Anger is something we’ve all felt whether it’s a temporary moment of annoyance or full-blown rage. It can happen from stress, family problems, work and so much more. The feeling usually acts as a shield to protect you from “softer” emotions like anxiety, pain, or sadness. Anger can be a good indicator that something in your life needs to change so it can be useful in some cases. But left unchecked, anger can have many negative side effects on your mind and body. Luckily, there are ways to manage anger and strengthen your outlook on life.
Why Do We Get Angry?
Becoming angry is a natural response to things, like when you’re working with someone who doesn’t pull their weight on a group project or being stuck in traffic for hours. These situations might make your stomach churn, your body sweat, and you might feel like a boiling pot of water ready to explode—it’s hard to think logically in these moments. Unless you’ve found a healthy way to manage your anger, there are a couple of different ways you likely express your irritation:
- Verbal or physical outburst
- Negative self-talk, being angry at yourself
- Acting passive-aggressively toward others
All of these reactions are harmful, especially when done repeatedly in your life. During an outburst, you might yell at your partner, send an aggressive text, or even become violent—all things you’ll probably regret down the road. While these examples are all external, sometimes anger could be internal like blaming yourself for a simple mistake or getting upset about a past event.
How you react to anger can either make a bad situation worse or benefit you and your relationships. Managing your anger doesn’t mean you never get angry, rather it means you acknowledge the feeling and learn how to cope with it in a healthy way.
Anger and Mental Health Disorders
While anger itself isn’t a mental illness, this emotion can stem from mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and ADHD. Increasing our awareness about how certain disorders are intertwined with anger can help us understand what role they play in our lives.
When you encounter a perceived threat, a signal is sent to the brain which sends your body into fight, flight, freeze mode. The stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline are released and you grow anxious, worrying about what will happen next. Your inability to control the situation makes the anxiety increase along with your breathing and heart rate. All this happening in your body makes it difficult to act rationally which is why many people dealing with anxiety might snap or have angry outbursts.
On the other hand, if you’re struggling with major depressive disorder, you might turn your anger inward and direct it at yourself. You may have feelings of shame and low self-worth and it becomes even harder for you to do activities you used to enjoy and spend time with people. With depression, anger may also be expressed outward when you lash out at other people and push loved ones, friends, and coworkers away. Studies have shown that when aggression and irritability are present, this intensifies depressive symptoms and makes people have lower impulse control and a higher risk for substance abuse.
Risks of Repressed and Uncontrollable Anger
We’ve talked about what anger is and why we experience this feeling, but what are the risks of bottling it up inside? It’s ok to suppress anger temporarily – as long as you deal with these feelings eventually. Then the other question becomes what happens when your anger always manifests in extreme fury? Well, if you constantly cope with anger in these unhealthy ways, your mental health and physical health can be impacted. Your body isn’t built to live in a constant state of irritability. So, over time you may experience some of the following effects:
- Weaker immune system – Chronic stress and anger has been linked to more inflammation and a poorer immune system. So you may have more difficulty fighting off infections and a higher risk of developing chronic illnesses like osteoarthritis and diabetes.
- Heightened anxiety and depression – As mentioned, whether you are holding in or unleashing your anger, this emotion can exacerbate the symptoms of both disorders.
- Reduced lung function – Surprisingly, you can develop respiratory problems and breathing troubles if you have frequent anger. One study looked at over 600 men and monitored their hostility levels, and those with higher ratings had worse lung capacity.
- Heart disease – Next time you get frustrated, notice how your chest tightens and your heart races. It’s easy to see why your heart is negatively impacted. Anger raises blood pressure as well as your blood sugar and fatty acid levels, all damaging your blood vessels. Eventually, this can lead to cardiovascular disease or stroke.
- Digestive issues – Your brain is actually connected to your gut and can influence the contractions associated with the digestion process. When there’s a disruption from anger you may often experience nausea and diarrhea and even develop irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Aside from health risks, your relationships can also deteriorate if you don’t handle anger well. Your loved ones may start to pull away and your colleagues might avoid working with you.
What Are Anger Management Techniques?
If you feel like your temper has gotten uncontrollable or just want to manage your emotions more effectively, there are methods you can use at home.
Identify triggers – Something we repeat over and over in our blog is to identify your triggers. But it’s an important one because it can be applied to so many areas in your life. In this case, take note of what leads to your anger. Does it happen when you don’t get enough sleep? Or maybe you blow a fuse when you get stuck in morning rush hour traffic. Try avoiding these triggers by switching up your routine. Go to bed at an earlier time or find a different route to work.
Acknowledge underlying emotions – Oftentimes, there are other emotions lurking beneath your anger. Perhaps your friend cancels plans with you last minute. You might feel frustrated at first, but if you look past this you may be disappointed with them. Instead of yelling at them, take that disappointment and have an honest conversation with your friend about how you were really excited to hang out with them.
Pause before you react – This tip applies to many situations. If you are overwhelmed with work, take a quick break to clear your mind. If your kids are misbehaving, before you lash out, walk away for a few minutes to avoid an outburst. Perhaps you’re getting into a heated argument with your partner – step away before you say something you might regret. Let the other person know that you’re not dodging tough subjects, instead, you are trying to manage your anger.
7/11 breathing exercise – Doing deep breathing exercises in times of stress or anger can lower your blood pressure and promote a feeling of relaxation. Counting also can distract you from whatever is making you agitated. Here’s how to do it:
1 – breathe in for a count of 7.
2 – then breathe out for a count of 11.
Make sure that when you’re breathing in, your diaphragm moves down and pushes your stomach out as you take in a breath. If you find it difficult, you can adjust the length of your breaths, as long as the out-breath is longer than the in-breath.
Write it all out – Writing is a great way to release pent-up emotions. It allows you to see your triggers on paper and understand a situation a bit better.
Change your mindset – When you’re angry, your thinking can get overly dramatic and irrational. Try not to use words like “always” or “never.” For example, telling yourself “I always forget everything” or “I never do anything right” makes your anger feel justified and doesn’t solve the problem. Instead tell yourself something like, “I’m frustrated and it’s understandable, but staying upset won’t fix anything right now.”
Exercise – Engaging in physical activity can reduce some of the stress associated with anger. You don’t have to weightlift or run a marathon, something as simple as walking outside can be enough for you to quell your irritation.
Talk it out – Tell a friend that you’re having trouble coping with your anger. Rather than just vent to them, let them know everything going on and some possible solutions. Sometimes, just putting your thoughts out into the open releases built-up negativity.
While some frustration might be good to help you power through certain situations, it can quickly get out of control. If you believe anger is harming your mental health and relationships, it might be time to look for professional help. An expert can see if there are underlying mental health disorders and provide anger management therapy so you can start using your anger as a helpful tool instead of letting it get the best of you.