Anger Management: Keeping Your Cool
It's normal to feel angry at times. But if your anger is out of control, you can learn better ways to handle it.

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Let's say you're driving, and a car pulls in front of you and stops suddenly. You have to slam on the brakes to keep from hitting the other car. You get mad. Who wouldn't?

It's not whether you get angry but how you deal with it that's important.

  • If you're a calm person, you might feel irritated and curse under your breath, but you would focus mostly on avoiding an accident.
  • If you have an anger problem, the other driver's actions may seem like a direct insult. You might scream curse words, lay on the car horn, or even jump out and threaten the other driver.

Which one are you?
Feeling angry at times is normal. Reacting to everyday stressors by yelling, hitting, or throwing things is not. If your anger is out of control, it's time to learn better ways to handle it.

When anger is a problem
Some people are more "hot-headed" than others. Compared to most people, they are quicker to anger, they get angry more often, and their anger is more intense and longer-lasting. When in the grip of anger, they often do or say things they later regret. This can cause problems in personal relationships and on the job.

Research has shown that anger can also have serious health effects. Anger can pump up your heart rate and blood pressure and raise the levels of hormones in your blood. Over time, this may even lead to heart problems.

Many people with anger issues seem to have been born this way. Others act out because that's the way the people around them behaved. They may not have learned positive ways to handle their emotions.

Anger strategies
There are 3 basic ways people process anger:

  • Expressing. Expressing anger can be healthy if you do it the right way. Being assertive is not the same as being demanding. It's a way of saying what you want that leaves the other person's dignity intact.
  • Suppressing. Suppressing anger can be positive or negative. Trying to pretend you don't feel anger is not healthy. Anger that's denied can pop up in other ways, such as in depression, increased blood pressure, or headaches. A better approach is to take time before you react, then try to find a positive outlet for your feelings.
  • Calming. When you calm yourself, you take control of both the way you act and the way you feel inside. You slow your breathing and bring down your heart rate. You recognize the anger for what it is and let go of it.

The key to managing anger is not to deny or suppress it. Instead, learn ways to calm yourself so anger doesn't hurt you or others.

How to chill your anger
The next time something happens that could make your blood boil, try these tips:

  • Give yourself a time-out. Walk away if you can, or slowly count to 10.
  • Take several deep, slow breaths. Focus on pulling the air down into your belly. This can help relax you.
  • Repeat a calming word or phrase to yourself, such as "relax" or "take it easy." Do this while breathing deeply.
  • Picture a soothing scene in your mind. This could be something like a beach at sunset or a cool forest path. Let your mind linger in this quiet place for a few minutes.
  • Channel the energy into exercise. Instead of blowing up, go for a brisk walk, shoot some hoops, or do some calming yoga stretches.
  • Think before you speak. Shouting, swearing, or name-calling won't fix the problem. Abusive language is hurtful and you may be embarrassed by it later.
  • Be logical. Instead of getting swept up in your anger, try to step back and look at the facts. The person you're angry at may have done something stupid, but he or she is probably not out to get you.
  • Use "I" statements. Instead of saying "You always do that," try saying, "I get upset when you do that." Aim for clear, respectful language. This can help calm things down.

Over time, you will learn which of these ideas help you stay in control. With consistent practice, they can become habits. Taking a calm, assertive approach to anger can improve your relationships and also help you feel better about yourself.

If your anger is out of control and these tips don't work, you may need counseling. Look for a psychologist or other mental health professional who does cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of therapy can help you learn to handle your emotions in a more positive way.

By Lila Havens, Staff Writer
Created on 05/31/2002
Updated on 06/17/2011
  • Helpguide. Anger management: Tips and techniques for getting anger under control.
  • American Psychological Association (APA). Controlling anger before it controls you.
  • Holloway JD. Advances in anger management. APA Monitor on Psychology. 2003;34(3):54.
  • Williams JE, Nieto FJ, Stanford CP, Tyroler HA. Effects of an angry temperament on coronary heart disease risk: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2001;154(3):230-235.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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