How To Understand And Manage A Short Temper

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated February 27, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

While most people experience anger from time to time, some may default to this emotion more quickly, easily, or frequently than others—colloquially referred to as having a “short temper.” Individuals with a short temper may find that their anger often leads to interpersonal conflict or even mental and physical health concerns. That’s why it may be worthwhile for them to look into effective, healthy ways to manage this strong emotion. We’ll outline potential causes of a short temper along with management strategies to try below.

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What causes a short temper?

Being quick to anger can be the result of a variety of influences, often in combination with each other. First, a person’s upbringing can be a factor. Remember that one of the key ways in which children learn is by observing others. That means that those who grew up in households where they regularly witnessed their parents, siblings, and/or other caregivers routinely and easily react to situations with anger may have internalized this as a valid response to most or all situations. If this tendency is not consciously recognized and shifted, the individual may carry it into adulthood.

Next, note that anger is often a secondary emotion that results from another underlying feeling, such as sadness, uncertainty, fear, frustration, or confusion. As humans, we sometimes struggle to process intense primary emotions like these and may instead use quick anger as a coping mechanism. Plus, the experience of intense and/or chronic stress added in can make things even worse. For example, consider someone who works at a high-stress job. They may be quick to anger because they’re afraid of failure, are worried about job tenure or finances, or even because they’re facing frustration or fear related to their home life.

Finally, short tempers can also represent a symptom of any of several different mental health disorders, including but not limited to:

  • Intermittent explosive disorder (IED)
  • Certain anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Additionally, certain physical illnesses and neurological health conditions can also lead to anger, such as diabetes, dementia, and epilepsy. 

Tips for managing a short temper

Despite the complex psychology that’s often behind the manifestation of a short temper, it is possible to find healthy outlets and coping strategies for your strong emotions. The following are some helpful techniques for those who live with a short temper to consider.

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Identify causes and triggers

Figuring out what causes you to feel angry so easily or often is typically the first step in learning to manage this emotion. Keeping a journal can be useful to this end, as it can allow you to reflect on past situations where your anger flared so you can pinpoint exactly why. Digging as deeply as you can is often helpful in this exercise.

For example, if you got angry because you were stuck in traffic, see if you can figure out why that situation bothered you so much. Was it because you didn’t sleep well the night before and were more on edge in general? Because you fought with your partner that morning and were worried about your relationship? Because you were afraid of being late to work again and were concerned about your job being in jeopardy? Once you start to recognize the patterns or feelings that often lead to anger, you may be able to better manage your emotions when those situations arise in the future.

Maintain healthy habits

Our physical and mental health are closely connected, so maintaining a healthy lifestyle may help set you up for better emotional and mental health. For example, research suggests that exercise can help dissipate stress—a common cause of a short temper—and contribute to a sense of calm. In addition, other studies indicate that eating a nutritious diet may help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Finally, regularly getting enough sleep can help both your body and mind be better prepared to manage the day’s stressors and keep your emotions in check.

Learn relaxation exercises

One of the key physical symptoms of anger is tension. When you start to feel yourself getting worked up, you might notice that you’re clenching your jaw or fists and hunching your shoulders. You may notice your heart rate increase and your body temperature rise as your system prepares to face a threat. That’s why relaxation exercises can be useful—to reduce this tension before it can peak. To this end, you might try techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation, calming visualizations, or counting exercises, for example.

Seek out anger management support

Many people find anger management support resources to be helpful. Anger management classes are one option. While there are various kinds, most are centered around identifying sources of anger, finding constructive outlets, and reducing stress. Support groups related to anger management may also be useful for some individuals. They can offer a safe space to discuss anger-related challenges with others who have discussed experiences. Such support groups are often led by a trained facilitator or therapist who can guide discussions and share useful techniques and exercises as well.

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Connect with a therapist

Meeting with a therapist can be another useful tool for learning to manage anger. They can help you address the root of this strong emotion, whether it’s high stress levels, past trauma, or something else. If you’re also experiencing other symptoms of a mental health condition, they can address these as well. In addition, a therapist can offer you a variety of anger-management strategies that may help you gain better control over your reactions. They may utilize role-playing scenarios, teach you deep breathing exercises, or show you how to use cognitive reframing to adjust your perspective on triggering situations.

For some people, the process of finding and regularly commuting to a therapist’s office can cause additional stress. Making calls to find a provider and then sitting in traffic to and from each appointment can trigger anger or frustration or simply be inconvenient. In cases like these, online therapy can represent a viable alternative. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can speak with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of your own home, or anywhere you have a reliable internet connection. Research suggests that certain forms of online therapy can result in a significant reduction in anger in those experiencing problematic levels of this emotion, so this format may be worth exploring if it’s more convenient for you. 

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A short temper means that an individual is quick to respond with anger, especially at levels that are excessive and/or out of proportion to the situation. There can be a variety of causes, from upbringing to certain health conditions, but help is available. Identifying the triggers of your anger, learning relaxation exercises, and speaking with a licensed therapist can all be useful in assisting you in healthfully managing your anger.
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