Where Does Anger Come From, And How Can You Manage It?

Updated January 22, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Anger is a normal, healthy emotion that can even be helpful in some cases. It can become a problem, though, when we don’t have a healthy outlet for it or when we experience it in excess. Becoming aware of what’s causing you to be angry is typically the first step toward learning how to handle it. Read on to learn about potential sources of anger, plus techniques to help you respond to it in a more constructive way. 

Anger Can Be A Complicated Emotion

Defining The Feeling Of Anger

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anger as “an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong”. Although anger is often perceived as being a negative thing, it can be neutral or even beneficial when appropriately channeled. In fact, anger has even been shown to enhance creativity. 

However, anger can be uncomfortable, emotionally trying, and even destructive or harmful if it isn’t expressed in a healthy way. In some cases, excessive anger can lead or be related to mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and intermittent explosive disorder. It can also produce additional symptoms that may include headaches, high blood pressure, difficulty focusing, an increase in body temperature, and more. Anger may also contribute to struggles with maintaining an active social life, a successful career, or a healthy family dynamic. To avoid or reduce these negative effects, it can help to understand why anger develops in the first place. 

Potential Sources Of Anger

In some cases, anger is a temporary response to a challenge or difficulty. In others, though, it can become a frequent, severe occurrence that hinders your ability to live a fulfilling life. Suppose you’re having trouble managing problematic anger. In that case, you may be experiencing an underlying health condition, a primary emotion that’s leading to the anger, or certain external factors that need to be addressed.

Mental Or Physical Health Conditions

Excessive anger can be a characteristic of certain mental health conditions. Those with intermittent explosive disorder (IED), for instance, may experience frequent outsized anger responses that are often short but severe. Additionally, anger is a primary symptom of other conditions including disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, borderline personality disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and bipolar disorder. There are also several other mental health conditions or contexts—chronic stress, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.—in which anger is a less prominent (though still potentially problematic) symptom.  

Physical health conditions or neurological disorders could also be at the core of unhealthy anger. Illnesses that cause physiological arousal, such as hypertension, have been shown to produce an anger response. There is also evidence of links between anger and diabetes, strokes, and epilepsy, for example.

Primary Emotions

Sometimes, anger is the result of a different underlying emotion—known as a primary emotion. A classic example of this often occurs during the stages of grief. While we might first experience sadness due to the loss of a loved one, for example, we also may feel angry—with ourselves, others, or even the person who passed away. Because anger can be a more immediate and powerful emotion, it may obscure the true, primary emotion. In this example, working to address that first emotion—whether it be sadness, guilt, or something else—could help alleviate both the sadness and the anger.

Responding to difficult or uncomfortable feelings with anger can prevent you from working through those primary emotions, which means they’re unlikely to resolve. It can also lead to unhealthy expressions of anger. If you find yourself experiencing unmanaged anger, try thinking back on the events that led up to you feeling this way. You may realize that you were first anxious, fearful, lonely, or embarrassed, and that your anger is actually a misplaced emotion.

External Factors

Life challenges can also produce stress, depression, and other mental health-related concerns that may lead to anger. Circumstances like financial stress, career trouble, or relationship conflict may trigger frequent angry feelings, for example. 

Additionally, an individual’s upbringing frequently plays a part in unhealthy expressions of anger later in life. Those who were raised in a home where one or both parents responded to stressors with unhealthy anger are likely to have learned to respond in the same manner. 

Tips For Managing Anger In A Healthy Way

Understanding the source of your anger can be an important first step toward managing it. If you’re having trouble expressing anger in healthy ways, there are several proven anger management strategies that you can try.

Remove Yourself From The Situation

Sometimes, putting some distance between yourself and the source of your feelings can prevent them from worsening. Removing yourself from an angry situation can also give you time to de-stress and bring yourself back to balance. If you’re having an argument with a partner, for example, you might ask if you can go to separate rooms for a bit or take a walk on your own. If you’re experiencing anger while driving, you could consider safely pulling off the road to take some deep breaths. Once you can identify the source of your anger, temporarily removing yourself from that situation may give you the time and space to calm down and reset.

Exercise

Getting physical activity is a proven method of reducing stress and channeling anger into something healthy. Exercise helps increase the production of mood-boosting endorphins, and research shows that it’s positively correlated with emotions that may counteract anger. Consider running, biking, joining a gym, or creating an at-home exercise routine that can provide you with consistent benefits in terms of managing your anger and improving your overall mental and physical health.

Anger Can Be A Complicated Emotion

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that involves learning to bring your attention to your feelings, thoughts, and surroundings. By building skills in this area, you can become more aware of emotions like anger as they begin to arise, which can give you a better chance of managing them appropriately before they escalate. For instance, one study found that mindfulness may correlate with a decrease in rumination which can lead to a decrease in aggression, and another concluded that mindfulness “is likely to be an effective intervention for the reduction of anger and aggressive driving”.

Participate In Support Groups

Speaking with others who have experienced similar challenges managing anger may help you learn new coping strategies and benefit from different perspectives regarding anger management. You can participate in anger management support groups online or in person. Depending on where you live, there may also be local organizations that provide free classes or meetups to teach anger management skills. You could also take advantage of online courses that allow you to learn anger management techniques on your own time.  

Speak With A Therapist

Sometimes, getting to the root of your feelings of anger and learning healthy coping mechanisms for these feelings can be difficult. That’s why some people in this situation may turn to the support of a therapist. They can work with you to analyze situations where you felt angry to figure out why you reacted the way you did, including devising a treatment plan if they feel your reactions may be linked to a mental health condition. They can also help you uncover strategies for managing this emotion in the future so that it doesn’t negatively impact your life, relationships, or well-being. Research has found that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), one of the most common types of talk therapy, can be effective for those having difficulty managing their anger. 

If you choose to seek the support of a therapist, the format you choose is typically up to you. Studies suggest that both in-person and online therapy sessions can offer similar benefits in most cases, so you can choose the one that feels right for you. If you’re interested in meeting with a trained professional from the comfort of your own home, looking into a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp is one option. You can get matched with a licensed provider who you can speak with via phone, video call, and/or online chat. 

Takeaway

If the frequency or intensity with which you experience anger is concerning you or causing problems in your life, there are strategies you can try to mitigate it. Uncovering the root of this emotion is one helpful tactic. If you’re looking for guidance in this process, a therapist may be able to help.

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