Feelings of anger arise due to how we interpret and react to certain situations. Everyone has their own triggers for what makes them angry, but some common ones include situations in which we feel:
threatened or attacked
frustrated or powerless
like we're being invalidated or treated unfairly
like people are not respecting our feelings or possessions
People can interpret situations differently, so a situation that makes you feel very angry may not make someone else feel angry at all (for example, other reactions could include annoyance, hurt or amusement). But just because we can interpret things differently, it doesn't mean that you're interpreting things 'wrong' if you get angry.
How you interpret and react to a situation can depend on lots of factors in your life, including:
Whether your anger is about something that happened in the past or something that's going on right now, thinking about how and why we interpret and react to situations can help us learn how to cope with our emotions better. It can also help us find productive strategies to handle our anger.
Your childhood and upbringing
How we learn to cope with angry feelings is often influenced by our upbringing. Many people are given messages about anger as children that may make it harder to manage it as an adult. For example:
You may have grown up thinking that it's always okay to act out your anger aggressively or violently, and so you didn't learn how to understand and manage your angry feelings. This could mean you have angry outbursts whenever you don't like the way someone is behaving, or whenever you are in a situation you don't like.
You may have been brought up to believe that you shouldn't complain, and may have been punished for expressing anger as a child. This could mean that you tend to suppress your anger and it becomes a long-term problem, where you react inappropriately to new situations you're not comfortable with. If you don't feel you can release your anger in a healthy way, you might also turn this inwards on yourself.
You may have witnessed your parents' or other adults' anger when it was out of control, and learned to think of anger as something that is destructive and terrifying. This could mean that you now feel afraid of your own anger and don't feel safe expressing your feelings when something makes you angry. Those feelings might then surface at another unconnected time, which may feel hard to explain.
If you've experienced particular situations in the past that made you feel angry, such as abuse, trauma or bullying (either as a child or more recently as an adult), and you weren't able to safely express your anger at the time, you might still be coping with those angry feelings now. This might mean that you now find certain situations particularly challenging, and more likely to make you angry.
Sometimes your present feeling of anger may not only be about the current situation but may also be related to a past experience, which can mean that the anger you are feeling in the present is at a level that reflects your past situation.
Becoming aware of this can help us to find ways of responding to situations in the present in a safer and less distressed way.
Current circumstances and pressure
If you're dealing with a lot of other problems in your life right now, you might find yourself feeling angry more easily than usual, or getting angry at unrelated things.
If there's a particular situation that's making you feel angry, but you don't feel able to express your anger directly or resolve it, then you might find you express that anger at other times.
Anger can also be a part of grief. If you've lost someone important to you, it can be hugely difficult to cope with all the conflicting things you might be feeling. Cruse Bereavement Care can offer support and information in this situation.
What can I do to manage my anger?
It can be frightening when your anger overwhelms you. But there are ways you can learn to manage your anger when you find yourself in difficult situations.
Remember: If your outbursts can be violent or abusive this can cause serious problems in your life and relationships, and can be very damaging to the people around you. In this case, it's essential to seek professional treatment and support for your anger.
Look out for warning signs
Anger can cause a rush of adrenaline through your body, so before you recognise the emotion you're feeling you might notice:
your heart is beating faster
your breathing is quicker
your body is becoming tense
your feet are tapping
you're clenching your jaw or fists
Buy yourself time to think
Sometimes when we're feeling angry, we just need to walk away from the situation for a while. This can give you time to work out what you're thinking about the situation, decide how you want to react to it and feel more in control. Some ways you can buy yourself time to think are:
Counting to 10 before you react.
Taking yourself out of the situation by going for a short walk – even if it's just around your block or local area.
Talking to a trusted person who's not connected to the situation, such as a friend, family member, counsellor or peer support group. Expressing your thoughts out loud can help you understand why you're angry and help calm you down.
Try some techniques to manage your feelings
There are many ways to calm down and let go of angry feelings, depending on what suits you and what’s convenient at the time you are angry.
Breathe slowly – try to breathe out for longer than you breathe in and focus on each breath as you take it.
Relax your body – if you can feel your body getting tense, try focusing on each part of your body in turn to tense and then relax your muscles.
Try mindfulness techniques – mindfulness can help you to be aware of when you're getting angry and can help calm your body and mind down.
Exercise – try to work off your anger through exercise. Sports like running or boxing can be really helpful for releasing pent up energy.
Use up your energy safely in other ways – this can help relieve some of your angry feelings in a way that doesn't hurt yourself or others. For example, you could try tearing up a newspaper, hitting a pillow or smashing ice cubes in a sink.
Do something to distract yourself mentally or physically – anything that completely changes your situation, thoughts or patterns can help stop your anger escalating. For example, you could try:
putting on upbeat music and dancing
doing something with your hands, like fixing something or making something
doing something creative like colouring or drawing
writing in a journal
taking a cold shower
Look at your lifestyle
Remember: Learning new techniques to help manage your feelings can take time and practice – so try to be patient and gentle with yourself as you learn these new skills.
Looking after your wellbeing more generally could help you feel calmer and more in control when things happen that make you feel angry. You might want to:
Avoid drugs and alcohol. Although you might feel this could help you cope in the short term, alcohol and drugs can both affect your ability to control your emotions and actions, and can be a factor in violence. For information and support to stop using drugs or alcohol you can contact Turning Point or Alcoholics Anonymous.
Be more active. Being active can help let out any tension you're feeling, as well as having benefits to your self-esteem. Even gentle exercise like going for a walk can make a difference.
Get good sleep. Not sleeping well can have a huge impact on how we're feeling, and how well we cope with things that happen to us.
Look at what you're eating and drinking. What we put in our bodies is fuel. Put poor fuel in and you will get poor performance.
Learn to deal with pressure. We can feel pressured or stressed for lots of different reasons, but taking some time to learn how to deal with pressure can help us feel more in control of difficult situations.
Develop your emotional resilience. Emotional resilience helps us feel more able to handle difficult emotions.
When pressure builds up, it can lead to stress. As well as having an impact on how quick you are to anger, it can also lead to mental health issues if left unmanaged.
Understanding mental health can give you the tools to find what works for you and understand the signs and symptoms.
Elite Force safety designs tailored programmes for businesses to ensure everyone has an understanding, helping to improve the culture.
Anger management programmes
These are a specific kind of talking treatment for people who struggle with anger issues. They often involve working in a group, but may involve one-to-one sessions. They may use a mixture of counselling and CBT techniques. You can try:
NHS anger management courses. Many NHS Trusts run free local anger management services – you can ask your GP what's available near you.
Local Mind anger management courses. Some local Minds also provide free counselling or anger management services. Contact your Local Mind directly and ask them what services they provide.
Online self-help. Some organisations have produced online self-help guides for managing anger.
A private course or therapist specialising in anger. You can use the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy's (BACP) website to search for accredited therapists near you.
Help for abusive and violent behaviour
If your anger means you're acting in an abusive or violent way, it's important to get help. You might feel worried that asking for help will get you in trouble, but it is often the most important first step towards changing your behaviour. You can contact:
Your GP. They can talk through your options with you, and refer you on to any local services. In many areas, the NHS, social services or your local council will run programmes to help perpetrators of domestic abuse change their behaviour.
Respect runs a phoneline offering advice, information and support on 0808 802 4040. You can also email them on firstname.lastname@example.org or use their live chat on their website. Live chat is available Tuesdays and Thursdays 10am–4pm. They run programmes across the country to help you understand and change your behaviour.
The Freedom Programme runs online and in-person courses for anyone who wants to change their abusive behaviour.
The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) runs courses to help people learn new ways to tackle situations where violence could arise.