Anger is a natural and healthy emotion. However, for some people, it can be extreme or seem uncontrollable. If you have struggled with frequent or severe anger, you might be experiencing a mental health condition or anger management difficulty. In these cases, you can take a few steps at home or with a professional for support.
In an anger study conducted at Harvard, 10% of people under 25 reported having explosive anger episodes at least three times in their lifetime. Challenges with anger are common among Americans. However, with appropriate intervention, approximately 75% of those affected find symptom improvement.
Anger is a natural, instinctive response to threats. While anger alone is not considered a disorder, if it results in dangerous or maladaptive behavior, it may be a sign of a mental health condition or anger management issue. Below are a few common causes of anger:
- Family challenges
- Relationship conflict
- Poor communication skills
- Financial strain
Additionally, some underlying conditions, including but not limited to depression, substance use disorders, or personality disorders, may contribute to anger issues.
Mental Illness And Anger
Below are a few conditions and symptoms that are associated with increased levels of anger and anger-motivated behaviors.
Anger can be a symptom of depression. Depression is characterized by prolonged sadness and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities lasting at least two weeks. Individuals who are depressed may experience suppressed anger or show symptoms of anger manifested as:
- Thoughts of harming others or oneself
- Suicidal ideation
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or text 988 to talk to a crisis provider over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support. 988 also offers an online chat for those with an internet connection.
Substance Use Disorders
Some people drink on social occasions; however, excessive alcohol use, which interferes with a person's personal or professional life, may be considered alcoholism. Alcohol is often associated with increased aggression, anger, and violence. In severe cases of addiction, someone may be living with a substance use disorder. Substance use disorders can be associated with anger, as well.
Anger is often considered one of the stages of grief. Although not everyone relates to the five stages of grief model, they may relate to having experienced anger after losing someone close.
Grief may occur when any life-altering experience happens in a person's life. It can result from the death of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, or declining health. Anger may be directed at the person who died, anyone else involved in the event, oneself, or inanimate objects. Other symptoms of grief include:
Are There Anger Disorders In The DSM?
A few anger-related disorders are outlined in the DSM-5, although there is no "anger disorder" category. Identifying what type of anger you are experiencing and learning ways to address these challenges can be the first step to finding support. Below are the two anger-related conditions in the DSM-5.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a behavioral disorder that affects 1% to 16% of school-age children. Common symptoms of ODD include anger, a hot temper, and irritability. Children with ODD are often easily annoyed by others and tend to be argumentative. They may also partake in unhealthy behavioral patterns like yelling.
Intermittent Explosive Disorder
A person with intermittent explosive disorder (IED) (also known as "volatile" anger) experiences repeated episodes of aggressive, impulsive, or violent behavior. Their angry response may seem out of proportion to the situation. For example, if an individual with IED spills a glass of milk, they may pick it up and throw it away rather than clean it up.
IED episodes often last less than 30 minutes and may occur suddenly or without warning. People with the disorder may feel irritable and angry most of the time. Some common behaviors associated with intermittent explosive disorder include:
- Physical violence
- Throwing objects
- Threatening harm to others
- Racing thoughts
- Bursts of energy
Other Anger-Related Challenges
Difficulty controlling anger is not necessarily a sign of a mental health condition. Below are a few other causes of anger-related challenges, including non-anger-related disorders.
Anger is a normal human emotion. However, misplaced or uncontrolled anger can be problematic. While short-term anger can be effective, long-term or uncontrolled anger can cause significant personal and professional problems. Uncontrolled anger may manifest differently from one person to another. Some may quietly think about and focus on what makes them angry, while others may exhibit aggressive or violent behavior.
Individuals who find it challenging to overcome anger or fit the "habitual" anger profile may be experiencing chronic anger. One study showed that chronic anger in young adulthood could lead to features of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) later in life.
While anger is not a typical symptom of bipolar disorder, people with the disorder may experience anger as a response to the shifts in mood that they experience. Mixed-mood episodes are characteristic of bipolar disorder, and irritability is a common symptom of high or mixed-mood episodes. If a person with bipolar disorder does not know how or refuses to cope with irritability, it could lead to outbursts of anger.
Although not necessarily a symptom of a personality disorder, some people with personality disorders experience anger or splitting behaviors toward others. For example, those with borderline personality disorder (BPD) may experience all their emotions more intensely, including anger. For this reason, they may experience significant rage in situations that don't fit the severity.
How Anger Manifests
Anger manifests in unique ways. An individual's beliefs regarding anger and how they should conduct themselves may affect how anger is expressed. Anger is often expressed in one of three ways: inward, outward, or passive.
Inward anger is anger that an individual directs toward themselves. It involves negative self-talk and often blaming oneself for events (real or perceived). To gain control, some individuals may deprive themselves of what would otherwise make them happy as a form of punishment. Other examples of inward anger manifestation include isolation and self-harm.
Outward anger involves behavior that may seem like an obvious sign of anger. These behaviors often include shouting, cursing, breaking items, or physically or verbally abusing others.
If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.
Passive anger is exhibited by an individual using indirect or subtle ways to express dissatisfaction. A person showing passive anger may be sarcastic, make rude remarks, sulk, or give someone the silent treatment.
Long-Term Effects Of Anger
In the heat of the moment, it may be challenging to consider the long-term effects of anger. However, there are risks. If anger is uncontrolled, increased heart rate and blood pressure could lead to heart disease or stroke. Additionally, the impact on personal and social relationships can be detrimental.
There are several options for learning to identify and manage the symptoms of anger or a mental health condition with anger as a symptom. Recognizing the symptoms and knowing when to seek help are two first steps you can take.
Identifying Symptoms Of An Anger Disorder
You might benefit from reaching out for professional treatment if you relate to the following:
- Your friends or family members believe you have an anger problem or have distanced themselves from you due to your behavior.
- You have discord with coworkers.
- There are business establishments where you're no longer welcome.
- You feel angry most of the time.
- You hold many grudges or think about getting revenge constantly.
- You have been or think about being aggressive or violent when angry.
Managing Symptoms Of Anger
Keeping anger symptoms in check can feel challenging. Some anger management tips, including the following, may be helpful if you begin to feel angry.
Take A Break
Take a few short breaks during the day. A few moments of quiet time may help you prepare for what's ahead without experiencing irritability or anger. If you are angry and feel you might say or do something you don't want to, consider asking for five minutes to think before reacting.
Think Before You Speak
In the heat of the moment, it may be easy to say something you regret later. Taking a few moments to your thoughts may diffuse the tension. It will also give the other person a chance to do the same.
Practice Relaxation Skills
Relaxation skills like deep-breathing exercises, repeating a calming phrase, or remembering a happy moment may be helpful. Taking the time to journal or listen to your favorite music may also help you relax and let your emotions.
Express Frustrating When Calm
Expressing why you are frustrated if you have been wronged can be healthy. However, wait until your anger has calmed down and you no longer have unhealthy action urges. Some people may wait 24 hours before talking to someone about what made them angry. If your anger is severe, you might wait longer. Waiting ensures you have all of the facts of the situation and are sure about what you want to say or do in response.
Physical activity may reduce the stress that often causes anger. Walking or running is one way to get away from a situation and improve your mood. Exercise releases endorphins, which often create a feeling of euphoria.
What If The Above Tips Don't Work?
While learning anger management measures can be helpful, there may be times when additional intervention is necessary. Talking with a professional could be helpful if you feel overwhelmed or struggle to handle anger outbursts alone or experience anger more frequently. There are several options for treating anger disorders, including the following.
Group therapy offers a way to talk about anger and communicate without aggression. This type of therapy involves a counselor and a group of people experiencing similar symptoms or diagnoses. The counselor may suggest a topic and allow everyone in the group to discuss their thoughts and feelings. Group therapy addresses anger and teaches how to react to others in a safe environment.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a common type of talk therapy (psychotherapy). It focuses on helping individuals become aware of thoughts and feelings and learn to respond appropriately. CBT is done in structured settings with a mental health counselor.
Anger Management Classes
Although not a form of therapy, anger management classes allow community members to learn anger management skills together. In some cases, these groups may be headed by therapists or licensed professionals. In other cases, they may be held in a support group format. An anger management class often has a defined end date, with structured sessions, each featuring a unique skill or topic.
Alternative Treatment Options
For some, seeking individual counseling may be more effective. In these cases, an in-person or online counselor can be an effective form of treatment. For those who want to speak to someone but feel that time or money may limit options, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp can be effective.
Online counseling matches clients with mental health professionals trained to assist with diverse issues, including anger management. With an online provider, you can attend therapy from home and choose between phone, video, or chat sessions. Online therapy can remove these barriers if traffic and parking often cause you to anger.
A recent study determined that online CBT, which is effective for treating anger disorders, is an effective and affordable alternative to in-person treatment.
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