Anger and mental health

Anger is one our most powerful and vital emotions. It can be a necessary tool for survival of individuals and communities. However, anger can become problematic when it persists and begins to cause significant difficulties in our lives with our mental health which includes our thinking, feeling, behaviour and relationships.1

Anger is one of the most basic human emotions. It is a physical and mental response to a threat or to harm done in the past. Anger takes many different forms from irritation to blinding rage or resentment that festers over many years.2

Anger has three components:3

  • Physical - physical reactions normally begin with a rush of adrenaline and responses can include an increased heart rate, blood pressure, and tightening of muscles. This is often known as the 'flight or fight' response.
  • Cognitive - the cognitive experience of anger is how we perceive and think about what is angering us. 
  • Behavioural - this constitutes to any behaviour that signals anger, which may include raising one’s voice, slamming doors or storming away.

Why do we get angry?

Anger is caused by a combination of factors such as a trigger event, the qualities of an individual, and the individual’s appraisal of a situation.

Trigger event

Typically there is some sort of event that occurs right before someone gets angry, such as being insulted by someone. The majority of the time, people tend to believe that the event or person has caused their anger: "I got angry because he made me mad." But the truth is a trigger event cannot cause anger directly, without the presence of other factors.

Individual characteristics

These include two things: personality traits and the pre-anger state. Personality traits such as narcissism and competitiveness can increase the likelihood of people experiencing anger. The pre-anger state refers to how someone feels physiologically and psychologically before the trigger event. Feeling tired, agitated or already angry can increase the likelihood of the person responding with anger.

Appraisal of the situation

We get angry when we appraise a situation as blameworthy, unjustified or punishable. The important thing to remember about cognitive appraisal is that a person's anger-inducing interpretation or appraisal of a situation isn't necessarily inaccurate.4

How do I recognise anger?

Some physical signs of anger include: 

  • increased and rapid heart rate
  • shaking or trembling
  • sweating, especially your palms
  • dizziness.

Some emotional signs of anger include:

  • feeling anxious
  • being resentful
  • feeling guilty
  • being irritated.

Some other signs of anger include:

  • pacing
  • becoming sarcastic
  • raising your voice
  • beginning to yell, scream or cry.5

How can I manage my anger?

It is important to learn to understand your anger and it may be useful to know some techniques that can limit the chances of it coming out in a way that is damaging.6

Learn your triggers - it may be helpful to keep a diary about the times and situations where you felt angry. You can include answers to the following questions:

  • What were the circumstances?
  • Did someone say or do something to trigger your anger?
  • How did you feel?
  • How did you behave?
  • How did you feel afterwards?

By doing this, you will probably see a pattern emerging. Just recognising what makes you angry may be helpful enough.

Calming techniques - you could try some of the following:

  • Breathing slowly – breathe out for longer than you breathe in and relax when you breathe out.
  • Counting to 10 before you react to anything – this can help give you perspective on what to do.
  • Doing something creative – this can channel your energy and focus towards something else.
  • Listen to calming music – this can help change you mood and slow your physical as well as emotional reactions down.
  • Using relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation.

Be assertive – if you are able to express your anger by talking in an ‘assertive’ way about what has made you angry, this will produce better results for you. Being assertive means standing up for yourself, while still respecting other people and their opinions. Being assertive helps: 

  • make communication easier
  • stop tense situations getting out of control
  • benefit your relationships and self-esteem
  • to keep you physically and mentally well. 

Where can I go for further help?

If you are worried about your own anger or another aspect of your mental health, going to your GP is a good place to start to discuss what’s bothering you. They may be able to suggest ways you can manage your anger yourself or they may refer you for further support. You may be able to get help on the NHS or, if you can afford it, pay for it yourself.

Local support groups can be a way for people with a similar problem to share their experiences and support and encourage each other to change their behaviour. They may be led by someone who has themselves had a problem with anger in the past.

Talking therapies such as counselling or CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) can help people explore what makes them angry, work out why anger has become a problem for them and learn how to change the way they respond to the situations that typically make them angry. Talking therapies are usually provided over a course of several weeks or months.

Useful organisations

SupportLine: 01708 765200 

Telephone Helpline providing confidential emotional support to Children, Young Adults and Adults on any issue including relationships, abuse, domestic violence, self-harm, depression and anger. Details of other agencies, support groups/counsellors throughout the UK.

The British Association of Anger Management: 0345 1300 286

Run programmes which give tools to recognise, understand and control your anger. There are fees for the courses but they can advise you on ways of getting help with the cost of the course.

AVP Britain (Alternatives to Violence Project) 

Run workshops throughout the country for anyone who identifies as holding on to resentments that can lead to grudges, , anyone who has difficulty with anger, anyone who is a bully or is bullied, anyone who wants an alternative way of responding to anger other than violence