Anger itself isn’t a problem – it’s how you handle it. Consider the nature of anger, how to manage anger, and what to do when you’re confronted by someone whose anger is out of control.
What is anger?
Anger is an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.
Anger can be caused by both external and internal events. You could be angry at a specific person (such as a coworker or supervisor) or event (a traffic jam, a canceled flight), or your anger could be caused by worrying or brooding about your personal problems. Memories of traumatic or enraging events can also trigger angry feelings.
So it’s not “bad” to feel angry?
Being angry isn’t always bad or a negative emotion. Being angry can motivate you into positive action. For example, being angry can motivate you to get involved with causes that you care about. The key is managing your anger in a healthy way.
What causes people to get angry?
You might have many things to feel threatened about; from financial problems and peer pressure to drug addiction and war. Some people respond in a negative way. Still, most people don’t walk around feeling mad all of the time. When someone explodes with anger, there’s usually a triggering event, such as a disagreement at work or being stuck in traffic that brings a mix of simmering emotions to a boiling point.
Your personal history feeds your reactions to anger as well. That’s why some people react so angrily to certain situations, such as losing a parking space, while other take it in stride. For example, if you were taught that being angry is a negative thing, you may not know how to express your anger appropriately. So your frustrations simmer and make you miserable, or build up until you explode in an angry outburst.
In other cases, brain chemistry or underlying medical conditions can trigger angry outbursts.
What is the best way to handle anger?
The instinctive, natural way to express anger is to respond aggressively. Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival.
On the other hand, we can't physically lash out at every person or object that irritates or annoys us; laws, social norms, and common sense place limits on how far our anger can take us.
People use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with their angry feelings. The three main approaches are expressing, suppressing, and calming. Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive—not aggressive—manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. Being assertive doesn't mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others.
Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it, and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. The danger in this type of response is that if it isn't allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward—on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression.
Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments haven't learned how to constructively express their anger. Not surprisingly, they aren't likely to have many successful relationships.
Finally, you can calm down inside. This means not just controlling your outward behavior, but also controlling your internal responses, taking steps to lower your heart rate, calm yourself down, and let the feelings subside.
Anger management helps you recognize frustrations early and resolve them in a way that allows you to express your needs — and keeps you calm and in control.
Some signs that you need help controlling your anger include:
- The regular feeling that you have to hold in your anger
- Constant cynical, irritated, impatient, critical or hostile feelings
- Frequent arguments with your partner, children or co-workers that escalate frustrations
- Physical violence, such as hitting your partner or children or starting fights
- Threats of violence against people or property
- Out-of-control or frightening behavior, such as breaking things or driving recklessly
- Anxiety or depression about anger so that you withdraw
When is professional help needed?
Learning to control anger is a challenge for everyone at times. Consider seeking help for anger issues if your anger seems out of control, causes you to do things you regret, hurts those around you or is taking a toll on your personal relationships.
What can you do if someone whose anger is out of control confronts you?
Usually, the most rational thing to do is walk way. If you stay, the situation may escalate into violence. If leaving the situation is difficult or impossible, take reasonable precautions to protect yourself. Don’t engage the other person in a manner that is likely to increase the angry behavior