Anger: Volatile Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated April 17, 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). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Anger is a natural human emotion that can be useful and even healthy when managed properly. However, anger that is particularly explosive, easily triggered, and/or not well-managed can cause harm to the person experiencing it and to those around them. Volatile anger is one such type. See below to learn what characterizes volatile anger, common causes and risk factors of intense anger, and ways in which you can seek support in managing distressing levels of this powerful emotion.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Therapy can help you cope with volatile anger

What is volatile anger?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definitions of “volatile” include “characterized by or subject to rapid or unexpected change” and “tending to erupt into violence."

Although volatile anger is not a clinical term, it’s used colloquially to refer to a type of anger that matches these characteristics. It’s typically hard to predict, easily triggered, and extremely intense, and it may also be marked by aggression and violence. In many cases, anger of this type may indicate a mental health condition or other underlying problem that may need to be addressed in order to safeguard the safety and well-being of the individual and those around them. 

Common symptoms of volatile anger

It’s not uncommon for other emotional and physical symptoms to accompany the experience of anger, especially volatile or irrational anger. For example, you could also experience the following during an angry outburst:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Overwhelm
  • Trouble organizing your thoughts
  • Tightness in the chest
  • An increased heart rate
  • Muscle tension
  • Sweating

Additional signs that your anger might be volatile in nature could be that it comes on quickly and without warning rather than building more gradually. You might be easily angered over seemingly small situations, often reacting out of proportion to what’s happening. You may experience physical aggression as well, including the urge to break things and verbally harass or even physically harm others. You could also be more likely to have angry outbursts after consuming alcohol.

Causes and risk factors for volatile anger

As with many challenges related to emotional and mental health, there are likely a variety of potential causes of volatile anger. A 2018 review of studies on the topic reports that specific genetic variants have been shown to affect “the development of long-lasting aggressive behaviors” in adulthood—particularly in combination with “negative environmental experiences” during prenatal life, childhood, or adolescence. It also notes that a child whose basic physical and emotional needs were neglected early in life or who witnessed recurring violence or emotional abuse at a young age may also be more prone to displaying aggressive behavior in adulthood.

Whether as a result of genetics, adverse childhood experiences, and/or another cause, a person may also experience anger as a result of certain mental illnesses. Mental health conditions that often have anger as a key symptom include:

  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Bipolar disorder

Increased anger and aggression may also be present in those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anger could be a symptom of depression in some cases as well. Those who are living with a substance use disorder may also experience increased levels of anger when using or not using, depending on the substance and other factors. If you’re experiencing concerning levels of anger, it’s typically recommended that you connect with a mental health care professional for evaluation and support.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh

Potential consequences of volatile anger

Frequent experiences of explosive anger can be difficult to live with. The resulting words and behaviors along with fear of additional outbursts can lead to strained or broken relationships. Verbal or physical fights may occur even with strangers, which can lead to harm and even legal consequences. Volatile anger can also make it difficult for an individual who experiences it to remain calm and focused and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships in school or work settings, which can lead to suspension, expulsion, and/or job loss. 

Finally, experiencing this level of anger so frequently can also be exhausting. It puts the body in fight-or-flight mode, which can cause strain when engaged in frequently. Chronic anger can also result in long-term negative health effects such as an increased risk of heart attack, high cholesterol, sleep disturbances, and high blood pressure along with an increased risk of depression and anxiety. 

Addressing and treating problematic anger

Treatment methods for anger that are interfering with your daily functioning and/or causing harm to you or others may depend on the underlying cause. For example, if it’s determined to be a symptom of a mental health condition, a doctor or clinician will likely treat the disorder in a more holistic way rather than focusing on a single symptom. That’s why it can be important to seek the advice of a healthcare professional for your unique situation. In general, however, treatment methods for problematic anger typically aim to help the individual prevent anger-related situations from getting out of control by teaching them ways to feel calmer and more in control of their emotions.

Treatment options for anger problems may include group therapy, individual therapy, anger management counseling, and/or medication. In addition, there are certain techniques and lifestyle changes you might try that can help you learn to gain more control over your anger, though it should be noted that these tips are not intended to take the place of professional medical or mental health support. Some of these strategies include the following.

Learn healthy ways to relax

Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing may encourage your body to be in a calmer state. Meditation in particular may help an individual become more aware of emotions as they arise so they can have a higher chance of remaining in control.

Try journaling

Some people find journaling to be a way to relax or even practice mindfulness, which can be calming to someone who commonly experiences volatile anger. However, perhaps even more importantly, this practice can offer you a way to record and assess your thoughts and behaviors, which could help you become aware of any patterns or triggers you may have related to your anger.

Adjust negative thought patterns

Cognitive restructuring is a technique that may help you change the way you think about certain situations, potentially affecting the way you feel and behave in turn. It’s typically most effective when practiced with a trained therapist, though there are some techniques you can learn on your own.

Engage in healthy habits

Adopting healthy lifestyle habits may also help you decrease a tendency toward volatile anger and improve your mental health and well-being overall. For example, research suggests that a diet that contains adequate amounts of necessary micronutrients may correlate with improved mood regulation and reduced irritability and explosive rage. 

Another study suggests that those who regularly engage in aerobic exercise tend to show lower levels of anger and higher levels of anger control than those who do not. Since both of these habits can also result in a host of other physical and mental health benefits, they’re worth considering for everyone.

Therapy for volatile anger

Again, if you're experiencing anger that’s negatively impacting your daily life, relationships, and/or well-being, speaking with a qualified mental health professional is typically recommended. They can help you uncover any root causes of your anger, support you in shifting the way you think about situations that tend to trigger your anger, and teach you strategies and techniques that may help you maintain control when you start to feel your emotions shift. 

Therapy can help you cope with volatile anger

One of the most popular forms of talk therapy for addressing anger is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is based on learning to recognize and then adjust flawed beliefs and thought patterns. A specific form of CBT for anger management is called stress inoculation, which introduces made-up events that would normally incite anger to allow clients to practice responding to them in a healthier way. According to several large analyses of published anger management research, 75% of individuals who receive anger management therapy show improvement as a result of treatment. 

Support for people experiencing volatile or other types of anger can be either in person or online. Those who have trouble locating a qualified provider in their area would prefer to avoid potentially anger-inducing situations like commuting to a therapist’s office in traffic, or who would simply prefer to engage in treatment from the comfort of home might prefer online therapy. Research suggests that there’s no difference in effectiveness between online and in-person therapy in most cases, so you can typically choose the format that works best for you. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging to address the challenges you may be facing. You can see below for reviews of BetterHelp counselors from clients who have faced similar challenges.

Counselor reviews

“France is an outstanding counselor. She is easy to talk to and expertly balances support with challenge. I had tried counseling once before with poor results and was extremely hesitant to try it again. As a man, there is a lot of pressure against seeking counseling. France made it easy for me to overcome that hurdle and working with her has played a key role in a significant improvement in my quality of life. I appreciate her abilities more than she knows. I cannot recommend her highly enough.”

“I’ve always been skeptical regarding feeling a sense of safety and understanding with a therapist. BetterHelp is new to me, though Victor has been nothing but understanding and thoroughly honest. He puts me to work in the best way, though I, myself, am still learning to be committed — his patience, sincerity and expertise forces me to truly reflect and take accountability for how I choose to think, feel, react and respond. I’m very happy with how our sessions have gone, and continue to look forward to them.”


Feeling anger is not inherently problematic, but it can cause negative outcomes in a person’s life if it’s frequent, explosive, and/or not under their control. Volatile anger could be the result of genetics and a difficult upbringing, or it could manifest as a symptom of a mental health condition. If you’re experiencing anger that’s negatively impacting your life, you might consider speaking with a mental health professional online or in person for compassionate, constructive support.
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