, more of a brooding, silent anger, or withdrawal.

In a controlled manner, some anger can be helpful, motivating us to make positive changes or take constructive action about something we feel is important. But when anger is very intense, or very
frequent, then it can be harmful in many ways.

Image result for rising temperature

What Causes Anger?

Anger is often connected to some type of frustration— either things didn’t turn out the way you planned, you didn’t get something you wanted, or other people don’t act the way you would like. Often poor communication and misunderstandings can trigger angry situations.

Anger usually goes hand-in-hand with other feelings too, such as sadness, shame, hurt, guilt, or fear. Many times people find it hard to express these feelings, so just the anger comes out.

Perhaps the anger is triggered by a particular situation, such as being caught in a traffic jam,
or being treated rudely by someone else, or banging your thumb with a hammer while trying to hang a picture-hook.

Other times there is no obvious trigger—some people vare more prone to anger than others. Sometimes men and women handle anger differently, but not always.

Uncontrolled anger can cause problems in a wide range of areas of your life. It may cause conflicts with family, friends, or colleagues, and in extreme situations it can lead to problems with the law.

But some of the other problem effects of anger may be harder to spot. Often people who have a problem with anger feel guilty or disappointed with their behaviour, or suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression.

There are also physical side-effects of extreme or frequent anger, such as high blood pressure, and heart disease. Some studies suggest that angry people tend to drink more alcohol, which is associated with a wide range of health problems.

Perhaps you have already identified that anger is a problem for you, or someone else has mentioned it to you. But if you are not sure whether anger is a problem for you, consider the following questions:

      • Do you feel angry, irritated, or tense a lot of the time?
      • Do you seem to get angry more easily or more often than others around you?
      • Do you use alcohol or drugs to manage your anger?
      • Do you sometimes become so angry that you break things, damage property, or become violent?
      • Does it sometimes feel like your anger gets out of proportion to the situation that set you off?
      • Is your anger leading to problems with relationships, such as with family, friends, or at work?
      • Have you noticed that others close to you sometimes feel intimidated or frightened of you?
      • Have others (family, friends, colleagues, health professionals) mentioned that anger might be a problem for you?
      • Do you find that it takes you a long time to ‘cool off’ after you have become angry or irritated?
      • Have you ended up in trouble with the law as a result of your anger, for example getting into fights?
      • Do you find yourself worrying a lot about your anger, perhaps feeling anxious or depressed about it at times?
      • Do you tend to take your frustration out on loved ones or people less powerful than you, rather than dealing with the situation that triggered your anger?If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, it may be that anger is a problem for you. It may be that addressing your anger can allow you to live a much more positive and rewarding life.

You may have heard about ‘anger management’ and wondered what it involves. Anger management can be addressed in groups or through individual therapy, and there are also a lot of self-help resources available.

Anger management is not just about counting to ten before you respond (although that is often a good idea). It is about helping you to better understand why you get angry, what sets it off and what are the early warning signs, and about learning a variety of strategies for managing those feelings more constructively.

One of the first steps in managing your anger is to identify what types of situations usually trigger your anger. Make a list of the things which usually set you off, for example:

      • Being cut off in traffic
      • Running late for an appointment
      • Other people running late
      • Your son/daughter leaving their schoolbag in the hall
      • Your partner not putting away the dishes
      • A colleague falling behind on a project

Some of these situations you may be able to avoid, such as planning ahead to avoid running late. Other situations are less in your control, such as being cut off in traffic, but what you can control is your response.

Once you have finished listing your common trigger situations, make a separate list of the warning signs for your anger. What is it that usually happens in your body when you get angry? Becoming aware of your body’s alarm bells helps you to spot anger early on, which gives you a better chance of putting other coping strategies into practice.

      • Tightness in chest
      • Feeling hot or flushed, sweating
      • Grinding teeth
      • Tense muscles or clenched fists
      • Pounding or racing heart
      • Biting your nails

Why Am I Angry?

When you notice these warning signs, stop and ask yourself what it is that is making you angry. Often there will be something going on that is quite reasonable to feel angry about, so allow yourself to acknowledge this. But it is also important to be clear about the cause of our anger so that we don’t respond in a way that is out of proportion for example, staying angry all day about someone else using up the last of the milk or taking out the anger on the wrong person – getting angry at family members when it is your boss you are angry with

Image result for shouting anger

When you notice yourself becoming angry, there are a number of techniques which you can use to ‘take the heat out’ of your anger. These include:

Time Out: This simply means removing yourself from the situation for a period of time, to give yourself a chance to ‘cool down’ and think things through before you act. For example, when you notice yourself becoming angry during an argument with your partner, say “I need to take time out, let’s talk about this calmly when I get back” and then go for a walk.

Distraction: If you cannot change the situation, it can help to distract yourself from whatever is making you angry by counting to ten, listening to music, calling a friend to chat about something else, or doing housework. For example, if you are stuck in traffic and getting angry, put on the radio and try to find a song you like, or count the number of times the chorus is sung.

Silly Humour: While it is not always possible to just ‘laugh your problems away,’ you can often use humour to help you to take a step back from your anger. For example, if you are angry with a colleague and refer to them as ‘a stupid clown,’ think about what this means literally. Imagine or draw them dressed in a clown suit, with big shoes and a red nose. If you picture this image every time they do something which bothers you, it will be much easier to keep things in perspective.

Relaxation: Just as our bodies are strongly affected by our emotions, we can also influence our emotional state with our physical state. Relaxation techniques, such as taking slow deep
breaths or progressively tensing and relaxing each of your muscle groups, can help to reduce anger.

Image result for breathing technique at desk woman

Self-Talk and Helpful Thinking
How you are thinking affects how you are feeling, so focusing on negative thoughts such as “this is so unfair” will maintain the angry feeling. Make a list of more balanced statements you can say to yourself before, during and after difficult situations. For example:

BeforeI know I can handle this, I have strategies to keep
my anger under control and can take time out if I need to.
DuringRemember to keep breathing and stay relaxed.
There is no need to take this personally. I can manage this.
AfterI handled that well. Even though I felt angry I didn’t
raise my voice too much and I think I got a better result.


Another key strategy in managing anger is to learn to be assertive. Assertiveness means expressing your point of view in a clear way, without becoming aggressive. You may wish to read other handouts about this topic. Finally, because anger is often an automatic response, all of these techniques require a lot of practice.

Assertiveness means expressing your point of view in a way that is clear and direct, while still respecting others. Communicating in an assertive manner can help you to minimise conflict, to control anger, to have your needs better met, and to have more positive relationships with friends, family and others.

Assertiveness is a style of communication which many people struggle to put into practice, often because of confusion around exactly what it means.

Sometimes it helps to start by explaining what assertiveness is not

People often confuse assertiveness with aggression, because it involves sticking up for yourself. But the two are actually quite different:

For example, imagine you are standing in line at the bank and someone else pushes in front of you. An aggressive response could be to grab them by the
shoulder and say loudly:

Hey! What makes you so important that you don’t have
to wait in line like the rest of us?

This might make you feel better in the short term, but you will probably also spend the rest of the hour feeling annoyed about the interaction. Or perhaps the other person will shout back at you and the situation will get even worse, really leaving you in a bad mood.

A more assertive response could be to gently tap the person on the shoulder and say in a clear but respectful voice:
Excuse me, there is actually a line here. It would be
better if you could wait your turn like the rest of us.

Chances are you will get a more positive response to this – perhaps the other person will apologise and move to the back of the line, or they may explain their reason for wanting to push in and you may feel happy to do them this favour. They may still respond badly – your assertiveness does not guarantee others will not be aggressive – but at least you will feel good knowing that you did your best and used assertive communication.

Another thing that assertiveness is not is passive communication. Passive communication is:

      • Not speaking up for yourself, either because you think your views don’t matter or for reasons like trying to please everyone or ‘keep the peace’
      • Putting your needs last to the needs of others
      • Allowing yourself to be bullied or ignored
      • Often involves speaking quietly or with a hesitating voice, or with body-language like looking at
        the floor or shrugging the shoulders
      • You may undermine your opinions with passive phrases such as: only if you don’t mind, or: but it really doesn’t matter that much to me

Passive communication can be damaging to your self esteem, and also to relationships. If you use a passive communication style, others are more likely to ignore your needs, which may leave you feeling hurt or even angry with them for not treating you better.


So Assertiveness is….
Think of assertiveness as the halfway point between passive and aggressive – just the right balance!


Related image

      •  State your point of view or request clearly.
      • Tell the other person how you feel as honestly as you can, and remember to listen to what they say as well.
      •  Tone and volume of voice: how you say it is as important as what you say. Speak at a normal conversation volume, rather than a shout or whisper, and make sure that you sound firm but not aggressive.
      • Make sure your body language matches. Your listener will get mixed messages if you are speaking firmly while looking at the floor. Try to look the other person in the eye, stand tall, and relax your face.
      •  Try to avoid exaggerating with words like always and never. For example: You are 20 minutes late and it is the third time this week, rather than: You are always late!
      • Try to speak with facts rather than judgements. For example: This report has important information missing, rather than: you have done a bad job again.
      •  Use “I Statements” as much as possible, to tell the other person how you feel rather than be accusing. For example: When  you leave your dishes on the table, I feel frustrated because I don’t like the mess but don’t want to clean it up for you, rather than: You’re such a pig!
      • Practice often – assertiveness is a skill which requires you to practice in many different situations. And don’t forget to praise yourself for your good efforts!

Stress is something that is part of normal life, in that it is experienced by everyone from time-to-time. However, some people suffer from stress which is so frequent or so severe that it can seriously impact on their quality of life. Stress can come from a huge range of sources (stressors), such as

      • Relationships with others
      • Work-related issues
      • Study demands
      •  Coping with illness
      • Life changes, such as marriage, retirement, divorce
      • Day-to-day activities and tasks
      • Positive events, such as organising holidays or parties
      • Juggling many roles or tasks at the same time

Some people are aware of what tends to trigger their stress, and this increases their ability to either prevent stress or to handle it more effectively. Many others are less able to deal with stress, and identifying stressors is a key step in this. If you often experience stress, take some time to consider what tends to set it off for you.

Some people do not even notice that they are stressed until symptoms begin to occur, including

      •  Irritability or moodiness
      • Interrupted sleep
      • Worrying or feeling of anxiety
      • Back and neck pain
      • Frequent headaches, minor to migraine
      • Upset stomach
      • Increased blood pressure
      • Changes in appetite
      •  Rashes or skin breakouts
      •  Chest pains
      • Making existing physical problems worse
      • More susceptible to cold/flu and slower recovery

These symptoms reduce quality of life, and people suffering from stress may notice that work performance or relationships suffer more as a result. You may be able to use some the strategies listed here, or you may find it useful to consult a professional for more help.

1) Identify your stressors, and see if there are some things within your control to manage better. Some things will be beyond your control, for example if you work a job that is based on working towards deadlines then you can’t change this without changing jobs. But perhaps you can control some aspects, such as scheduling to have at least a short lunch break each day, or to go to bed earlier so that you have more energy to cope with the daytime.
2) Build regular exercise into your life – as well as being part of a healthy , balanced lifestyle and giving you more energy, many people find that working out at the gym or playing sport helps them to unwind.
3) Make sure that you eat and sleep well.
4) Take time out for family, friends and recreational activities. Most of us know that this is important but we do not all do it. If you find it hard to make time for this, perhaps you need to take deliberate steps to have time out, such as set aside one evening a week where you meet up with friends or enjoy a hobby, or set aside one day of the weekend for relaxing at home.
5) Problem-solving techniques can be a useful way of clarifying the problem, brainstorming possible solutions, and then choosing one to put into action after listing the pros and cons of each option. See the handout Problem Solving for more details about this.
6) Learn calming techniques such as controlled breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, to train your mind and body to become more relaxed. These techniques require practice but can
be helpful with regular use. See handouts Calming Technique and Progressive Muscle Relaxation.
7) You may wish to speak to a professional about assertiveness training and communication skills
which can help you to deal with challenging situations more effectively, thereby reducing stress. See the handout Assertive Communication.
8) Last but definitely not least, consider whether there is negative thinking which is contributing to your stress. Negative thinking can make us worry more than is necessary, increasing stress, and generally does not motivate us to take positive actions. See the handouts Thinking & Feeling, Analysing Your Thinking and Changing Your Thinking.