Anger Management

Anger – you’ve probably experienced it at some point and to varying degrees in your life. It’s a natural human emotion like happiness, sadness and fear, and for most people it stays within a safe and healthy range. For some, however, frequent and intense episodes of anger can seriously interfere with everyday life and lead to destructive behaviour.

Understanding anger and getting the right help to start managing it can make a huge and lasting difference.

Click on the tabs below for more information about anger management.

Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, December 2010.

About anger

Anger, anger everywhere

Many people say they have trouble controlling their anger, but few admit to seeking help for their problems. This may mean that anger in the general population is severely under-managed and as a result may have detrimental effects on family, work and overall wellbeing for a great many people.

What gets your goat?

Everyone gets angry about different things. In today’s society, travelling, technology failure and turbulent relationships with friends, loved ones and work colleagues are common sources of anger. Although these situations are modern, the underlying triggers for anger are much the same today as they were for our ancestors. For example, you may become angry if you or your loved ones are under physical threat, if you’re losing a battle for resources, or if someone attempts to destroy a principle you hold dear. Anger has evolved to keep your body and mind stimulated and ready for action in stressful situations.

Seeing red

When something makes you angry you can feel a wide range of emotions. These emotions have a direct, physiological impact on the rest of your body: your heart starts to beat faster; your blood pressure and temperature rise; your breathing rate increases; and you sweat more.

Different people express their anger in different ways. You may react immediately to whatever has prompted your anger or suppress your feelings completely. Built-up anger may cause you to explode when faced with difficult situations – some people describe this feeling as ‘seeing red’.

Most people are able to keep their anger under control, but if you feel you’re unable to cope with your temper or if it’s affecting those around you, see a doctor or counsellor for advice.

Anger – one letter short of danger

The physical effects of anger can affect your health both in the short and long term. Regular and intense periods of anger may lead to problems with your:

  • digestion – contributing to the development of conditions such as ulcerative colitis (inflammation and ulcers in the lining of your large bowel), gastritis (inflammation of the lining of your stomach) or irritable bowel syndrome
  • immune system – making you more likely to catch the flu virus and slow your recovery from accidents or operations
  • heart and circulatory system – increasing your risk of coronary heart disease or a stroke
  • mental wellbeing – including depression, addiction, self-harm, compulsion and bullying behaviour
If your anger is causing problems then you may be recommended treatment, perhaps including medicines.

Anger treatment

Self help

Life can often be stressful and it’s easy for pressures to build up. You may find it helps to try and make small lifestyle changes if you have problem anger. For example, a lack of certain nutrients can make you feel irritable and weak. Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet, get enough sleep and give yourself treats and rewards for positive actions, attitudes and thoughts. Also, don’t drink alcohol excessively or use illicit drugs (especially stimulants such as amphetamine and cocaine), as this will increase your risk of developing problem anger.

Even simple things such as a relaxing bath, a walk outside or reading a good book can help. Exercising can prevent tension building up in your body and improve your self-esteem. Try doing something you enjoy such as dancing or jogging to let off some steam.

Anger management programmes

These are planned sets of sessions designed for people who may have had a single violent episode, or who have been violent in the past and now feel unable to make changes to their behaviour. You may be offered one-to-one counselling or group work to help overcome your anger issues. Some courses are one day workshops and others may take place over a period of weeks or months.

Professional help

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a type of counselling that helps you change the way you think about certain situations and behave differently. It doesn’t just look at your past behaviour, but also focuses on ways to improve your coping mechanisms for the future.

The availability and use of different therapies may vary from country to country. Ask your doctor for advice.

Action points

  • Calm down. When you start to feel the first stirrings of anger bubbling up inside you, stop and think for a moment. This will give you time to reflect on the situation and consider how best to respond. As the old saying goes: ‘Hold your breath and count to 10 before you say anything.’
  • Walk away. If you feel you’re too angry to speak or are considering being violent towards another person, it may be best to remove yourself from the situation. Try to work out what makes you angry so you know when to leave things alone.
  • Resolve unfinished business. This is important for you in the longer term. If you’re able to understand why you get so angry, you can try to resolve past issues and prevent anger building up in the future.
  • Be constructive, not destructive. When you’re irritated by something, take ownership of your feelings and tell people why you’re angry. If you talk slowly and clearly and make requests rather than demands, others will respect your argument and listen to what you have to say.

Further resources

  • Boiling point: problem anger and what we can do about it. Mental Health Foundation. 2008
  • How to deal with anger. Mind. www.mind.org.uk, accessed 12 May 2010
  • Anger management therapy. British Association of Anger Management. www.angermanage.co.uk, accessed 12 May 2010
  • Personal communication, Dr Lars Davidsson, Consultant Psychiatrist, Spire Wellesley Hospital Southend, 13 July 2010

This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been peer reviewed by Bupa doctors. Photos and videos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.

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