Volatile Anger: Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore

By Tanisha Herrin

Updated October 03, 2019

Reviewer Lauren Guilbeault

Anger is an emotion experienced by many and it occurs in different forms. At times, people may experience frustration, annoyance, or outrage. While some forms are subtle, there are others that influence unwanted consequences. An episode of volatile anger may be unexpected but occurs when someone gets upset quickly over something big or small. It may make others around them uncomfortable while fearing they may do something to trigger the rage. If the problem isn't addressed and treated, it may spark intense emotional outbursts inciting violence.

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Volatile Anger Defined

An episode of extreme anger that appears suddenly without warning in many situations is known as volatile anger. Sometimes it occurs and the person may continue to be angry after the moment has passed. An example would be someone who gets cut off while driving. The driver honks their horn at the person who cut them off but will continue doing so after they were cut off likely due to their ongoing anger over the action. The emotion comes as an explosive form of behavior that occurs abruptly and surprises everyone.

Emotional And Physical Symptoms To Recognize

Getting upset every once in a while doesn't mean you have issues controlling your anger. When assessed by a mental health professional, they look for physical and emotional signs of anger along with behavior patterns to determine an anger disorder diagnosis. Recognizing volatile anger may include violent or excessive bouts of anger occurring spontaneously.

Emotional symptoms may not be limited to anger but may also include anxiety, irritability, and rage. A person may feel overwhelmed by their thoughts. Some may experience difficulty managing or organizing their thoughts or even thoughts of hurting themselves or others.

Physical symptoms may be present with many individuals, not realizing they are caused by anger. These symptoms cause changes in the body that could lead to increased health risks when left untreated. Known anger-related symptoms include headaches, tingling, rising blood pressure, tightness in chest, head or sinus pressure, and fatigue.

Unresolved anger issues increase the risk of anxiety and may create short and long-term effects. Symptoms in this case may include muscle pain and tension, dizziness, poor memory and concentration, headaches, nausea, and rapid breathing. Chronic sleep disorders, stroke, and memory loss may also result along with relationship issues with others.

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Causes And Risk Factors

Anger triggers may include a person, a situation, a personal issue, or an event from the past. Substance abuse is a common factor of volatile anger. Males are more likely to display related symptoms. Some may show symptoms of volatile anger during childhood or as a teenager. Genetics, living environments, and a history of mental health concerns are other possible contributing risk factors.

The cause of this form of anger is unknown but there are elements that may contribute to its existence. People may have lived at home with others that didn't know how to control their emotions and where physical and verbal abuse occurred. Children may be exposed to abusive or violent situations and as they grow older, they display related traits of anger problems. A chemical imbalance in the brain is also a suspected cause. Some may experience differences in brain chemistry and function compared to others without anger problems.

Sometimes people are at risk of self-harm or hurting others during an episode of irrational anger. Such emotions may cause property damage, trouble with personal relationships, or violent acts committed against others. Mental health experts suggest this form of anger should never be acceptable. People are encouraged to seek professional assistance or call 911.

As A Co-Occurring Disorder

People expressing volatile anger may be seen as ticking time bombs because they set off a wave of rage within minutes when someone does or says something wrong. When this form of anger is persistent, it may be a warning sign of an anger-related mental disorder. These include:

  • Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED): when a person is known to have at least three explosive episodes of anger. Examples include breaking objects, road rage, temper tantrums, and physical abuse.
  • Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD): extreme emotional episodes of temper outbursts, irritability, and anger. People may be angry every day with short-tempered moods and experience severe verbal or physical outbursts. Children are diagnosed with DMDD more often than adults.
  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): behavior and moods are severely unstable and may display reckless, impulsive behaviors with difficulties controlling emotions. People may experience unstable relations among others.

Some situations mentioned may also be accompanied by anxiety disorders or depression. People may also display suicidal behaviors or have thoughts of suicide. If any of these situations are suspected, review concerns with your doctor or licensed mental health professional.

How Daily Living Situations Are At Risk

Interpersonal relationships are impaired when a person is viewed as being angry often. Such actions lead to broken relationships with friends and family and may involve verbal or physical fights among others. Volatile anger makes situations in work or school environments difficult with complications resulting in job loss or suspension from school due to explosive behaviors.

Increased chances of experiencing angry outbursts are likely when anger and depression symptoms mix or when someone is having problems controlling their moods. Alcohol and substance abuse may become a problem along with health risks such as heart disease, diabetes, and ulcers. People may choose to hurt themselves intentionally when they feel like they are angry at the world around them.

Daily living is a struggle for anyone with emotional issues related to anger. It is possible to improve your living situation when admitting to anger problems and recognizing the inability to control emotions. It is hard to admit when help is needed but it is always available when you're ready to start the process. Living with this type of anger is unhealthy because it leads to actions that hurt others if not one's self. Taking action to live better includes knowing how to handle situations that upset you and finding the right resources to promote prevention.

Treatment And Prevention

The right treatment methods may prevent anger-fueled situations from getting out of control. Treatment options for anger may include prescribed medicines, group therapy, counseling, anger management, and other suggested options as recommended by mental health professionals. Additionally, there are other techniques and actions you can do to learn how to gain control of your emotions and how they affect you. Here are suggested prevention measures that others find useful.

  • Be consistent with your treatment. Whatever becomes a part of your treatment, such as therapy sessions, prescribed meds, practicing management skills, etc., do your best to stick with it to encourage lasting results. Ask a friend or family member to help you be accountable and check in on your progress.
  • Learn ways to relax. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, relaxing images, and deep breathing encourage your body to be calm. Writing a journal is a useful activity that's calming but also allows you to record and assess your thoughts. Adult coloring books and listening to soothing music are other suggestions.

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  • Improve your thinking. Also known as cognitive restructuring, it may change your thinking positively to encourage reasonable logic when perceiving expectations and how you react to events. Compatible methods may help prevent thinking the worst will happen while keeping things realistic.
  • Plan solutions via problem-solving. Make a plan to help fix problems that frustrate you. You may not know a solution yet but having a plan keeps your energy focused in a positive and constructive direction. Learn how to improve problem-solving skills.
  • Improve communication skills. Think about your responses to others before you speak. Listen clearly to others and take time to process what is spoken before saying the first thing that comes to mind.
  • Make changes to your surroundings. Does your environment encourage negative emotions? Whatever makes you upset, avoid it. Leave the situation when things get intense. Make time for yourself in a comfortable setting to help deal with stress.
  • Avoid substances that alter your moods. Stay away from illegal or recreational drugs and alcohol.
  • Engage in activities that boost your mood. Productive activities such as exercising naturally improve mood while helping the body to produce positive energy.

Prevention measures include implementing self-improvement measures to achieve a favorable outcome for mental and emotional health goals. Identifying the signs and symptoms of volatile anger is important. There are management strategy techniques to practice preventing emotions from escalating. Overcoming anger in different situations takes time and focus. Recognizing what causes emotions and how to control them are significant areas of self-awareness that's achievable. Feeling angry isn't a bad thing but some may not be aware of the negative consequences that follow when it's not managed properly.

Anger may be a motivator and used constructively to promote change. Using online resources such as anger assessments, online therapy, and other emotional health tools along with working with a professional counselor or mentor may help you see things from a productive perspective to encourage better understanding and management of your emotions. Don't be afraid to ask questions about treatment options for anger. If you suspect volatile anger or similar anger concerns, there is support available online and through local agencies providing support for mental health initiatives.


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