Anger is a common emotion that can help individuals relieve stress, motivate them to solve problems and can provide a way through healthy expression for people to discuss their negative feelings.
It is normal to experience anger, and at times, anger is the appropriate response to the actions of others. When managed correctly and kept in check, anger can be an important ally to a healthy adult. But anger has risks, perhaps more than any other emotion, as it can alienate people from others and lead individuals to do things they later regret.
Anger may also arise, not due to a present situation, but because the present situation reminds one unconsciously of a past experience. It can also be a habitual defense against feelings of sadness or fear. Individuals who find they are experiencing lasting, extreme anger may find it helpful to explore its causes with an anger management therapist.
While news reports often focus on the damaging effects of anger, anger does not always lead to negative consequences or behavior. Anger is an emotion and experiencing it is normal. Managing reactions to anger can decrease the likelihood that it will become a problem.
Anger also sometimes serves as a mask for other emotions that an individual may be less comfortable with. Some people experience anger when they are fearful, sad, or lonely, and manifesting these emotions in the form of anger instead may work as a protective mechanism to avoid feelings that may be more uncomfortable than anger. However, anger can hide the actual issue that an individual may need to work through, particularly in individuals who have difficulty expressing emotion, who have been taught to refrain from emotional outbursts, or who believe that the expression of a particular emotion, such as fear or sadness, is unacceptable.
Some people feel that letting their anger out by screaming or yelling at someone else helps them feel better. But angry outbursts can become a habit, and they often tend to cause more anger, not less. Moreover, the way other people react to anger can fuel an individual’s stress and may lead to increased anger.
When Anger Becomes a Problem
A powerful emotion that can influence people’s thought patterns and behavior choices, anger can contribute to aggression and violence, intentional or unintentional acts of self-harm, and social or legal problems. Anger can also be a sign of psychological conditions such as major depression or bipolar. Drugs and alcohol may help mask anger temporarily, but they may also have the effect of worsening one’s anger, as drugs and alcohol can reduce self-control and tend to increase impulsivity.
If an individual has an anger problem, he or she may be aware of it but not know what to do. That individual may also not be aware of his or her anger; the nature of anger may lead those experiencing extreme anger to deny they have any responsibility for the problems to which they contribute.
Potential signs of anger issues include:
Persistent feelings of frustration toward oneself or others.
An inability to enjoy life or the company of others.
A hot temper or a tendency to yell or argue with others.
Physical signs such as headaches, rapid breathing, or a pounding heart.
Because frequent anger can become intolerable for some and may come to affect daily actions and relationships negatively, an individual experiencing intense, frequent anger may wish to take steps to reduce it. Therapy can help people learn to manage their emotions, but an individual can also take steps independently to control both emotions and their behavioral effects. These steps include:
Meditation and mindfulness, contemplating why one feels a certain way.
Consider that anger might be masking another emotion.
Talking to a loved one about one’s feelings.
Writing in a journal.
Using physical activity, such as running or bicycling, as an outlet for anger.
Taking time each day to do something enjoyable.
Finding techniques, such as time management and advanced planning, that may help reduce stress before it becomes intolerable.