Poorly managed anger can lead to health issues and emotional challenges. Learn more about healthy anger management. Peter Dazeley/Getty Images
Anger in itself isn't necessarily a problem. Anger can be healthy in that it can not only alert us to issues that we may need to change in our lives, but it can also motivate us to make these changes.
Connections Between Anger and Stress
When we feel overly stressed, we can become more prone to anger, and in this state, both anger and stress can become more difficult to manage. When the fight or flight response is triggered and we are physiologically aroused as a result, we may find ourselves more easily angered.
Here are some reasons for this:
- When stressed, we may more often perceive a situation as threatening, and this can trigger anger more easily.
- When the fight or flight response is triggered, we may not be thinking as clearly or rationally, which can leave us feeling less capable of coping.
- When physiologically aroused by the body's stress response, emotions can escalate more quickly, which can lead to a quicker temper.
- Factors that contribute to stress, like threats to social standing, emotional wellbeing, or just too many demands, can also lead to anger.
- Anger and stress can feed off of each other, where we may become more easily angered when stressed, and poor reactions to anger can create more stress.
Challenges That Result From Poorly Managed Anger
Like poorly managed stress, anger that isn’t handled in a healthy way can be not only uncomfortable but even damaging to one’s health and personal life.
This can, of course, lead to greater levels of stress and anger. Consider the following research on anger:
- One study from the University of Washington School of Nursing studied anger problems in husbands and wives. Researchers cited previous evidence that anger problems and depressive symptoms have been linked to all major causes of death but found that wives specifically found a greater association between anger and symptoms of depression, while men tended to instead experience an association between anger and health problems.
- According to a study from Ohio State University, those who had less control over their anger tended to heal more slowly from wounds. Researchers gave blisters to 98 participants and found that, after 8 days, those who had less control over their anger also tended to be slower healers. In addition, those participants also tended to have more cortisol (a stress hormone) in their system during the blistering procedure, suggesting that they may be more stressed by difficult situations as well.
- Another study from Harvard School of Public Health studied hostility in men and found that those with higher rates of hostility not only had poorer pulmonary functioning (breathing problems) but experienced higher rates of decline as they aged.
- Research with children and adolescents shows that anger management is important for the younger set as well. Findings showed that youth who cope inappropriately with their anger are at greater risk for problem-ridden interpersonal relationships. Their health is also at risk; those who cope poorly with anger tend to have more negative outcomes when it comes to both mental and general health. This highlights the fact that anger management is an important skill to learn early.
These are just a few of the many studies linking anger to physical and emotional health problems, from the obvious to the unexpected. Because poorly managed anger presents such a significant problem in so many areas of life, it’s important to take steps toward learning and using healthy anger management techniques in daily life, along with stress management techniques.
Managing, Rather Than Ignoring, Anger
Anger should be managed rather than stifled or ignored because it can provide us with information about what we want, what we don't want, and what we need to do next. When seen as a signal to listen to rather than an emotion to ignore or be ashamed of, anger can be a useful tool.
Listening to anger as a signal does not, however, mean believing and acting on every angry thought we have or urge we have when enraged, obviously. Uncontrolled anger can lead to greater problems than the issues that triggered the anger in the first place. It is simply important to pay attention to feelings of anger when they are mild, evaluate where they are coming from, and decide in a rational manner the best course of action to take to manage the anger and the situation that triggered the anger. This can be easier said than done, however. Here are some things to remember when managing anger.
Calm your body.
When our anger is triggered, it can be easy to react in a way that makes things worse, whether that means saying things we'll regret or taking rash actions that may not take into account all aspects of a situation. It's better to respond from a place of calm than to react from a place of rage. This is why calming your body and mind is a valuable first step in managing anger, if possible. Many techniques that are used for stress management can help here, such as breathing exercises, quick exercise, or even shifting your focus for a few minutes to gain distance from the triggering event (which is why counting to ten has been recommended over the years as a first step before reacting when angry). Here are some ways to physically and emotionally relax quickly.
Identify the cause of your anger.
Oftentimes we immediately know what has made us angry, but not always. When we feel angry, sometimes we're angry with something else and the target we've identified is safer than the one that's really made us angry (like when we're upset with someone who could hurt us, so we take the anger out on someone who is less threatening). Sometimes there are many things that have built up, and the trigger of our anger is simply the final straw that broke the proverbial camel's back. And sometimes the triggering event has simply hit on some deeper unresolved anger that we've been harboring; this is often the case when our response seems disproportionate to the triggering event, particularly when other stresses and triggers aren't obviously involved.
To help identify the cause of your anger, it can be helpful to write about your feelings in a journal until you feel clearer, talk to a close friend about your feelings and let them help you process your thoughts, or enlist the help of a good therapist. (You can also try a combination of all three!) These activities can help with stress management, too, so it's a double-win.
Decide on a course of action.
Again, you can enlist the support of a journal, friend, or therapist with this one. Stress management techniques can also come in handy here as well. Techniques that help shift perspective, like cognitive reframing, can help you look at things differently and possibly see something that makes you less angry with the situation, or see solutions that you may not have seen initially. Looking for other people's perspectives can also be useful in both providing ideas for other actions to take, and alternate points of view to see the situation differently, perhaps in a way that feels less frustrating. Additionally, using resilience-building stress management techniques can help you to build emotional resilience that may help with anger as well.
Know when to seek support.
Some people have chronic issues with anger, and some people may find themselves in a specific situation that triggers overwhelming feelings. If you feel that you could use more support with anger management, discussing your thoughts and feelings with a therapist can be extremely helpful, not only in addressing specific issues that trigger anger but in creating a plan to manage anger and stress in a healthy way in the future. If you feel you need additional support in managing anger, don't be afraid to seek this support.
The following articles can offer further support with anger management.
- Anger Management
- Do's and Don'ts of Dealing With Anger
- Anger Management Techniques For Those With PTSD
- Helping Children Manage Anger
Carrére S, Mittmann A, Woodin E, Tabares A, Yoshimoto D. Anger dysregulation, depressive symptoms, and health in married women and men.Nursing Research, May-June 2005.
Gouin JP, Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Malarkey WB, Glaser R. The influence of anger expression on wound healing.Brain, Behavior and Immunity December 8, 2007.
Anger expression in children and adolescents: A review of the empirical literature. Kerr MA, Schneider BH. Anger expression in children and adolescents: A review of the empirical literature. . Clinical Psychology Review, August 9, 2007.
Kubzansky LD, Sparrow D, Jackson B, Cohen S, Weiss ST, Wright RJ. Angry breathing: A prospective study of hostility and lung function in the Normative Aging Study. Thorax, October 2006.