6 Anger Management Strategies to Keep You Calm

What you do with your emotions determines whether they control you or you control them. Anger is a normal, healthy emotion. However, it can quickly become your default state, hurting your personal and professional relationships.

therapist william snyder By William Snyder, LPC

Updated on May 01, 2024

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Anger might feel overwhelming or frightening, but it’s a natural response to the perception of threat, a protective survival instinct. However, uncontrolled anger can lead to hurtful outbursts, aggressive behavior, and difficulty maintaining healthy relationships. If anger feels like the most common emotion in your repertoire, it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Anger cannot be completely avoided (remember, it’s natural). Still, it can be controlled and used to better communicate your needs. Many people successfully manage their anger after working with a licensed therapist to develop coping skills, changing how they handle and process anger. 

Whether anger comes on suddenly or feels like a slow burn, anger management strategies can help you better recognize your emotions and use them in constructive rather than destructive ways.

What Causes Uncontrollable Anger? 

Anger is an instinctive response to perceived threats. While this powerful emotion isn’t all bad, too much of it can take a toll on your health and relationships. A number of factors can underlie and influence how much anger controls your life. 

Anger happens on a spectrum, from mild annoyance to uncontrolled rage or fury. Mental, emotional, and physiological factors affect where you fall on the scale. For example, sleep deprivation causes increased responses to negative emotions, like fear and anger, in the brain’s emotional control center. Consequently, if you have a bad night’s rest or have trouble sleeping in general, your ability to control anger and other powerful emotions may decrease. 

However, uncontrolled anger typically goes beyond temporary circumstances. Some of the more common underlying contributors include:

Some people naturally have a low tolerance for frustration. In challenging situations, they are more likely to feel angry when compared to someone with a high tolerance for frustration. People with anger issues may not always show aggressive behavior. Anger can also look like irritability, grumpiness, social withdrawal, sulkiness, and frequent physical illness.

Sometimes anger and aggression are perceived as the same thing, but they’re not. Generally, anger is an internal response to stimuli, while aggression is an external response. Most people don’t get aggressive when they’re angry. At the same time, most people have acted out aggressively at some point in their lives, such as pushing or hitting someone. However, people with anger issues usually aren’t dangerously aggressive.

Some societies and cultures frown on emotional expression, teaching people to suppress their angry thoughts and feelings. However, over time, without an outward expression of anger, the anger can cause physiological symptoms like depression, hypertension, or high blood pressure. 

Mental health disorders, such as intermittent explosive disorder (IED), anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit disorder, can underlie uncontrolled anger. Some people may have comorbid disorders, which means they have more than one, and the disorders can affect one another. In these cases, it’s important to address anger and any other mental health issues. 

Warning Signs of Anger Issues

Emotions affect your physical and mental health, and uncontrolled anger can have particularly damaging effects. Learning to recognize the warning signs is one of the first steps toward managing anger in a healthy way. 

Anger is common enough that most people experience it a couple of times a week. However, just because you regularly have angry feelings doesn’t necessarily mean you have anger problems. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration suggests asking yourself the following questions: 

These questions can uncover whether or not anger has become problematic for you and if you could use professional help to manage your emotions. Have an open discussion with your doctor or consult a mental health professional to gauge if you have an anger problem. A therapist can teach you how to measure your anger and train you how to use anger management techniques. 

Physical Signs

Some of the physical signs of anger are readily apparent. We spoke with Tahara DeBarrows, an LMFT with Grow Therapy, to get insight into the short-term physical symptoms of anger, which can include:

Frequent or chronic anger can also have more serious long-term effects on your health, with physical symptoms and conditions such as:

The physical symptoms of anger aren’t static. They vary in each person and even in different situations. However, if these signs and symptoms are a pattern in your life, you might be dealing with uncontrolled anger.  

Mental Signs

DeBarrows says that uncontrolled anger can cause obsessive thoughts about a problem, with some people being prone to think about seeking revenge as part of their obsessive thought pattern. Others may become aggressive, throwing things or destroying property. Finally, DeBarrows says that a warning sign that someone has an anger issue versus feeling angry in the moment is “when you’re so used to feeling anger that you don’t notice that your mind goes blank.”

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Anger Management Tips and Tools

There’s no shame or harm in feeling anger. It’s how and what you do with anger that determines if you have an anger problem. Even those who are more inclined toward anger have the ability within themselves to manage it for their well-being. 

1. Understand Underlying Issues and Learn Management Tools

A licensed therapist can help you manage anger in a number of ways. If there are underlying issues, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to trauma or co-occurring mental health problems, a therapist can treat those disorders while addressing anger issues. 

Therapists typically have a wide range of therapeutic techniques and methods to help you address overwhelming emotions. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, is a popular method used to address a wide range of mental health issues and emotional regulation problems.

This type of therapy explores how your thoughts and emotions affect your behaviors and offers techniques to change thought patterns that contribute to the behavior you want to change. In essence, it’s a method that helps logic defeat anger. CBT isn’t the only method your therapist may use. 

After evaluating your situation, personality, and specific anger problems, a therapist can employ any number of therapeutic techniques and methods to help you establish and reach your goals. As an example, DeBarrows suggests deep-breathing exercises, taking a timeout, exercising, and thinking through the consequences of acting on your anger as methods to manage feelings. You may learn various meditation techniques and breathing patterns to help focus your thoughts, too. Some people may benefit from support groups to offer support outside of a therapist’s office.

DeBarrows also suggests using an anger thermometer or anger meter to better help you understand your anger cycle and warning signs. There are even anger management apps that can help you evaluate the intensity and frequency of your anger, as well as monitor some of your physical symptoms, like heart rate, to keep a closer eye on how anger affects you.

According to DeBarrows, controlling anger also comes down to developing healthy social skills. For example, people with anger issues often jump to conclusions. A therapist can train you to alter your thoughts so you don’t act on conclusions. You may also work on learning to speak without accusation and setting healthy boundaries to help better meet your own needs. 

2. Learn to See Anger as a Signal

Anger is your body’s response to a perceived threat. Essentially, it’s a signal that you need to address something in your life. You can choose to ignore that signal, which in some cases might lead to positive outcomes. But in others, that can leave the anger to fester. In this case, the anger could signal the need for action. 

Maybe you need to address a problem at work with another coworker or with your boss. Or, there’s a difficult situation with a family member that may need resolving. In these examples, when anger is processed as a signal, it gives you an opportunity to address and resolve problems.

However, it might take some practice to calm your anger in the moment before you can use it in positive ways — the heat of the moment can be the biggest challenge. When you see anger as a signal, you can employ relaxation techniques or take a few deep breaths to calm yourself so you can later use your anger constructively.

3. Keep a Journal

DeBarrows has found keeping a journal to be one of the most helpful tools when treating clients with anger issues. A journal provides space to express your feelings without judgment or repercussions. In your personal journal, you can express anger and frustration, writing all the details and ins and outs of your feelings. It’s a form of self-expression that can help you work through some of the ups and downs of daily life. Journaling lets you safely express angry thoughts and leave them on the page.

4. Get and Stay Active

Exercise is another component of managing anger that DeBarrows recommends. Besides being great for your muscles and cardiovascular system, physical activity releases feel-good endorphins. Exercise can reduce stress, a contributing factor for many bouts of anger. Additionally, if you join a gym, exercise class, or start exercising with a partner, there’s a social aspect to exercise that may boost your mood, too.

You don’t need hours of high-intensity exercise every day to feel the benefits, either. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend 150 minutes of physical activity each week. You can break that down into 30 minutes of exercise five days per week. A brisk walk, yoga, exercise video, or game of tennis are all options that can help relieve tension and stress for better mental health. 

5. Meditation and Deep Breathing

Meditation has long been a tool to help regulate emotions. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a method of choice for many therapists and general meditation practitioners. This form of meditation focuses on the present and asks practitioners to let go of thoughts of the past and future. In general, thinking about the past and future is what leads to anger, anxiety, and a number of other emotions you may need help managing. 

Mindfulness meditation also includes meditative breathing, learning to pay attention to your body, and recognizing your thoughts. It brings an awareness that may help you keep closer tabs on anger. Learning to meditate may include thought-watching, mindful breathing, and other breathing patterns. 

6. Listen to Calming Music

Music impacts your physical and mental state for better or worse. Music therapy has been included in treatment for schizophrenia, depression, sleep disorders, and many other health conditions. Music can cause the body to release serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin, all of which can improve your mood and help you manage anger. 

The key is finding the kind of music that helps you relax. For some people, that might be classic instrumental music. For others, it could be mellow indie folk songs. Once you’ve found the type of music that calms you, you can create a relaxing playlist to unwind after a stressful day or play before events that you know will heat up your emotions.  

Final Thoughts

What you do with your emotions determines whether they control you or you control them. Anger is a normal, healthy emotion. However, it can quickly become your default state, hurting your personal and professional relationships. In some cases, anger is a habit that requires help to break. 

Grow Therapy can quickly connect you with an in-network therapist who can teach you how to manage anger. Working with a mental health professional can help you identify the roots of your anger and create a toolbox of techniques to manage emotions in healthy ways. Book your first session and begin a journey to a happier you. 

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
therapist william snyder William Snyder, LPC

William Snyder is a licensed professional counselor who works with adults experiencing symptoms such as anxiety, depressed mood, loss and grief, identity and self-concept difficulties, relationship problems, life-transition difficulties, and traumatic memories.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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