Anger & Anger Management
Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler get tons of laughs when they square off in the movie Anger Management. The joke continues when Adam Sandler channels his eruptive power to drive a golf ball a million miles in another movie Happy Gilmore. Although these films depict anger in a light-hearted way, without proper control it can be anything but that and lead to serious conditions, both physically and emotionally. Read on for methods to confront anger and control that powerful force.
What is Anger?
Anger is a very powerful basic human emotion that can stem from feelings of frustration, hurt, annoyance or disappointment. It is a normal human emotion that can range from slight irritation to strong rage. Feelings like anger are influenced by emotional make-up, views of the world, what happens around a person and the person’s circumstances. For instance, if we feel we have been wronged, we feel angry.[1,2]
Types of Anger
There are different forms of anger, including the following: 
Some people are constantly angry, resent life and other people in general and consequently have a defensive approach to the world. This response causes stress and can lead to health problems, such as headaches, ulcers and heart disease.
Explosive or Volatile Anger
When people express their anger in violent ways, the result can be explosive and intense. This behavior may cause verbal or physical harm to others and to oneself by breaking valued objects, or acting out in an embarrassing way, for example.
People who are afraid to express any form of anger, tend to keep their anger and resentment bottled up. This type of avoidance anger results in increased tension and a failure to resolve the situation.
Passive Aggressive Anger
Some people display their anger in non-direct ways, such as through sarcasm, avoidance, arriving late or ignoring, and may experience a sense of revenge. These approaches do not directly resolve or confront the problem. This can be one of the most difficult types of anger to control or even identify.
How does Anger Affect the Mind and Body?
Anger gets the mind and body ready for action. It arouses the nervous system, increasing the heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow to muscles, blood sugar level and sweating. It also sharpens the senses and increases the production of the hormone adrenalin.
While physical changes are taking place, so is the way we think. When a threat arises, anger helps us quickly translate complex information into simple terms like ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ This can be helpful in making quick decisions during an emergency, but it can also cause us to act without rationalizing a situation. When anger interferes with rational thinking, we may act aggressively, propelled by the instinct to survive or protect someone from a threat.
Signs & Symptoms of Anger
Although it’s easy to identify someone as angry who is cursing and throwing things, there are many forms of anger. Irritability and grumpiness are good signs of anger, as are withdrawing socially, sulking, or getting physically ill. When you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. People who have a problem with anger, mostly likely already know it. If they act in ways that seem out of control and frightening, they might need help finding better ways to deal with their emotion. People often express their anger verbally and may do so in the following ways:
- Using dramatic words
- Bombarding someone with hostile questions
- Exaggerating the impact on them of someone else’s action
Causes of Anger
Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats caused by both external and internal events. Examples of external triggers are a coworker’s behavior, a traffic jam, or the neighbor’s loud stereo. Internal examples include worrying or brooding about personal problems, as well as memories of traumatic or enraging events. Research has also found that family background plays a role. Typically, people who are easily angered come from families that are disruptive, chaotic, and not skilled at emotional communications. Reasons for getting angry include the following:
- Facing a threat to ourselves or our loved ones
- Being verbally or physically assaulted
- Suffering a blow to our self-esteem or our place within a social group
- Being interrupted when pursuing a goal
- Losing out when money is at stake
- Someone going against a principle that we consider important
- Being treated unfairly and feeling powerless to change this
- Feeling disappointed by someone else or in ourselves
- Having our property mistreated
Effects of Anger
Some research suggests that inappropriately expressing anger can be harmful to your health. Reactions, such as keeping anger pent up, seething with rage or having violent outbursts, could lead to unwanted effects, both emotionally and physically. Long term and intense anger has been linked with mental health problems including depression, anxiety and self-harm. People with a long term anger problem tend to be poor at making decisions, take more risks than other people and are more likely to have a substance misuse problem. Further, such responses might aggravate chronic pain or lead to sleep difficulties or digestive problems. There’s even some evidence that stress and hostility related to anger can lead to colds, flu, cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease and heart attack.[5,2]
What is Anger Management?
Anger management is a process of learning to recognize signs that you’re becoming angry, and taking action to calm down and deal with the situation in a positive way. Anger management is about learning how to express your anger and emotions appropriately.
Treatments for Anger
If you find yourself losing control to anger, you might explore local anger management classes or anger management counseling. With professional help, you can:
- Learn what anger is
- Identify what triggers your anger
- Recognize signs that you’re becoming angry
- Learn to respond to frustration and anger in a controlled, healthy way
- Explore underlying feelings, such as sadness or depression
Anger management classes and counseling can be done individually, with a partner or other family members, or in a group. Doctors can provide referrals to a counselor specializing in anger management or asking family members, friends or other contacts for recommendations is another way to get in touch with a trusted counselor. Health insurer, employee assistance program (EAP), clergy, or state or local agencies also might offer recommendations.
Techniques to Control Your Anger
Controlling anger can be a challenge for all of us. The good news is that there are many techniques you can employ to get a handle on the situation. When anger strikes, consider the following 10 anger management tips.
Take a timeout
Defuse your temper by slowing down. Before you react, take a moment or two to breathe deeply and count to 10. If necessary, step away from the person or situation until your frustration subsides.
Once you’re calm, express your anger
With a cool head and calmed emotions, state your concerns and needs clearly and directly, but in a non-confrontational way. Don’t try to control the other party or hurt them.
Get some exercise
As your anger builds, but before it erupts, take a brisk walk, a healthy run or engage in some other favorite physical activity. Stimulating your brain chemicals can leave you feeling happier and more relaxed than you were before you worked out.
Think before you speak
Before you say something you’ll soon regret, hold off for just a few moments, collect your thoughts and allow others involved in the situation to do the same.
Identify possible solutions
It’s natural to focus on what made you mad or upset. Instead, assess the situation and remind yourself that anger isn’t the answer and won’t lead to a solution. In fact, it might make matters worse. So next time your kid’s messy room drives you crazy, close the door. If your partner is late for dinner every night, then set your meals later in the evening or eat on your own a few times a week.
Stick with ‘I’ statements
Criticizing and placing the blame on others might only increase the tension. Instead, use specific “I” statements to describe the problem in a respectful way. For example, say, “I’m upset that you didn’t take out the garbage this morning,” instead of, “You never take out the garbage when it’s full.”
Don’t hold a grudge
Forgive. Don’t let anger and other negative feelings crowd out the positive ones. Avoid being swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice. If you can forgive someone who angered you, you both might learn from the situation. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to behave exactly as you want at all times.
Use humor to release tension
Lightening up the situation can help diffuse tension. However, avoid using sarcasm as it can hurt feelings and make matters worse.
Practice relaxation skills
Exercise those relaxation techniques when your temper flares. Practice deep-breathing exercises, imagine a relaxing scene, or repeat a calming word or phrase, such as, “Take it easy.” You might also listen to music, write in a journal or do a few yoga poses – whatever it takes to encourage relaxation.
Know when to seek help
Controlling anger is challenging to everyone at times. Consider seeking help for anger issues if your anger seems out of control, causes you to do things you regret or hurts those around you. You might explore local anger management classes or anger management counseling.
- WebMD. Men and Anger Management. Retrieved May 3, 2013, from http://men.webmd.com/guide/anger-management.
- Mental Health Foundation. Anger. Retrieved May 8, 2013 from http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-a-z/A/anger/.
- University of Louisville. The Counseling Center: When is it a Problem? / Common Types of Anger. Retrieve May 8, 2013, from http://louisville.edu/counseling/topics/anger.html/when.html.
- American Psychological Association. What is Anger? Retrieved May 3, 2013, from http://www.apa.org/topics/anger/control.aspx?item=2.
- Mayo Clinic. Anger management: Your questions answered. Retrieved April 30, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/anger-management/MH00075/NSECTIONGROUP=2.
- Mayo Clinic. Anger Management Definition. Retrieved April 30, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/anger-management/MY00689.
- Mayo Clinic. Anger management: 10 tips to tame your temper. Retrieved April 30, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/anger-management/MH00102.
By C. J. Newton, MA, Counseling.info Editor