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11 min read

Anger management

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What is anger management?

Anger management is a form of counselling to help you cope with angry feelings that affect your health, work, behaviour or personal relationships.

Anger is a natural feeling that affects everyone.

Things that can make you feel angry include:

  • losing someone you love (grief)
  • sexual frustration
  • being tired, hungry or in pain
  • coming off certain medicines or drugs
  • pre-menstrual syndrome
  • being insulted
  • feeling under threat
  • feeling that you're being ignored or not taken seriously
  • being under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • something in the present reminding you of unpleasant memories

Mild anger can be expressed as annoyance or irritation.

However, some people become angry frequently and inappropriately and may be unable to control their actions once they become angry.

Once anger gets out of control like this, it can cause problems with relationships, work and even the law. Uncontrolled anger can lead to arguments and physical fights. It can cloud your thinking and judgement and may lead to actions that are unreasonable or irrational.

Physical signs of anger

Everyone has a physical response to anger. Your body releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which increase your heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and breathing (the 'fight or flight' response).

This allows you to focus on the threat and react quickly. However, it can also mean that you don't think clearly and may react in ways you might regret later.

When your body has to cope with large amounts of stress hormones due to angry outbursts, you may become unwell.

How anger can affect your health

Intense and uncontrolled anger is linked to health conditions such as:

If anger is hidden or buried, it can lead to:

Helping yourself

Dealing with anger in a healthy way includes:

  • recognising when you get angry
  • taking time to cool down
  • reducing your stress levels

You can also look at what makes you angry and how you deal with those feelings. Read more on self-help tips for anger management.

Anger management

For some people, self-help techniques won't be enough and they'll need to attend an anger management course to learn how to manage their anger.

Anger management usually involves a combination of one-to-one sessions with a counsellor or therapist and group work with other people with anger management issues.

If you think you need anger management, contact your doctor.

The alternative is to pay for a course or counsellor privately.

Getting Help

If you can't deal with your anger issues yourself, speak to a doctor. They may be able to refer you to another service for support.

Different types of treatment to manage anger are summarised below, with links to more information.

Counselling

Certain types of counselling or talking therapies can help you explore the causes of your anger so you can understand and work through them.

Counselling involves talking with someone who can help you find your own solutions to your problems and gain a greater understanding of your feelings and actions. For example, feelings of anger may be related to unresolved issues you may have with your parents, childhood, partner or your current place in the world.

Counselling is usually provided over several weeks or months.

Read more about counselling.

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is based on the theory that most unwanted thinking patterns, emotions and behaviours are learned over a long period of time.

CBT aims to identify the unhelpful thinking that's causing your unwanted feelings and behaviour and to learn to replace this thinking with more balanced thoughts.

A number of professionals use CBT, including clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, psychiatrists, nurses, counsellors and social workers.

CBT is usually provided over several weeks or months.

Read more about cognitive behavioural therapy.

Anger management programmes

A typical anger management programme may involve one-to-one counselling and working in a small group. The programmes may consist of a 1 day or weekend course. In some cases, it may be over a couple of months.

Speak to a doctor to see if anger management courses are offered in your area.

The structure of the programme can differ depending on the provider, but most programmes involve using CBT techniques as well as counselling.

Domestic violence programmes

This type of programme may last up to 18 months and is necessary if you can't control your temper and are violent towards members of your family. The focus of this programme is to provide help and support so you'll be able to take responsibility for your actions and understand how it affects others.

You'll need to co-operate with the programme requirements, including tackling any other problems you may have, such as reducing your alcohol intake.

Co-operating with the requirements could be a condition of your parole or probation and failing to do so could have legal implications.

Self-help for anger

If you have an anger problem, there are methods you can use to try to control it yourself.

Recognising your anger signs

Your heart beats faster and you breathe more quickly, preparing you for action. You might also notice other signs, such as tension in your shoulders or clenching your fists.

If you notice these signs and you struggle to stay in control, try to get out of the situation using the methods below.

Count to 10

Counting from 0 to 10 and then backwards from 10 to 0 gives you time to cool down so you can think more clearly and overcome the impulse to lash out.

Breathe slowly

You tend to breathe in more when you feel angry. Make sure you breathe out for longer than you breathe in, and try to relax as you exhale. This will help you calm down and think clearly.

Leave the environment

If your environment or the people you're with make you feel angry, then briefly leaving the environment may help.

Talk yourself calm

Some people find it useful to repeat a phrase or word to themselves when they are feeling angry, such as "take it easy" or "these feelings will soon pass". Or you could imagine talking to a calm person you know who's giving you advice to relax.

Distraction

Distracting yourself from the situation that's making you angry can help, such as reading a magazine or listening to relaxing music.

Relieving physical tension

It's possible to relieve pent-up physical tension without harming yourself or others. If you feel the need to hit something, use a mattress. And if you feel like screaming, you could try screaming into a pillow.

Exercise is an excellent way of relieving tension as well as improving your mood.

Venting your feelings

Sharing your feelings and frustrations with friends can often help you get a better perspective on a situation.

You could also try writing about how you feel. However, don't post something in the heat of the moment on the internet or a social network site, that you may later regret.

Changing the way you think

Often how you think about people, problems and situations can determine how you then feel and act about them. It's common to fall into unhelpful patterns of thinking, which can then lead to unhelpful patterns of behaviour.

When people become angry, the language they use is often very black and white, such as: "It's all ruined now," which reinforces their feelings of anger. This type of language and thinking also stops you from seeking a potential solution to a problem and can upset people around you.

When you begin to feel angry, avoid using words and phrases like:

  • always ("You always do that")
  • never ("You never listen to me")
  • should/shouldn't ("You should do what I want" or "You shouldn't be on the roads")
  • must/mustn't ("I must be on time" or "I mustn't be late")
  • ought/oughtn't ("People ought to get out of my way")
  • it's not fair

Angry people tend to make demands rather than requests. This can make a bad situation worse. It's always healthier to say you "would like something" than you "must have it".

Anger can quickly cause you to become irrational and lose all sense of perspective. Try to step back and think logically about a situation. For example, losing a wallet or purse can be annoying, but most people will lose a wallet at least once or twice during their life. Frustrating as this may be, it's not the end of the world.

Problem-solving

Situations or issues in your life that cause you anger can be resolved by planning and problem-solving.

For example, if driving to work in traffic causes you to become angry with other road users, it may be better to catch a bus or a train or, if possible, work different hours to avoid the rush hour.

If you tend to argue with your partner in the evening, it could be because you're both tired after a day’s work. You could wait until Sunday morning to talk through any issues.

However, not every problem can be solved and you may need to focus your efforts on learning how to best cope with the problem, and then moving on.

Improving communication

Often when you enter into an angry exchange with someone, both your and the other person’s responses can quickly lead to misunderstandings and incorrect conclusions.

This is why it’s important to slow down, listen to what's being said, and then think carefully before responding.

If you're being criticised by somebody, it is natural to feel defensive, but this should not encourage you to respond with your own "verbal attack". Instead, try to remain calm and ask non-threatening questions about why the person feels the need to criticise you in this way. Often what you may first see as an attack is actually a problem that the other person is trying to cope with.

Humour

Humour can play an essential part in helping reduce feelings of anger and maintain a healthy sense of perspective.

For example, imagine you're having a really bad day where it feels like everything is going wrong. Rather than picturing yourself as a victim and getting more and more angry, try picturing yourself as a sitcom "figure of fun". Then, if things continue to go wrong, you may start to find them ridiculous rather than frustrating, and your mood may improve.

Learning not to take yourself or your life too seriously can often help put things in the proper perspective.

However, it's important to avoid using sarcasm while dealing with other people. Sarcastic humour can be perceived as a form of aggression.

Managing anger in the long term

Once you can recognise the signs that you're getting angry and can calm yourself down, you can start looking at ways to control your anger more generally.

Exercise

Exercise is one of the best ways to release built-up anger and tension. Running, walking, swimming, yoga and meditation are just a few of the activities that boost your production of "good mood" hormones (such as endorphins) and help reduce stress.

Read more about the benefits of exercise.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is a breathing exercise that focuses on fully inflating your lungs, helping you to unwind. A simple guide is:

  • sit or lie comfortably and loosen your clothing
  • put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach
  • breathe in through your nose and slowly count to 3 in your head
  • as you breathe in, feel your stomach inflate with your hand. If your chest expands, focus on breathing with your diaphragm
  • slowly breathe out through pursed lips and slowly count to 6
  • repeat 2 more times

Music

Listening to calming music, such as classical music, can help you relax. It can slow your pulse and heart rate, reduce stress hormones and lower your blood pressure.

Massage and relaxation

The kneading and stroking movements in massage help to relax tense muscles and improve your circulation.

Some people find that relaxation classes are good at reducing stress levels and help control anger. Yoga, pilates and tai chi may also be helpful.

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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.