How to control your anger

Anger is a normal, healthy emotion. But managing anger can be a problem for many people, who find it difficult to keep their anger under control.

Health issues linked to unresolved anger include high blood pressure, heart attack, depression, anxiety, colds, flu and problems with digestion.

But anger doesn’t have to be a problem. “You can control your anger, and you have a responsibility to do so,” says clinical psychologist Isabel Clarke, a specialist in anger management. “It can feel intimidating, but it can be energising too.”

Dealing with anger

“Everyone has a physical reaction to anger,” says Isabel. “Be aware of what your body is telling you, and take steps to calm yourself down.”

Recognise your anger signs

Your heart beats faster and you breathe more quickly, preparing you for action. You might also notice other signs, such as tension in your shoulders or clenching your fists. "If you notice these signs, get out of the situation if you’ve got a history of losing control,” says Isabel.

Count to 10

Counting to 10 gives you time to cool down so you can think more clearly and overcome the impulse to lash out.

Breathe slowly

Breathe out for longer than you breathe in, and relax as you breathe out. “You automatically breathe in more than out when you’re feeling angry, and the trick is to breathe out more than in,” says Isabel. “This will calm you down effectively and help you think more clearly.”

Managing anger in the long term

Once you're able to recognise the signs that you’re getting angry and can calm yourself down, you can start looking at ways to control your anger more generally.

Exercise can help with anger

Bring down your general stress levels with exercise and relaxation. Running, walking, swimming, yoga and meditation are just a few of the activities that can help reduce stress. "Exercise as part of your daily life is a good way to get rid of irritation and anger,” says Isabel.

Look after yourself may keep you calm

Make time to relax regularly, and ensure that you get enough sleep. Drugs and alcohol can make anger problems worse. “They lower inhibitions, and actually we need inhibitions to stop us acting unacceptably when we’re angry,” says Isabel.

Get creative

Writing, making music, dancing or painting can release tension and help reduce feelings of anger.

Talk about how you feel

Discussing your feelings with a friend can be useful, and can help you get a different perspective on the situation.

Look at the way you think

“Try to let go of any unhelpful ways of thinking,” says Isabel. “Thoughts such as ‘It’s not fair,’ or ‘People like that shouldn’t be on the roads,’ can make anger worse.”

Thinking like this will keep you focused on whatever it is that’s making you angry. Let these thoughts go and it will be easier to calm down.

Don’t use phrases that include:

  • always (for example, "You always do that.")
  • never ("You never listen to me.")
  • should or shouldn't ("You should do what I want," or "You shouldn't be on the roads.")
  • must or mustn't ("I must be on time," or "I mustn't be late.")
  • ought or oughtn't ("People ought to get out of my way.")
  • not fair

Getting help with anger

If you feel you need help dealing with your anger, see your GP. There might be local anger management courses or counselling that could help you.

There are private courses and therapists who can help with anger issues. Make sure any therapist you see is registered with a professional organisation, such as the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Anger management programmes

A typical anger management programme may involve one-to-one counselling and working in a small group. The programmes can consist of a one-day or weekend course. In some cases, it may be over a couple of months.

The structure of the programmes can differ depending on who is providing it, but most programmes include CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) as well as counselling.

Domestic violence and anger

If uncontrolled anger leads to domestic violence (violence or threatening behaviour within the home), there are places that offer help and support. You can talk to your GP or contact domestic violence organisations such as Refuge or Women's Aid.

If you live in Wales you can phone the Live Fear Free Helpline (freephone) on 0808 80 10 800. You will be able to speak personally to a professionally trained Helpline staff member.

Men of any age can be victims of domestic violence or abuse, in heterosexual or same-sex relationships. Help and support is available from Men's Advice Line on 0808 801 0327 or Mankind on 01823 334 244.

Read more about getting help for domestic abuse.

^^ Back to top

Warning signs

Why can't I control my anger?

Anger is a feeling that affects us all. Things that can make us feel angry include a threat to us or people close to us, a blow to our self-esteem or social standing in a group, being interrupted when we’re pursuing a goal, being treated unfairly and feeling unable to change this, being verbally or physically assaulted, or someone going against a principle we feel is important.

Anger is an important emotion, according to Celia Richardson of the Mental Health Foundation.

“It’s the one that tells us we need to take action to put something right,” she says. “Anger is a problem-solving emotion. It gives us strength and energy, and motivates us to act.”

But for some, anger can get out of control and cause problems with relationships, work and even the law.

Physical signs of anger

Everyone has a physical response to anger. Our body releases the hormone adrenalin, making our heart beat faster and making us breathe quicker and sweat more. This allows us to focus on the threat and react quickly, but it can also mean we don’t think straight, and maybe react in ways we might regret later on.

“One person in five has ended a relationship because of the way the other person dealt with anger,” says Celia. “Reports show that anger problems are as common as depression and anxiety, but people don’t often see it as a problem, or don’t realise there are ways to tackle it.”

Individual reactions to being angry

How people react to feeling angry depends on many things including the situation, their family history, cultural background, gender and general stress levels.

People can express anger verbally, by shouting. Sometimes this can be aggressive, involving swearing, threats or name-calling. Some people react violently and lash out physically, hitting other people, pushing them or breaking things.

Other people might hide their anger or turn it against themselves. They can be very angry on the inside but feel unable to let it out.

It’s important to deal with anger in a healthy way that doesn’t harm you or anyone else. Intense and unresolved anger is linked to health conditions such as high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and heart disease. It can also affect your relationships and your work, and get you into trouble with the law.

Dealing with anger in a healthy way includes:

  • recognising when you get angry
  • taking time to cool down
  • reducing the amount of stress in your life

The Mental Health Foundation’s Cool Down: anger and how to deal with it booklet may also help. It includes advice on where you can go if you want professional support.

The charity Mind also provides information about dealing with anger in a healthy way.

Learning to control your anger

Anger management courses involve group discussions and counselling. If you feel you need help controlling your anger, see your GP.

If uncontrolled anger leads to domestic violence or abuse (violence or threatening behaviour within the home), there are places that offer help and support. Talk to your GP, or contact domestic violence organisations such as Refuge or Women’s Aid.

You can find out more about recognising the signs of domestic violence, and getting help if domestic violence is happening to you.

^^ Back to top

Getting help

If you are worried about your emotional health then talk to your GP about it, talking to family and friends may help as well.  There are also many organisations available that may be able to help you:

Community Advice & Listening Line
Freephone: 0800 132 737 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
Or text ‘help’ to: 81066
Offer a confidential listening and emotional support service, and information/literature on mental health and related matters to people in Wales.  Anyone concerned about their own mental health or that of a relative or friend can access the service.

116 123 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
National helpline offering confidential, emotional support to anyone experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide. Face-to-face meetings at local offices by arrangement.

0845 766 0163 (Monday - Friday, 9am – 5pm)
The MindInfoLine offers callers confidential help on a range of mental health issues.

Book Prescription Wales
As recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) people with mild to moderate mental health problems can also be helped by reading appropriate “self-help” material. Many self-help books have been shown to be effective in helping people to manage a range of mental health problems. Such books, from a recommended list, are now available to be "prescribed" to patients, under the Book Prescription Wales scheme. To find out more, see our Book Prescription Wales pages.

Information about a huge range of health and wellbeing services available right across Wales is just a click away
The NHS 111 Wales Health, Wellbeing & Support Directory contains information about a variety of health and wellbeing groups provided locally and nationally that can help people who want advice and information about health conditions, want to make healthier lifestyle choices or want social support to overcome isolation and keep active in the community.  If you have a diagnosed medical condition, you can search the directory for a suitable local support group.  Or if you are interested in getting more active, taking up a new hobby or learning something new, why not search for a local walking group, dance class, art & craft club or evening class you might like to attend.
Search our Health Wellbeing & Support Directory

^^ Back to top

The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website nhs.uk
Last Updated: 06/05/2020 11:42:17