Failing to manage your anger can lead to a variety of problems like saying things you regret, yelling at your kids, threatening your co-workers, sending rash emails, developing health problems, or even resorting to physical violence. But not all anger issues are that serious. Instead, your anger might involve wasting time thinking about upsetting events, getting frustrated in traffic, or venting about work.
Managing your anger doesn’t mean never getting angry. Instead, it involves learning how to recognize, cope with, and express your anger in healthy and productive ways. Anger management is a skill that everyone can learn. Even if you think you have your anger under control, there’s always room for improvement.
What Is Anger Management?
Since unchecked anger can often lead to aggressive behavior, anger management uses various techniques to help a person cope with thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a healthy and more productive way.
Why Manage Anger
Anger is an emotion that can range from mild irritation to intense rage. While many people categorize anger as a solely “negative emotion,” it can be positive. Angry feelings may spur you to stand up for someone or they may lead you to create social change.
But when left unchecked, angry feelings can lead to aggressive behavior, like yelling at someone or damaging property. Angry feelings also may cause you to withdraw from the world and turn your anger inward, which can impact your health and well-being.
Anger becomes problematic when it’s felt too often or too intensely or when it’s expressed in unhealthy ways, which can take a toll physically, mentally, and socially. For this reason, anger management strategies can be beneficial and can help you discover healthy ways to express your feelings.
Anger Management Strategies
Research consistently shows that cognitive behavioral interventions are effective for improving anger management.
Your thoughts and behaviors can either fuel your emotions or they can reduce them. So, if you want to shift your emotional state away from anger, you can change what you’re thinking and what you’re doing. Without fuel, the fire inside you will begin to dwindle and you’ll feel calmer.
The best way to manage your anger is to create an anger management control plan. Then, you’ll know what to do when you start feeling upset.
The following are 11 strategies that you may want to include in your anger management plan. These tools are designed to help you manage and control your anger.
If you’ve gotten into the habit of losing your temper, take stock of the things that trigger your anger. Long lines, traffic jams, snarky comments, or excessive tiredness are just a few things that might shorten your fuse.
While you shouldn’t blame people or external circumstances for your inability to keep your cool, understanding the things that trigger your anger can help you plan accordingly.
You might decide to structure your day differently to help you manage your stress better. Or, you might practice some anger management techniques before you encounter circumstances that you usually find distressing. Doing these things can help you lengthen your fuse—meaning that a single frustrating episode won’t set you off.
Evaluate Your Anger
Before you spring into action to calm yourself down, ask yourself if your anger is a friend or an enemy. If you’re witnessing someone’s rights being violated or you are in an unhealthy situation, your anger might be helpful.
In these cases, you might proceed by changing the situation rather than changing your emotional state. Sometimes, your anger is a warning sign that something else needs to change—like an emotionally abusive relationship or a toxic friendship.
Being angry might give you the courage you need to take a stand or make a change.
If, however, your anger is causing distress or hurting your relationships, your anger may be an enemy. Other signs of this type of anger include feeling out of control and regretting your words or actions later. In these situations, it makes sense to work on tackling your emotions and calming yourself down.
Recognize Warning Signs
If you’re like some people, you may feel like your anger hits you in an instant. Perhaps you go from calm to furious in a heartbeat. But there are still likely warning signs when your anger is on the rise. Recognizing them early can help you take action to prevent your anger from reaching a boiling point.
Think about the physical warning signs of anger that you experience. Perhaps your heart beats faster or your face feels hot. Or, maybe you begin to clench your fists. You also might notice some cognitive changes. Perhaps your mind races or you begin “seeing red.”
By recognizing your warning signs, you have the opportunity to take immediate action and prevent yourself from doing or saying things that create bigger problems. Learn to pay attention to how you’re feeling and you’ll get better at recognizing the warning signs.
Trying to win an argument or sticking it out in an unhealthy situation will only fuel your anger. One of the best things you can do when your anger is rising is to remove yourself from the situation if you can.
When a conversation gets heated, take a break. Leave a meeting if you think you’re going to explode. Go for a walk if your kids upset you. A time-out can be key to helping you calm your brain and your body.
If there’s someone that you routinely get into heated disputes with, like a friend or family member, talk with them about the importance of taking a time-out and resuming when you’re both feeling calm.
When you need to step away, explain that you aren’t trying to dodge difficult subjects, but that you’re working on managing your anger. You aren’t able to have a productive conversation or resolve conflict when you’re feeling really upset. You can rejoin the discussion or address the issue again when you’re feeling calmer.
Sometimes it helps to set a specific time and place when you can discuss the issue again. Doing so gives your friend, colleague, or family member a sense of peace that the issue will indeed be discussed—just at a later time.
Talk to a Friend
If there’s someone who has a calming effect on you, talking through an issue or expressing your feelings to that person may be helpful. It’s important to note, however, that venting can backfire.
Complaining about your boss, describing all the reasons you don’t like someone, or grumbling about all of your perceived injustices may add fuel to the fire. A common misconception is that you have to vent your anger to feel better.
But studies show you don’t need to “get your anger out.” Smashing things when you’re upset, for example, may actually make you angrier. So it’s important to use this coping skill with caution.
Likewise, if you’re going to talk to a friend, make sure you’re working on developing a solution or reducing your anger, not just venting. It’s unfair to use them as your go-to sounding board. Instead, you might find that the best way to use this strategy is to talk about something other than the situation causing you to feel angry.
Anger gives you a rush of energy. One of the best ways to put that surge to good use is to engage in physical activity. Whether you go for a brisk walk or hit the gym, working out can burn off extra tension.
Regular exercise also helps you decompress. Aerobic activity reduces stress, which might help improve your frustration tolerance. Additionally, exercise allows you to clear your mind. You may find that after a long run or a hard workout you have a clearer perspective on what was troubling you.
Manage Your Thoughts
Angry thoughts add fuel to your anger. Thinking things like, “I can’t stand it. This traffic jam is going to ruin everything,” will increase your frustration. When you find yourself thinking about things that fuel your anger, reframe your thoughts.
Instead, think about the facts by saying something like, “There are millions of cars on the road every day. Sometimes, there will be traffic jams.” Focusing on the facts—without adding in catastrophic predictions or distorted exaggerations—can help you stay calmer.
You also might develop a mantra that you can repeat to drown out the thoughts that fuel your anger. Saying, “I’m OK. Stay calm,” or “Not helpful,” over and over again can help you minimize or reduce angry thoughts.
Change the Channel
Ruminating about an upsetting situation fuels angry feelings. If, for example, you’ve had a bad day at work, rehashing everything that went wrong all evening will keep you stuck in a state of frustration.
The best way to calm down might be to change the channel in your brain and focus on something else altogether.
Telling yourself “Don’t think about that,” isn’t always successful. The best way to mentally shift gears is to distract yourself with an activity. Do something that requires your focus and makes it more challenging for angry or negative thoughts to creep in.
Some examples might include deep-cleaning the kitchen, weeding the garden, paying some bills, or playing with the kids. Find something to do that will keep your mind occupied enough that you won’t ruminate on the things upsetting you. Then, your body and your brain can calm down.
Focus on Relaxation
There are many different relaxation exercises you can utilize to reduce anger. The key is to find the one that works best for you. Breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation are two common strategies for reducing tension.
The best part is, both exercises can be performed quickly and discreetly. So whether you’re frustrated at work or you’re angry at a dinner engagement, you can let go of stress quickly and immediately.
It’s important to note, however, that relaxation exercises take practice. At first, you might not feel as though they’re effective, or you might question whether they’re going to work for you. But with practice, they can become your go-to strategies for anger management.
Explore Your Feelings
Sometimes it helps to take a moment and think about what emotions might be lurking beneath your anger. Anger often serves as a protective mask to help you avoid feeling more painful emotions, like embarrassment, sadness, and disappointment.
When someone gives you feedback that’s hard to hear, for example, you might lash out in anger because you’re embarrassed. Convincing yourself the other person is bad for criticizing you might make you feel better in the moment because it keeps your embarrassment at bay. But acknowledging underlying emotions can help you get to the root of the problem. Then, you can decide to take appropriate action.
For instance, if someone cancels plans on you and your underlying emotion is disappointment, you could try explaining how the cancellation makes you feel rather than lashing out in anger. When you’re honest about your feelings, you’re more likely to resolve the issue. Responding in anger usually doesn’t accomplish anything except pushing people away.
Create a “Calm Down” Kit
If you tend to come home from work stressed and take out your anger on your family, or you know that workplace meetings cause you a lot of frustration, create a calm down kit that you can use to relax.
Think about objects that help engage all your senses. When you can look, hear, see, smell, and touch calming things, you can change your emotional state. So a calm down kit might include scented hand lotion, a picture of a serene landscape, a spiritual passage you can read aloud, and a few pieces of your favorite candy. Include things that you know will help you remain calm.
You also might create a virtual calm down kit that you can take everywhere. These are things that you can call upon when needed and are more portable. For instance, calming music and images, guided meditation, or instructions for breathing exercises could be stored in a special folder on your smartphone.
If anger has been causing problems in your life and you’re struggling to tame your temper on your own, you might want to seek professional help. Some mental health problems can be linked to anger management issues.
For example, PTSD has been linked to aggressive outbursts. Depressive disorders also can cause irritability and may make it more difficult to manage anger. It’s important to uncover any mental health issues that could hinder your ability to manage anger.
Start by talking to your physician about your mood and your behavior. Your physician will make sure you don’t have any physical health issues that are contributing to the problem.
Your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional for further evaluation. Depending on your goals and treatment needs, therapy may involve individual sessions as well as anger management classes.
A Word From Verywell
For many people, angry outbursts serve a purpose. Yelling at someone may get them to comply with your demands. But while aggressive behavior may get your needs met in the short term, there are long-term consequences. Your words might cause lasting damage to the relationship or even lead to its demise.
If you’ve been using your anger as a tool, you may benefit from learning healthier strategies, such as asking for help or speaking up in an assertive, but not aggressive, manner. Talk to your doctor about your anger management issues if you need more assistance.
Authored by Amy Morin, LCSW. Medical Reviewed by Akeem Marsh, MD