Feeling angry is a natural human response to certain life experiences. It’s a basic emotion; occurring at times when we come under attack, feel deceived, insulted or frustrated.
Anger helps to relieve built-up energy and tension. While we have learnt that expressing anger can be a healthy way of managing the emotion, when excessive, it can become a problem. Excessive anger may even be a symptom of more complex issues; it can be a symptom of, and contribute to, certain mental health problems and sometimes make existing problems worse.
When out of control, anger can turn destructive. It can significantly impact quality of life - affecting your relationships, your career and overall well-being. However, there are ways to help you learn how to control your anger more effectively and lessen the impact it’s having on your daily life. This page will explore anger in more detail, including the signs to spot and anger management therapy.
Often, anger problems are due to poor management of our emotions. Anger, like all emotions, involves physiological and chemical changes in the body - affecting heart rate and adrenaline levels. For some people, these surges can become addictive and destructive. There is a fine line between acknowledging anger, and venting until it is out of control.
Aggression is an instinctive way to express anger - relating back to the ‘fight or flight’ reaction, which allows us to protect ourselves when in danger. But this isn’t always suitable. There are other ways to express and manage your anger, without aggression, including relaxation techniques and anger management therapy.
When we express anger, we use a variety of conscious and unconscious processes to deal with the feelings. The way in which we control these, however, is what determines whether our anger is healthy or unhealthy.
When expressing anger assertively, in a non-aggressive but constructive way, you can assert your needs without hurting the people around you.
There are many ways you can express your anger in an unhealthy way, and many of these have negative repercussions. Often we suppress, convert and redirect our anger - but this can negatively affect health and well-being. If you find it difficult to manage your anger, you may put others down and find yourself being overly critical. You may feel irritable, grumpy and hostile.
When does anger become a problem?
Fundamentally, anger becomes a problem when it starts negatively affecting you and those around you. While this will depend on how you’re expressing your anger, if you’re keeping it to yourself or expelling it at inappropriate times, you are at risk of damaging not only to your health and well-being but also your relationships - as well as other aspects of your daily life.
In the long-term, this can have devastating consequences. If you keep your feelings to yourself, without learning how to manage them, your aggression may escalate to other types of behaviour, such as physical abuse. You may also find that, over time, you will feel angry more often or more quickly - even at the smallest thing. It’s when you feel you can no longer control your anger, or express it constructively, that you should consider seeking help.
Most of us will go through a time where we need to ask for help. While we usually get this from friends and family, sometimes we need to talk to a professional, like a counsellor. A professional will offer you the chance to talk about your feelings, and acknowledge your triggers. They can support you on the journey, teaching you more about your anger and how to manage it effectively.
If you think you, or someone close to you, is struggling to manage anger, then it is important to find support as soon as possible.
Spotting the signs
If your anger becomes violent or abusive, then much of your life can be affected. This destructive behaviour can affect your career and relationships, and be very damaging for those around you. Talking to a professional can help - you can learn how to cope with your anger, but also how to rebuild any damaged relationships.
It is important to recognise the signs, as being aware of your feelings can help you manage your anger in future situations. When you sense aggression, you may feel a rush of adrenaline through your body - this is why you may react quickly, without control. With adrenaline, you may notice your breath quicken, your heart beating faster and your body becoming tense. Recognising these signs gives you the opportunity to stop and think about how you want to react to a situation.
Signs of an anger problem may include:
- Explosive outbursts and breaking things.
- Getting involved in physical violence.
- Arguing with people around you.
- Losing your temper quickly (for example, road rage).
- A constant desire to lash out physically or verbally.
What makes us feel angry?
We all cope with anger in our own way, just as we do when feeling sad or stressed. There are many reasons why you may not be able to control anger. The way you interpret and react to certain situations can depend on many life factors, including past experiences, your childhood and current circumstance.
You will have your own, personal triggers for what makes you angry - everyone will. However, there are some situations that will commonly make us all feel angry, such as feeling threatened or attacked, feeling frustrated, powerless or being treated unfairly.
Do you feel angry all the time? Read our tips for managing anger and knowing when to seek help.
It can be scary when you feel like you can’t control your anger, but there are ways to manage the emotion. Coping methods include taking time to think, such as counting to 10 before reacting, going for a walk or talking to a friend.
Taking a moment to calm down is an often-easy way to let go of angry feelings; breathing deeply and slowly or distracting yourself with something you enjoy, like dancing to upbeat music. Though, this isn’t always easy to do. When anger becomes a problem, not everyone can step out of the situation and calm down.
Counsellor Heather Shipley offers some advice:
“It is OK to feel anger. It is, after all, a normal, human, emotional response to threat. Allow yourself to feel anger, especially if your first thought is to ignore and bury it away. Is this feeling annoyance, a bit angry, very angry or absolutely furious? It is a good idea to add levels to the feeling to help you understand the feeling and work on coping strategies.”
Anger management therapy
Anger management therapy aims to reduce the feelings anger creates by allowing individuals to explore possible causes, triggers and confront any underlying issues. Available in the form of group or one-to-one sessions, anger management therapy works to address specific types of anger issues, for example, relationships, work-related or adolescent anger, using methods such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness.
The main aims of anger management therapy include:
- Identifying why you get angry.
- Changing the way you respond to anger.
- Learning skills to handle anger effectively.
- Teaching you how to use anger to motivate or solve problems.
- Teaching you how to communicate effectively.
Anger management therapy can last between four and six weeks, though course duration will depend on your individual circumstance. During sessions, you’ll work with the counsellor to learn specific skills and thought processes, tailored to your needs. Anger management therapy tends to include at-home tasks such as journal writing, and various exercises that help you develop the techniques learnt in the session.
By recognising and accepting anger problems, you can start to understand how to use anger in a safe and healthy way. During anger management therapy, you’ll learn how to pinpoint your frustrations early on, so they can be resolved in a way that allows you to express your needs, while remaining calm and in control. Essentially, anger management can help you reach your goals, solve problems and rebuild any damage that may have occurred as a result of your anger.
Anger doesn’t need to take over your life, remember that there are methods you can learn to manage your anger, and live your life to the fullest.
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
There are currently no laws in place stipulating what training and qualifications a counsellor must have in order to deal with anger management. However, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have developed a set of guidelines that provide advice about the recommended treatments.
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