How To Control Anger So It Does Not Control You

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox
Updated February 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Free support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Anger can be a normal emotion, but it can also become a major issue for some people. Those who find it extremely difficult to manage their anger and who often have angry outbursts may be living with intermittent explosive disorder, or IED. It can be possible to manage anger by expressing it, temporarily suppressing it, or calming it. Meditation and exercise are two common methods that can be helpful for those who frequently experience anger. Online anger management therapy may be another effective tool for those who find it challenging to respond to their anger in a healthy way.

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Therapy can help you effectively manage anger

What is anger?

Anger is generally a state of emotion that can range from feeling mildly irritated to feeling furious or filled with rage. Just like other human emotions, with anger can come changes to your body, such as an increase in blood pressure, body temperature, and hormone levels like adrenaline and epinephrine. Anger may be caused by internal and external issues, such as an argument, a traffic jam, or bad memories. 

Expressing anger

Generally, it’s healthy to express our anger, and everyone can do this in different ways. Some talk things out, some go to the gym, and some may take time to themselves, for example. Some people, however, have extremely powerful feelings of anger that can lead to aggressive behaviors like yelling and hitting others. However, social norms, maintaining our relationships, common sense, and laws typically have limits on how we may show our response to anger.

While you may need to use restraint in how you express your anger for the well-being of yourself and others, it is usually best not to repress those feelings, or they may come out on their own in undesirable ways. Different people tend to show their anger in different ways, both unconsciously and consciously, but three common ways to cope with your anger can include calming it, suppressing it, and expressing it.

Calming your anger

You can calm your anger by controlling both your internal and external responses. You can use a variety of calming techniques to slow your breathing, decrease your heart rate, and relax your emotions until the feeling subsides. Talking to a therapist can help you learn techniques for calming your anger.

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Suppressing your anger

Suppressing your anger can be okay if you are able to redirect or convert it to something positive. You can learn to change your anger into something more constructive, such as exercise, by going for a jog or working out when you feel angry about something. Eventually, this may become a habit, and your body may know that it should be exercising when it feels anger, rather than turning it into something potentially harmful, such as arguing or fighting. However, it can be important not to keep your anger suppressed, because this generally does not resolve whatever is causing the anger. Suppression can lead to other problems, such as depression, anxiety, or hypertension. 

Expressing your anger

There can be healthy, non-aggressive ways to express your anger, which can include talking to someone, like a friend, family member, or therapist. You may turn to art, writing, or going for introspective walks, or you may join a support group to help you express and sort through your anger.

Are you too angry?

You may not be aware of anger management challenges. However, there may be several symptoms of anger management disorder to look out for, including:

  • Getting irritated easily
  • Calling people names
  • Being impatient with yourself and others
  • Quick temper (going from calm to angry quickly)
  • Blaming other people for your problems
  • Being sarcastic or passive-aggressive when not joking
  • Staying away from others when you get angry
  • Getting extremely mad over little things
  • Constantly criticizing others
  • Breaking things when you get mad
  • People are afraid of you
  • Being physically abusive* to other people or animals
  • Getting into fights often
  • Threatening people
  • Screaming or yelling at others
  • Feeling energized when angry
  • Feeling tingly when angry
  • Shaking or trembling when angry
  • Feeling thoughts racing
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Memory loss
  • Blocking out what happened
  • Pouting or brooding

*If you or a loved one is experiencing or witnessing any form of abuse, please know that help is available. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available anytime at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).


Understanding anger

Because anger can reveal itself in different ways, it may be difficult to know whether you have a problem unless you show your anger in an inappropriate way more than once. Some people are often angry and have trouble letting go of things that make them mad. They may constantly feel that people are out to get them or that they are the only ones who are right about anything. Other people may not get angry often, but when they do, they may explode.

No matter how it shows itself, uncontrolled anger can damage your emotional and physical health. It may also cause problems with work, relationships, and the law. Studies have shown that anger control issues may increase your chance of experiencing heart disease, digestive problems, and insomnia. In some cases, anger may cause risky behavior, such as substance misuse.

Intermittent explosive disorder

Those who experience several episodes of anger control outbursts may have a disorder called intermittent explosive disorder (IED). This disorder is thought to affect over 13 million American adults. Those with IED are usually not able to control their anger outbursts and may go from calm to explosive in seconds without warning. According to experts, this disorder may be hereditary or environmental.

Those who grew up in households with others who had intermittent explosive disorder or otherwise expressed their anger inappropriately tend to be more commonly affected by this disorder than those who did not. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-V), those with this disorder have usually had several episodes of aggressive or violent behavior when angry. There may be certain criteria for having intermittent explosive disorder, such as the following:

  • Having several different episodes of not being able to control aggressive or violent impulses
  • Episodes of damage to property or serious assaults on others
  • Aggression that is extreme and disproportionate to the situation
  • Anger episodes that are not caused by any other mental disorders, medical conditions, medications, or substance use

Some of the most common risk factors for developing intermittent explosive disorder can include:

  • Substance use disorder
  • Physical or mental trauma
  • Growing up with others with explosive behaviors
  • Sex (men are usually more likely to develop IED)
  • Exposure to violence when young
  • Some medical conditions, such as traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer's disease
  • Certain mental conditions, like conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
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Therapy can help you effectively manage anger

Everyone gets angry: Why am I so different?

People who are angered easily often have a low tolerance for feelings like annoyance, impatience, inconvenience, and frustration. They may seem to be constantly mad or grumpy and may be called hotheaded or short-tempered. They may yell often or call people names. Some people who have anger management issues may withdraw from others, stop talking to people, and sulk in social situations. Some experts believe that some children are born with this condition, but others believe that symptoms of IED are learned habits from growing up in a home with people who have anger issues. IED may also develop in people who were not taught how to cope with their anger in a healthy way.

How to manage your anger

There may be some ways to control your anger on your own. Some of these can include:

  • Learning relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga
  • Laughing at yourself 
  • Letting go of grudges
  • Not blaming others
  • Looking for solutions to your problems
  • Putting yourself in time-out
  • Exercising
  • Talking about your feelings
  • Thinking before you act
  • Knowing when to get help
  • Thinking before you speak

Outside options to control your anger

One thing you may do to control your anger is to work on meditation. When you feel anger building up, one of the first things that you should do, if possible, is find a place where you can sit quietly for a few minutes. You might try not to speak or react until you've had a chance to meditate for a couple of minutes and have regained control of your thoughts and feelings. You may also want to practice meditation daily, as it can calm you overall, rather than just in the moment. In fact, research shows that brief meditation can reduce anger.

Exercise has also been found helpful for anger issues. If you exercise when you feel angry, you can burn off excess energy and engage your brain in a different way that may distract it and help to process the anger. If you exercise daily, it can release endorphins and other feel-good hormones in your body that can reduce your chances of an angry outburst. 

Finally, you might try writing things down. It can be beneficial to keep a gratitude journal and write it in every day. If you take a few minutes to read through your gratitude journal in the morning or night, it may remind you of all the amazing things you have to be happy about. Writing daily may also help you focus on the positive things that happened throughout the day. This can give you some valuable perspective to reflect on when you are feeling angry.

Online anger management therapy

Anger management therapy may be one of the best ways to learn to control your anger issues. While some people like to talk to a therapist or counselor face-to-face, others find it much more convenient to use online anger management therapy. Research shows that 75% of people who receive treatment for anger management see improvements.

There are a number of recent studies showing that online therapy can be an effective form of treatment for those working through complex emotions related to anger. In this study, researchers evaluated the potential benefits of online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for those experiencing problematic or destructive anger. The results generally showed a significant decrease in anger levels after treatment. Untreated anger, as the researchers note, can lead to an increased incidence of negative intrapersonal conflicts, an increase in violence, and overall health problems. 

Takeaway

Anger can be a natural, normal emotion that can be useful. For example, anger can let us know when something has happened that needs to be addressed. However, when expressed in unhealthy ways, such as through shouting at others, throwing things, or suppressing the emotion until it explodes at inopportune moments, anger can negatively impact our lives in a variety of ways. Those who have trouble managing their anger may be living with a condition called intermittent explosive disorder, which can be treated through therapy and a variety of helpful strategies. It can be beneficial to work with a licensed mental health professional online or in-person to overcome issues with managing anger.

Learn to separate anger from behavior

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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