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.
 

 
Anger, anger everywhere
What gets your goat?
Seeing red
Anger – one letter short of danger
Don’t blow up, let it blow over
Action points

 
Anger, anger everywhere

 
A recent UK-based YouGov survey revealed that most people believe that as a nation, we are getting angrier. More than one in 10 people say they have trouble controlling their anger, but of these people fewer than one in seven 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, rush hour travel, 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 your GP 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.
 

Don’t blow up, let it blow over

 

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.

 
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.

Related topics
 

Anxiety disorders
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Coping with life-changing events
Coronary heart disease
Depression
Healthy eating
How much sleep do you need?
Irritable bowel syndrome
Stress
Stroke
Ulcerative colitis
Work-related stress
 

Further information

 

  • Mind

            0845 766 0163
            www.mind.org.uk
 

  • SupportLine

            01708 765200
            www.supportline.org.uk
 

  • British Association of Anger Management

            0845 1300 286
            www.angermanage.co.uk
 

Sources

 

  • 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

Related articles

Worker’s who witness bullying at work are more likely to want to leave their place of work than those who are a direct victim, according to a study published in the journal Human...
This factsheet is for people who have back pain, or who would like information about it. Back pain usually affects the lower back. It can be a short-term problem, lasting a few...