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Anger management

Anger – you’ve probably experienced it at some point and to varying degrees in your life. It’s a natural human emotion like happiness, sadness and fear, and for most people it stays within a safe and healthy range. For some, however, frequent and intense episodes of anger can seriously interfere with everyday life and lead to destructive behaviour. Understanding anger and getting the right help to start managing it can make a huge and lasting difference.

What gets your goat?

Everyone gets angry about different things. In today’s society, rush hour travel, technology failure and turbulent relationships with friends, loved ones and work colleagues are common sources of anger. Despite the sources of anger changing over time, the underlying triggers for anger are much the same today as they were for our ancestors. For example, you may become angry if you or your loved ones are under physical threat, or if someone attempts to destroy a principle you hold dear. Anger has evolved to keep your body and mind stimulated and ready for action in stressful situations.

What action can I take when I feel angry?

  • Stop and think. When you start to feel the first stirrings of anger bubbling up inside you, stop and think for a moment. This will give you time to reflect on the situation and consider how best to respond. Counting to 10 and learning to use a relaxation breathing technique can help.
  • Walk away. If you feel you’re too angry to speak or are considering being violent towards another person, it may be best to remove yourself from the situation. Try to work out what makes you angry so you know when to leave things alone.
  • Distract yourself. Try to find something to take your mind off the anger you are feeling. This is another way to prevent your anger boiling over.
  • Resolve unfinished business. This is important for you in the longer term. If you’re able to understand why you get so angry, you can try to resolve past issues and prevent anger building up in the future.
  • Be constructive, not destructive. When you’re irritated by something, take ownership of your feelings and tell people why you’re angry. If you talk slowly and clearly and make requests rather than demands, others will respect your argument and listen to what you have to say.

Keeping anger at bay

De-stress and relax

Life can often be stressful and it’s easy for pressures to build up. You may find it helps to try and make small lifestyle changes if anger is causing you problems.

Getting enough sleep regularly will help you to feel refreshed and ready to take on the day ahead – tiredness and irritability can sometimes cause or fuel anger.

When you have dealt with a difficult situation by being assertive instead of aggressive, give yourself a treat or reward for your positive actions, attitudes and thoughts.

Don’t drink alcohol excessively or use illegal drugs (especially stimulants, such as amphetamine and cocaine), as these will increase your risk of developing anger.

Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet and take time to enjoy your meals by not always eating in front of a television or computer, or when you’re on the move.

Even simple things, such as a relaxing bath, a walk outside or reading a good book can help. Exercising can prevent tension building up in your body and improve your self-esteem. Try doing something you enjoy, such as dancing or jogging, to let off some steam. Other options, such as meditation or tai chi, may also allow you some space to relax.

Take time to stay in touch with family and friends. Talk to them about how you’re feeling when you aren’t in a situation that makes you feel angry.

Anger management programmes

Your GP may be able to refer you to an anger management programme, if these are available in your area. These programmes are planned sessions designed for people who may have had a single violent episode, or who have been violent in the past and now feel unable to make changes to their behaviour. You may be offered one-to-one counselling or group work to help overcome your anger issues. Some courses are one day workshops and others may take place over a period of weeks or months.

Counselling

You may want to consider cognitive behavioural therapy. This is a type of counselling that helps you change the way you think about certain situations and behave differently. It doesn’t just look at your past behaviour, but also focuses on ways to improve your coping mechanisms for the future.

Seeing red

When something makes you angry, you can feel a wide range of emotions. These emotions have a direct, physiological impact on your whole body: your heart starts to beat faster; your blood pressure and temperature rise; your breathing rate increases and you sweat more. This ‘fight or flight’ response to feeling angry is necessary to keep you safe in some situations, but it can be harmful if it’s misdirected.

Different people express their anger in different ways. You may react immediately to whatever has prompted your anger or suppress your feelings completely. Built-up anger may cause you to explode when faced with a difficult situation later on – some people describe this feeling as ‘seeing red’.

Most people are able to keep their anger under control, but if you feel you’re unable to cope with your temper, or if it’s affecting those around you, see your GP for advice.

Anger – one letter short of danger

The physical effects of anger can affect your health both in the short and long term. Regular and intense periods of anger may lead to problems with your:

  • digestion – contributing to the development of conditions such as ulcerative colitis (inflammation and ulcers in the lining of your large bowel), gastritis (inflammation of the lining of your stomach) or irritable bowel syndrome
  • immune system – making you more likely to catch cold or flu viruses, and slow your recovery from accidents or operations
  • heart and circulatory system – increasing your risk of coronary heart disease or stroke
  • mental wellbeing – including depression, addiction, self-harm, compulsion and bullying behaviour

If your anger is causing problems like these, your GP may recommend medicines to treat these conditions. Alternatively, he or she may advise you to start a talking therapy to help bring your anger under control.

 

Produced by Louise Abbott, Bupa Health Information Team, September 2012.

For sources and links to further information, see Resources.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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