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How to cope with anger


How to cope with anger

As human beings, we all experience moments of anger from time to time. In fact, it could be argued that getting angry is a good thing in certain situations.      For instance, it can help us to express our feelings truthfully and recognise when you – or someone you care about – are being mistreated. It can serve as a powerful motivator, spurring us into taking positive action to address the sources of our frustration.  
         
But, there’s a fine line between healthy anger expression and losing complete control of our emotions. When anger overwhelms you and starts to get out of control, it can affect the way you live, causing problems not just in your everyday life but also in your relationships and even having an impact on your mental and physical health. 
 

How common are anger problems?


Anger is something we all feel from time to time, but the prevalence of problematic anger may be higher than you think. The last major report on anger in the UK was published back in 2008 by the Mental Health Foundation (i), but despite its age the report reveals the extent of the issue (which may be even worse today). Some of the figures revealed by the report include:
 

  • 12 per cent said they have trouble controlling their anger

  • 28 per cent worried about how angry they felt sometimes

  • 32 per cent said they had a close friend or family member who had trouble controlling their anger

  • 64 per cent agreed that people in general were getting angrier

 
It’s no secret that many aspects of modern living can make us feel angry and frustrated. Most of us know only too well what it’s like to be in situations that make our blood boil, from being stuck in traffic to being made late for an appointment by public transport delays. Being treated badly or unfairly at work can often make us angry too, and we may even see red when other people are subjected to prejudice of any kind. In fact, the list of anger-inducing scenarios is endless, and some have even been given their own names, including 'road rage', 'call-centre rage', 'trolley rage' and 'net rage’.
 
According to a more recent report by the road safety charity Brake, road rage – which can have serious, even deadly, consequences – is one of these types of anger that’s particularly common these days. In their 2021 survey on driving behaviours, the charity found 90 per cent of drivers feel stressed or angry at least occasionally while driving, with 11 per cent feeling stressed or angry every time they get behind the wheel (ii).
 

What is anger?


As human beings, we experience many different emotional states, with anger considered to be a core emotion alongside happiness, anxiety, sadness and fear. Similar to stress, anger is thought to be linked to the body's natural 'fight or flight' response to a perceived threat.

This means that when something makes you angry, your adrenal glands flood your body with adrenalin, cortisol and other stress hormones. This can cause a range of physical symptoms such as increased heart and breathing rate, sweating and raised blood pressure, all making you feel incredibly tense. 
 

How anger affects the body


When anger is short lived it’s usually seen as a normal healthy emotion, the physical symptoms usually being short lived too. But when you feel angry all the time and you fail to manage it effectively it can keep those stress hormone levels persistently high. This can have a negative effect on your wellbeing, causing a range of health issues including:
 

 

Causes of anger


There are many things that can trigger anger, with some of the most common things that get us all riled up including:
 

  • Being treated unfairly

  • Feeling helpless when something goes wrong

  • Having your feelings or possessions disrespected

  • Being attacked or threatened

  • Being interrupted when you’re trying to achieve something

  • Having problems with a relationship

  • Feeling frustrated when things seem to always go wrong 

 

Physical reactions to anger


Although anger can become out of control when we’re overwhelmed by it, how we react to it can also depend on how we’ve learned to cope with it in the past. For example, in extreme cases, someone may have learned for whatever reason that violence is the best way to deal with anger. This may help explain why one person can get very angry and aggressive in a situation they perceive as stressful, while someone else may seem utterly unfazed by it.

When you have a problem with anger it can also affect you and the way you behave in different ways too:

  • You may feel stressed or physically and/or emotionally tired

  • You may lose your temper very quickly or disproportionately

  • You may take your anger out on the wrong person

  • You may become verbally or physically aggressive

  • You may start to feel physically or mentally unwell


As well as our individual reactions to stress, there are several factors that can make anger management more challenging some individuals compared to others. For instance, people who drink alcohol to excess or take recreational drugs may be more susceptible to problem anger because drinking and taking drugs can lower their inhibitions. Some mood-affecting factors can also make anger worse, including fluctuating hormones, stress, depression and anxiety. We may also be more susceptible to problem anger when we’re tired, or physically or mentally ill.
 

How to tell if you have anger issues


According to the NHS it’s not always easy to recognise when anger is the reason behind behaviour changes such as shouting, starting arguments or fights, breaking things, being aggressive and intimidating or even self-harming (iii). However, you may be able to pick up on the physical signs – the result of stress hormones being released in your body. These symptoms include: a pounding heart, tense muscles, sweating and feeling hot, trembling, shivering, tightness in your chest, tensing your muscles (clenching your fists, for example) and nausea.
 

  • Emotional symptoms, on the other hand, may include:

  • Feeling tense and restless, unable to relax 

  • Having a short fuse (losing your temper quickly or being easily irritated)

  • Feeling humiliated

  • Blaming or resenting other people

 
Meanwhile, Patient UK recommends that if you’re still not sure whether your anger is a problem or not, ask yourself the following questions – the answers may help you recognise whether you need help with controlling how you feel (iv):
 

  • Is your anger disproportionate to the situation?

  • How quickly do you get angry?

  • How long to you feel angry for? 

  • Has anyone said to you that they’re worried about your anger? 

  • Do people feel afraid of you when you get angry? 

  • Are you trying to suppress your anger or avoid it? 

  • Do you often get angry or upset about your thoughts and feelings? 

  • Do you use alcohol or recreational drugs to suppress your anger? 

  • Do you self-harm as a way of masking your anger? 

  • Do you often find yourself getting irritable? 

  • Do you get violent when you’re angry? 

 

How to control anger 


In the Mental Health Foundation’s 2008 report on anger, 58 per cent of people said they wouldn’t know where to go or who to speak to if they needed help with an anger problem (i) – and it’s likely the situation isn’t any better today. However if you feel like you do need professional help to deal with your anger, the first step – as with any mental health problem – should be your GP. If they feel you do need help your GP may be able to refer you to a counsellor or to an anger management programme if one is available in your area.
 
During talking therapies or counselling,  you’ll work with counsellor or a psychotherapist who can help you discover what’s at the root of your problem anger and discuss ways of managing it. One of the therapies you may be offered is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which looks at how your thoughts, feelings and behaviours are linked and how you can change them.
 
If you opt for  an anger management programme, this may also involve counselling, often through both individual and group sessions. You may need to attend a one-day or weekend course, or your programme may last longer, over several months for example. As well as counselling, an anger management programme may also include CBT sessions.
 
Meanwhile if you live in England you can access a talking therapies service to help with stress, anxiety or depression without going through your GP – find out how by visiting nhs.uk.
 

Anger management at home 


There are also several things you can do on your own to manage your anger more efficiently, including the following:
 

  • Realise what makes you angry. Start writing down things that annoy you and make you lose your temper, and describe how you feel at the time. This may allow you to recognise your anger triggers, which can often be helpful because you can plant better ways of dealing with them. 

  • Relax and count to 10. Taking things more slowly can help to reduce any feelings of frustration you may be experiencing. If that doesn't help, step away from whatever is frustrating you.

 
Learning to relax more in general may also be helpful – try practising some breathing exercises you can use to feel less frustrated in certain situations, for example, or consider learning meditation, mindfulness or yoga. The more you use these relaxing techniques, the easier it will be for you to use them when you need them.
 

  • Walk it off. Exercise can help relieve feelings of anger by reducing stress hormone levels and boosting your production of feel-good hormones, so go for a brisk walk or a run when you feel your temper rising. Indeed any type of physical activity can be useful, especially if you get active regularly – try taking up a sport or join your local gym (it will also help make you feel fitter and boost your sense of wellbeing).

  • Put on some soothing music. It’s widely thought that listening to music can change your mood. However avoid listening to anything too stimulating, which could make you feel more agitated.

  • Learn to manage your stress levels. Stress and anger are often closely linked, but there are lots of things you can do to make yourself more stress-resistant – read our guide to stress symptoms and signs or get more tips from our guide on using mindfulness to manage stress

  • Change the way you think about things – for instance, try to resist thoughts like, it’s not fair, as they aren’t helpful. Avoid using words such as always, never, should, shouldn’t, must and mustn’t. If you can let words and thoughts like these go, there’s a good chance you won’t feel so angry for so long.

  • Ask yourself, what would someone who epitomises calm do whenever you’re in a situation that might make you feel angry. Then try and take the advice you come up with.

  • If it’s possible, remove yourself from the situation if you feel you’re about to boil over. Then try doing something that distracts you from what happened.

  • Try being more assertive instead of shouting and threatening. Explain slowly and in a calm, non-confrontational way exactly why you’re feeling angry, and make requests instead of demands and threats.

  • Try using an app to help get your anger under control. Examples of free apps you can download to your phone include BetterHelp, Calm, AIMS, What’s UP? and Breathe2Relax (all are available from the App Store for iphones and the Google Play store for Android phones).

 

Natural ways to feel calmer


Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is key, as the types of food you consume can significantly impact your mood. Try to base your diet on whole foods, including slow-release carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar levels steady, and plenty of fruit and vegetables (at least five portions a day). Including some protein with each meal and a small amount of healthy fats can also help to regulate your mood. It’s important to limit your caffeine and sugar intake, as too much of either can make you feel irritable once the initial effects have worn off.
 
As well as eating healthily, you may want to consider trying a nutritional or herbal supplement – for instance, one that may help you deal with stress more effectively and feel generally calmer. Some of the supplements you could try include:
 

Ashwagandha

A shwagandha is a traditional Ayurvedic herb, often used to help with stress, with one small-scale study suggesting it may reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol (v). Another study found 88 per cent of trial participants who took ashwagandha felt less anxious (vi). Some researchers believe ashwagandha may be useful for reducing stress because it moderates interaction between the hypothalamus – a small region in the brain – and the pituitary and adrenal glands (also known as the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis) (vii). The HPA axis is thought to play a key role in the body’s response to stress.
 

Rhodiola

A herb used traditionally throughout Europe for stress relief, rhodiola has roots that contain many active ingredients including rosavin and salidroside. There is some evidence it may help reduce stress more effectively than a placebo (viii), with some researchers suggesting rhodiola may treat stress symptoms comprehensively as well as prevent chronic stress and stress-related complications (ix). If you want to try rhodiola, look for a supplement that guarantees a potent level of rosavins (3%).
 

Magnesium

If you struggle to deal with stress, it’s possible you may be low in magnesium. One study has found people experiencing both mental and physical stress could benefit from taking a daily magnesium supplement, as it may help relieve symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, lack of concentration, sleep problems and depression (x). Try topping up your magnesium levels with a good-quality supplement – choose a form of magnesium that’s more easily absorbed by the body, such as magnesium citrate.
 

5-HTP

If you’re experiencing low mood and/or anxiety as a result of having anger problems, 5-hydroxytryptophan – 5-HTP for short – may be worth considering as a supplement. It’s a natural compound that’s converted in the brain to serotonin, a chemical that’s boosted by some conventional antidepressant medicines. Indeed, some studies suggest 5-HTP may be as effective as conventional antidepressants (xi). There’s also some evidence 5-HTP may help relieve the symptoms of anxiety disorders (xii).
 

B vitamins

B vitamins are not only important for your general health, but they may also be useful for managing stress. For instance, one review of clinical trials found B vitamins may have mood-improving benefits for both healthy people and those who have a high risk for problems caused by stress (xiii). You can take individual B vitamin supplements, but a good-quality B complex formulation may be more convenient and will usually provide all the Bs you need.
 

Lemon balm

If you ask a herbal therapist to recommend a remedy to help with relaxation, one of the things they may suggest is tea made with the herb lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). There is, in fact, some evidence lemon balm could help you feel more calm (xiv), though the studies to date have involved only a small number of participants and larger-scale studies are needed. Besides drinking lemon balm tea you can also take the herb in supplement form.
 

Theanine

A non-protein amino acid, theanine is thought to help your brain produce calming alpha waves and is found almost exclusively in green, black, oolong and pekoe tea. Studies suggest taking a theanine supplement may help you feel more relaxed without making you drowsy (xv), which may be helpful since many conventional medicines that make you less tense can make you feel sleepy too. Researchers have also discovered theanine may help you feel calm when faced with a stressful situation by slowing down your heart rate (xvi).
 

Valerian

This well-known herb has a history of traditional use for the temporary relief of mild anxiety as well as sleep problems – which some people with problem anger can experience. Indeed, studies suggest it may well be helpful if you’re not getting much good-quality sleep (xvii).
 

Need more info?

If you need more information and advice about the support you can get for an anger problem, including details of anger management courses, the following organisations and charities may be able to help:
 
British Association of Anger Management
 
Supportline (01708 765200)
 
YoungMinds (for young people and their parents)

 
Meanwhile our pharmacy health library has a mental health section that provides information on a range of mental health issues.
 
 

References

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  4. Available online: https://patient.info/news-and-features/do-you-have-an-anger-problem

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Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.

 
 
 
Our Author - Christine Morgan

Christine

Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.

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