Anger and your health
Anger is a normal, healthy emotion. But managing anger can be a problem for many people who find it difficult to keep their anger under control.
Health issues linked to unresolved anger include high blood pressure, heart attack, depression, anxiety, colds, flu and problems with digestion.
But anger doesn’t have to be a problem. “You can control your anger, and you have a responsibility to do so,” says clinical psychologist Isabel Clarke, a specialist in anger management. “It can feel intimidating, but it can be energising too.”
Dealing with anger
“Everyone has a physical reaction to anger,” says Isabel. “Be aware of what your body is telling you, and take steps to calm yourself down.”
Recognise your anger signs
Your heart beats faster and you breathe more quickly, preparing you for action. You might also notice other signs, such as tension in your shoulders or clenching your fists. "If you notice these signs, get out of the situation if you’ve got a history of losing control,” says Isabel.
Count to 10
Counting to 10 gives you time to cool down so you can think more clearly and overcome the impulse to lash out.
Breathe out for longer than you breathe in, and relax as you breathe out. “You automatically breathe in more than out when you’re feeling angry, and the trick is to breathe out more than in,” says Isabel. “This will calm you down effectively and help you think more clearly.”
Managing anger in the long term
Once you're able to recognise the signs that you’re getting angry and can calm yourself down, you can start looking at ways to control your anger more generally.
Exercise can help with anger
Bring down your general stress levels with exercise and relaxation. Running, walking, swimming, yoga and meditation are just a few of the activities that can help reduce stress. "Exercise as part of your daily life is a good way to get rid of irritation and anger,” says Isabel.
Looking after yourself may keep you calm
Make time to relax regularly, and ensure that you get enough sleep. Drugs and alcohol can make anger problems worse. “They lower inhibitions, and actually we need inhibitions to stop us acting unacceptably when we’re angry,” says Isabel.
Get creative to get on top of your emotions
Writing, making music, dancing or painting can release tension and help reduce feelings of anger.
Talk about how you feel
Discussing your feelings with a friend can be useful, and can help you get a different perspective on the situation.
Look at the way you think
“Try to let go of any unhelpful ways of thinking,” says Isabel. “Thoughts such as ‘It’s not fair,’ or ‘People like that shouldn’t be on the roads,’ can make anger worse.”
Thinking like this will keep you focused on whatever it is that’s making you angry. Let these thoughts go and it will be easier to calm down.
Try to avoid using phrases that include:
- always (for example, "You always do that.")
- never ("You never listen to me.")
- should or shouldn't ("You should do what I want," or "You shouldn't be on the roads.")
- must or mustn't ("I must be on time," or "I mustn't be late.")
- ought or oughtn't ("People ought to get out of my way.")
- not fair
Getting help with anger
If you feel you need help dealing with your anger, see your GP. There might be local anger management courses or counselling that could help you.
There are private courses and therapists who can help with anger issues. Make sure any therapist you see is registered with a professional organisation, such as the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.
Anger management programmes
A typical anger management programme may involve one-to-one counselling and working in a small group. The programmes can consist of a one-day or weekend course. In some cases, it may be over a couple of months.
The structure of the programmes can differ depending on who is providing it, but most programmes include CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) as well as counselling.
Domestic violence and anger
If uncontrolled anger leads to domestic violence (violence or threatening behaviour within the home), there are places that offer help and support. You can talk to your GP or contact domestic violence organisations such as Refuge, Women's Aid or the Alternatives to Violence Project.
Men of any age can be victims of domestic violence or abuse, in heterosexual or same-sex relationships. Help and support is available from Men's Advice Line on 0808 801 0327 or Mankind on 01823 334 244.
Anyone who needs confidential help with their own abusive behaviour can contact Respect on their free helpline: 0808 802 4040.
Read more about getting help for domestic abuse.