What is anger?
Anger is a normal human emotion, not a mental illness, though it does feature as an early and significant symptom of a range of mental health conditions, such as depression and borderline personality disorder. It’s a natural response to some events - such as being insulted or attacked - and it often involves a sudden burst of feeling, which then passes, though some are left with residue feelings which could range from humiliation to resentment. The range of expressions can vary due to a number of factors - everything from how you were raised, what else is going on in your life at the time, whether you’re hungry or tired - but for some people angry and aggressive behaviour becomes so much a part of their lives it causes real problems for relationships, work and health.
Our anger experience is also affected by social and cultural forces, our gender and race, for example. Studies have shown that while White males are taken more seriously and considered more persuasive when they are angry, White women and African American men and women are treated as being less believable, less convincing, less rational. Their feelings are minimised.
How does anger affect you?
When something makes you angry, the hormone adrenalin floods through your body to prepare your body for ‘fight or flight’, making you feel strong and energetic. Letting your body express this energy may feel good for you, but it doesn’t always have the results that you might want.
In some cases anger can escalate into violence or rage, as your rational thinking is overcome by the strong emotion. There is a high chance of frightening other people – especially children – if it develops into rage. This highly increases the chance of a bad outcome, such as someone being hurt or the police becoming involved.
Watch this interview with Alice McGurran and Dr Ryan Martin, an anger researcher and author of Why We Get Mad
What can you do to control anger?
First of all, look out for the things that might trigger you to lose your temper. Is it one specific situation, or with one person? Is it when you feel you have no power over the situation? Recognising patterns can be very useful as it can help you either avoid them, or to prepare in some way for the possibility of a passionate response. If you cannot see a pattern because anger has become so common, see below
Anger produces specific physical symptoms which include the following:
- you may feel an adrenaline rush
- your heart may beat faster
- your breathing will be quicker
- you may feel tension in your body
Again, recognising these changes may help you to pause before fury takes over.
Many people also find relaxation techniques help, specifically trying to breathe more slowly, breathing into your stomach to stimulate your calming parasympathetic nervous system, going for a walk, listening to calming music, or following a guided mediation app.
How can you help someone who has problems with anger?
It is probably wise not to try to stop someone expressing extreme anger or violence, but try to speak them afterwards and tell them that you care, but would like them to be able to manage their feelings. You can help them identify triggers, and there may be lifestyle changes you could suggest, such as cutting back on alcohol, getting enough sleep, increasing levels of exercise, or taking a break from screen time.
If the anger escalates into violence, you should leave the vicinity. If violence takes place in the family home, ensure that yourself and any children are safe. You can learn more on our domestic violence page.
How counselling can help with anger issues
Talking therapy can help you understand your problems, and then start to change your way of dealing with situations that spark it. Your counsellor or therapist will work with you on this, in a non-judgmental way. Sometimes being quick to lose your temper is a sign of an underlying mental health issue.
You may find anger management programmes are available through your GP.
Last updated on 29 March 2022