All the Rage: Healthy Ways to Respond to Anger

By Katy Halverson, LCSW

Traffic. Unrealistic deadlines. Hunger. Technology problems. Financial concerns. Rudeness. Being criticized. A million things can rile you up and cause you to blow your top.

All the Rage: Healthy Ways to Respond to Anger

A million things can rile you up and cause you to blow your top. After all, anger is a natural response to perceived threats, and it causes your body to release adrenaline, your muscles to tighten, and your heart rate and blood pressure to increase. Sometimes your face and hands also become flushed.

As a natural biological response, anger was necessary long ago for human survival; it helped our ancestors fend off attacks by predators. Even in today’s more civilized world, anger can lead to helpful behavior. Being angry can help boost your energy and prevent people taking advantage of you and people you love. Many people use anger to motivate them to do something positive.

But if it’s not managed properly, anger can have negative health effects. Expressing anger inappropriately or keeping anger pent up can aggravate chronic pain or lead to concerns like sleep difficulties and digestive problems. Poorly managed anger often causes people to do things they regret, which hurt those around them. There's even evidence that anger and hostility are linked with heart disease. So, it’s not that anger itself is bad, it’s how you handle it that determines whether it’s harmful.

When you're angry, you generally have three ways of dealing with it:

  • Expressionis the act of conveying your anger. Expression ranges from a reasonable, rational discussion to a violent outburst.
  • Suppression is an attempt to hold in your anger. Suppressing anger often causes you to turn anger inward or express your anger through passive-aggressive behavior.
  • Calming down is another way to deal with anger by using self-discipline to control your outward behavior and your internal responses. When you learn to calm down in response to anger, you’ll notice how it changes your heart rate and enables your intense emotions to subside.

Unhealthy Ways of Expressing Anger

Aggression

Some people respond to anger through aggressive action — punching, kicking, or breaking things, or, worse, hurting other people. The use of hurtful words as a response to anger is also unhealthy and often destructive aggression.

Criticism

Criticism and finding fault in others are other unhealthy ways of responding to anger. Instead of constructively addressing the root cause of a problem, criticism tends to make the situation worse.

Sarcasm

Using sarcastic remarks when you’re angry also impacts others negatively. Biting sarcasm is one sure way to damage relationships.

When to Seek Professional Help

Some signs you may need professional help for anger management include:

  • Anger has led you to physically or verbally abuse other people.
  • Your temper causes relationship problems at work or in your personal life.
  • You avoid certain events, situations, and even people for fear that your temper will get out of control.
  • You’ve had problems with the law due to poor anger management.

What is Anger Management Therapy?

Anger management therapy is usually facilitated by professional counselors or psychotherapists. It can be done as a group or in a one-on-one session. The therapy can help people in many ways:

  • Recognize what makes you angry.
  • Teach you how to deal with triggers without becoming aggressive.
  • Help you identify when your thoughts become irrational.
  • Teach you how to relax and calm down when you start feeling angry.
  • Learn effective problem-solving techniques.

Although results of anger management therapy vary, it helps many people improve way they manage anger, communicate their needs, and deal with people or events that trigger anger.

Even though anger is a natural human response, it doesn’t mean you should let rage take over when something makes you mad. If you feel like your anger is spiraling out of control, remember: Help is available.