Is anger healthy?

Everyone has experienced anger. The intensity of your anger can range from profound annoyance to extreme rage. It’s normal and healthy to feel angry from time to time in response to certain situations.

But sometimes people experience an uncontrollable anger that often escalates, especially when the provocation is minor. In this case, anger is not a normal emotion but a major problem.

What causes anger and anger problems?

Anger comes from a variety of sources and can vary widely. Some common anger triggers include:

  • personal problems, such as missing a promotion at work or relationship difficulties
  • a problem caused by another person such as cancelling plans
  • an event like bad traffic or getting in a car accident
  • memories of a traumatic or enraging event

In other cases, an anger problem may be caused by early trauma or events in a person’s life that have shaped their personality. In some cases, hormonal changes can also cause anger, as can certain mental disorders.

What are the symptoms of an anger problem?

Some signs that your anger is not normal include:

  • anger that affects your relationships and social life
  • feeling that you have to hide or hold in your anger
  • constant negative thinking and focusing on negative experiences
  • constantly feeling impatient, irritated, and hostile
  • arguing with others often, and getting angrier in the process
  • being physically violent when you’re angry
  • threatening violence to people or their property
  • an inability to control your anger
  • feeling compelled to do, or doing, violent or impulsive things because you feel angry, such as driving recklessly or destroying things
  • staying away from certain situations because you’re anxious or depressed about your angry outbursts

What are the diagnostic criteria for an anger problem?

Anger itself doesn’t constitute a mental disorder, so there’s no set diagnosis for anger problems in the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

However, it lists more than 32 mental disorders — such as borderline personality disorder and intermittent explosive disorder — that include anger as a symptom. It’s possible that your anger problem is caused by an underlying mental disorder.

What can happen if an anger problem isn’t treated?

If you don’t deal with your anger problem, it could one day escalate to a point where you do something extreme and regrettable. Violence is one possible outcome. You could get so angry that you end up hurting yourself or someone you care about without intending to do so.

If you suspect you have an anger problem, it’s important to seek professional help. Talk to your physician for a referral to a mental healthcare provider who will be able to help.

How can you manage your anger at home?

There are several helpful ways to control your anger at home.

Relaxation techniques

These include breathing deeply and picturing relaxing scenes in your mind. When trying to relax, breathe from deep within your lungs, inhaling and exhaling slowly in a controlled way. Repeat a calming word or phrase, such as “relax” or “take it easy.”

You may also want to visualize a relaxing experience, either from your memory or imagination. Slow, yoga-like exercises may also help relax your body and make you feel calmer.

Cognitive restructuring

Changing the way you think can change the way you express your anger. When a person feels angry, it’s often easy for them to think dramatically. It’s important to focus on expressing rational, rather than irrational, thoughts.

Avoid using the words “always” and “never” in your thoughts and speech. Such terms are inaccurate and can make you feel like your anger is justified, which makes it worse. These words can also hurt others who may be trying to help you arrive at a solution to your problem.

Problem solving

Anger can be caused by very real problems. While some anger is justified when something doesn’t go as planned, it’s not the anger that will help you fix the problem. The best way to approach a situation that’s making you angry is to not focus on the solution but to figure out how to address the problem.

You can do that by making a plan and checking in with it often so that you can check your progress often. Don’t get upset if the way the problem ends up getting resolved isn’t exactly the way you planned. Just make your best effort.

Communication

When people feel angry, they tend to jump to conclusions, which can be inaccurate. When you’re having an angry argument, slow down and think through your responses before lashing out. Remember to listen to the other person in the conversation. Good communication can help you resolve problems before your anger escalates.

How can a medical professional help you manage anger?

A medical professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist can recommend interventions to control your anger. Talk therapy can be helpful, as can anger management classes.

Anger management sessions can be taken in person or online. They can also be studied in a book. Anger management will teach you how to identify your frustrations early on and then resolve them. This may involve telling others, or yourself, what you need, while also staying calm and in charge of the situation (as opposed to having an angry outburst).

These sessions can be taken alone with a counselor or with a counselor accompanied by your partner or a group. The type, length, and number of sessions will depend on the program and your individual needs. This type of counseling can be brief or may last for several weeks or months.

When you begin the sessions, your counselor will help you identify your anger triggers and read your body and emotions for signs of anger. Noticing and checking in with these warning signs is one early step needed to help control your anger. Later on, you’ll learn behavioral skills and ways of thinking that will help you cope with your anger. If you have underlying mental health conditions, your counselor will also help you manage them, often making it easier to control your anger.

What is the outlook for an anger problem?

Anger doesn’t have to get in the way of you living a happy, full life. If you’re experiencing extreme anger, see your physician or mental healthcare provider. They will help you identify which professional therapies may be able to help you cope.

What’s more, there are many ways you can learn to control your anger at home. With time and a persistent effort, you’ll be able to more easily control your anger and improve your quality of life.