Feeling some anger can be normal for most people from time to time. However, it can become problematic if it’s intense, frequent, or uncontrolled and/or causes disruptions in your relationships, work, health, or well-being. If you’re asking yourself, “Why am I so angry?,” understanding the possible underlying causes of this feeling—whether it’s stress, unmet expectations, feelings of injustice, past trauma, or a mental health condition—may be a helpful first step in learning to manage it. Read on to learn more about anger, possible causes, and research-supported strategies that may help you manage it.
What is anger and what triggers it?
The American Psychological Association defines anger as “an emotion characterized by tension and hostility arising from frustration, real or imagined injury by another, or perceived injustice.” As the body and mind are deeply connected in many ways, emotional feelings of anger may manifest in the body. These could take the form of an increased heart rate, sweating, and tense muscles, for example.
Anger can be caused by both internal and external factors that are often unique to each person. Understanding what triggers anger—especially explosive, disruptive, or otherwise problematic anger—for you can be a helpful step in learning to manage your experience of this emotion. Some elements of life or health that may cause or exacerbate feelings of anger are explored below.
How can unchecked anger impact your life?
Having persistent feelings of anger and/or acting on anger in an aggressive, disruptive way can have a negative impact on your life. Understanding possible complications of prolonged anger can be helpful motivation for seeking support.
Here are a few things that may happen as a result of chronic anger:
- Physical effects of anger: Chronic anger has been linked to an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone production, which could lead to long-term health problems such as heart disease and stroke. Additionally, it may weaken the immune system and increase the risk of physical illnesses in some.
- Psychological effects of anger: When anger is not managed healthfully, it could lead to compounding feelings of frustration, irritability, and stress. In more severe cases, anger could escalate into mental health concerns like depression or anxiety disorders.
- Effects on relationships: Persistent or uncontrolled anger may strain relationships of all types, possibly leading to conflict, misunderstandings, and loss of trust with friends, family, partners, and/or coworkers. In extreme cases, anger-fueled actions could result in legal repercussions such as fines, fees, or even jail time.
- Effects on one’s professional life: Outbursts at work could damage your reputation and relationships with coworkers, possibly resulting in disciplinary action or even job loss. It could also increase stress levels, reduce productivity, and negatively impact your job performance.
Five common causes of anger and how to address them
Read on for a more in-depth look at five of the most common causes of anger. We’ll also cover a few steps that may be supportive and constructive for each one.
1. Stress or fatigue
Stressful events such as work pressure, financial problems, or relationship conflict could prompt feelings of anger and frustration. Additionally, lack of sleep or physical exhaustion from another cause could make you more irritable and prone to anger.
Possible solutions: If you believe that this is the cause of your angry feelings, finding ways to adjust your lifestyle or habits could help you address the situation. If work stress is making you irritable, for example, you might look for new strategies for time management or task prioritization. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing could also be helpful in keeping daily stress from taking over your emotions. If sleep deprivation seems to be the cause of your anger, practicing good sleep hygiene or seeing a doctor for any sleep disturbances you may be experiencing could help as well.
2. Unmet expectations or disappointments
Unrealistic expectations and subsequent disappointments might lead to anger. For example, you may feel angry when someone fails to keep a promise or when you don't get the results you were hoping for.
Possible solutions: To preemptively combat feelings of anger in this context, you may benefit from setting realistic expectations for yourself and others. Cultivating a gratitude practice may also help you learn to find the good even in situations that don’t go exactly your way. Discovering strategies to help you manage disappointment without resorting to intense anger could also be useful. Examples could include finding a healthy outlet for your feelings, learning to be adaptable and find alternative solutions, or practicing radical acceptance.
3. Feeling threatened or experiencing injustice
Feeling threatened or experiencing injustice might trigger anger or feelings of rage as a defense mechanism. For example, you may feel angry when someone disagrees with your opinion, or if you find yourself experiencing discrimination or other unfairness.
Possible solutions: While this can be difficult to do in the heat of the moment, you may try to learn to identify and challenge irrational thoughts and beliefs that may contribute to feeling threatened when you’re simply being disagreed with or given negative feedback. Additionally, you may try to practice assertiveness and learn to communicate your needs and boundaries clearly and respectfully. You can then work on resolving conflicts peacefully instead of with aggression, possibly seeking mediation or therapy if needed.
4. Past trauma
Childhood experiences and traumatic events can affect your emotions and behaviors into adulthood. For example, you may have learned to express anger to cope with past abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in any form, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for immediate support, advice, and assistance.
Possible solutions: If you find yourself feeling angry over trauma from the past, you might seek therapy to address and heal from these experiences. Practicing mindfulness and self-awareness in an attempt to understand your emotions and triggers might also be helpful. Additionally, you can work to develop healthy coping skills for when you feel difficult memories and associated emotions coming up, like journaling or talking to a trusted friend.
5. Substance use or mental health conditions
Substance use and mental health conditions (such as depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or personality disorders) might cause anger and even aggression in some. For example, you may feel angry or irritable when under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or if you’re experiencing mood swings or irrational thoughts as a result of a mental illness.
The SAMHSA National Helpline for support with substance misuse is available 24/7 and can be reached by calling (800) 662-4357.
Possible solutions: If you believe that substance use may be contributing to your feelings of anger, you might choose to seek professional support. This can look different for everyone, but it may include supportive tools such as therapy, counseling, a support group, and/or provider-prescribed medication. You might also choose to practice self-compassion as you learn to manage negative thoughts and feelings positively. If you’re experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, it’s generally recommended that you seek the support of a licensed mental health care professional for advice, a diagnosis (if applicable), and support in addressing your symptoms and engaging in anger management strategies.
Tips for controlling your anger
There are various effective anger management techniques you can try to help you to learn to control and healthily express your anger and prevent the potential repercussions listed previously. As you work to determine which work best for you, it can be helpful to remember that learning to healthily cope with anger can take time, patience, and self-compassion. Some strategies to consider that may help you control or manage feelings of anger include:
- Identifying triggers. It can be helpful to try to identify what causes your anger, and then making a conscious effort to avoid or manage these triggers.
- Communicating effectively: When faced with a frustrating situation, you might try to communicate your thoughts and emotions calmly but assertively instead of letting feelings of anger go unchecked.
- Practicing self-compassion. In moments of tension, it can be important to be kind to yourself and avoid excessive self-criticism. Self-compassion might also help you to manage your emotions more effectively, whether you are experiencing feelings of anger or other strong moods.
- Exercising. Regular physical activity could help to release tension and stress, which can be common anger triggers for some.
Finally, you also may find it helpful to discuss anger-related challenges with a mental health professional. They can help you identify where it may be coming from, develop healthy techniques for managing it, and address any symptoms of an underlying mental health condition, if applicable.
Options for seeking therapy for anger
Some people feel embarrassed or intimidated at the thought of meeting with a therapist in person to discuss difficult emotions like anger. In these types of situations, online therapy can represent a more convenient and comfortable alternative. With a 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 from the comfort of home. Medically reviewed research suggests that online therapy—particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—can help produce better outcomes in those experiencing troubling anger, so you may choose to explore this treatment format in an effort to learn to control your anger if it feels right for you.