What is Anger?

Feeling angry is part of being human. It is a natural response to being attacked, insulted, deceived or frustrated. Sometimes, excessive anger can also be a symptom of some mental health problems.

Anger can be useful, but it can also be frightening. When something makes you angry, adrenaline causes your body to prepare for ‘fight or flight’ response, giving you energy and making you feel tense. Releasing this energy and tension is good for you, but it can be difficult to do so in ways that are constructive. In most situations, fighting back or running away (‘fight or flight’) is not helpful and anger can often lead to responses that make things worse, rather than better.

Being angry is not the problem in itself. It is how you deal with it.

When is anger a problem?

Anger becomes a problem when it harms you or the people around you. This depends on whether or not you express your anger, but more specifically, how you express it.

Often if you feel angry, is is about something that is happening to you at the time. This is usually something that is over quickly, for example, sounding your horn if another driver causes you to brake suddenly – something happens that makes you angry, you express your anger and then move on.

When you do not express your anger or you express it at inappropriate times or in unsafe ways, this is when it can damage your health and your relationships. This is a problem particularly if you did not express your anger about something that happened in the past – because you felt you could not or did not want to at the time – resulting in that anger getting ‘bottled up’ or ‘suppressed’. This can have negative long term consequences – you may find that when something happens to annoy or upset you in the future, you feel extremely angry and respond more aggressively than is appropriate to the new situation.

Trying to suppress your anger may also lead to other types of behaviour, such as responding in a ’passive aggressive’ way by being sarcastic or unhelpful, or refusing to speak to someone. You may also find that you are getting angry too quickly or too often, sometimes over quite small things – you could feel that you are unable to let go of your anger.

If you cannot express your anger in a safe or constructive way it can be bad for your emotional, mental and physical health.

It might lead to:

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Sleep problems
  • Alcohol or drug addictions
  • Eating disorders
  • Compulsive behaviour e.g. excessive cleaning, overworking
  • Self-harm

It might also affect your:

  • Digestion – contributing to the development of heartburn, ulcers, colitis, gastritis or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Heart and circulatory system
  • Blood pressure – driving it too high

Uncontrollable aggressive thoughts

If you find yourself frequently having unwanted, aggressive thoughts and being unable to control them, this may be a sign that you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and not anger.

Even if these thoughts make you afraid or worried, please remember that even if you have them, they do not necessarily mean you will act upon them.

Violence and aggression

Angry feelings can sometimes turn to rage and lead to destructive and violent behaviour. If you express your anger through aggression or violence it can be very frightening and damaging for the people around you – especially children. This could damage your relationships and mean that people stop listening to you. It could lose you your job or get you into trouble with the law.

“My anger is so out of control, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve hit a few people, but my anger is mainly directed at objects [which] I’ve broken in a fit of rage. I hate it, because when I’m in an angry moment it feels like I’m not in control, and that’s a scary thing, because I never know what I’ll do next.”

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