How can I manage my anger?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

While you may think that lashing out or hitting a pillow or a punching bag helps you release tension, the opposite is true. It teaches you to develop a behavior pattern: Get mad, punch. Get mad, get even. Get mad, harbor stress until it eats away at you.

Instead, do the opposite of what you’d expect. Research has found that “letting it rip” with anger actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you (or the person you’re angry with) resolve the situation. In general, to cope with an emotion, you have to do the opposite. The opposite of anger isn’t to withdraw or lash out but to develop empathy.

So instead of swearing at your teacher for making you do homework, try to think about the twenty-some unruly kids she has to deal with all day long. And if all else fails, bang out some push-ups or go for a run. Telling yourself to “stay calm” usually doesn’t help. Exercise actually helps lessen the effects of anger and stress.

Everybody gets angry sometimes. But anger has hidden health effects, including increasing your heart disease risk. So, if you can’t avoid getting angry in the first place, the next best thing is dealing with it as calmly, directly and quickly as you can. Try these steps to manage your anger:
  • Hold your tongue. Count to 10 to keep your angry words from rushing out before you have thought them through.
  • Walk away if you need to. Give yourself some time to let your anger subside and to gain perspective on the situation. It may keep you from saying or doing things you will regret. Plus the activity will help you relieve tension.
  • Voice your feelings. When you have calmed down enough, it will make you feel better if you address the problem with the person involved, rather than let it fester. Whether you speak directly to that person or write your feelings down, make sure you start your sentences with “I feel…” rather than “You made me…,” which may cause the other person to be defensive.
  • Figure out a solution. Don’t dwell on what made you angry, but rather focus on what you and the person involved can do to prevent it from happening again.
  • Offer forgiveness and say you are sorry. Research shows forgiveness may help your heart. The theory is if you are holding onto grudges, resentment and anger, you may be creating your own stress. So, forgiveness may literally help heal your heart. And don’t forget to forgive yourself!
  • Let it go, laugh more, and try not to repeat. The best way to deal with anger is not to get angry in the first place.

Six Steps to Control Anger

  1. Explore Your Anger - Have you ever wondered why you're so angry?  Exploring the roots of your anger and how it is affecting your life and your relationships is the first and most important step in anger management. All behavior serves a purpose. What purpose is your anger serving? 
  2. Understand Your Anger - Become aware of situations that make you angry, notice what you do when you're angry, and think through the consequences of your actions. Identify your anger triggers and your body's response to anger. Does your face get red, your muscles tighten or does your heart beat faster?  Knowing these signs and your response to anger will increase self-awareness, which may help you to diffuse an anger-provoking situation. 
  3. Communicate Effectively When You're Angry - Communication is an important part of working through anger. Learning the art of effective communication can turn a tense situation around. Practice using good listening skills, make eye contact, clarify what is being said, use non-accusatory statements and most of all, make sure that you have all of the information before you react.
  4. Identify Your Feelings - Anger is an emotion that can conceal emotions (i.e., jealousy, greed, embarrassment and being hurt). Learn to sort through your emotions before lashing out in anger. Identify what you're really feeling and address it rather than mask it. 
  5. Think About Your Anger Differently - Anger distorts how we see situations. For example, we may misinterpret events, think the worst about everything, blame others or blow things out of proportion. Being able to identify negative thoughts and put a different spin on them will help keep things in perspective. Cognitive restructuring or changing how you think about the situation can change how your response.
  6. Release Your Anger - Find an outlet to release some steam. Focus on deep breathing, shoot some hoops, hit a heavy bag, meditate, or just read a book. It doesn't matter what you do to relax, just do it. Make it a priority in your life.
Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine

When you get really angry, you may feel as though your fury overwhelms you. In this video, psychiatrist Charles Sophy, DO, explains how you can control your anger with a few simple techniques.

There are different ways to cope with anger. Some people like to exercise. Others like to meditate. Others may enjoy tuning into a favorite sitcom.

It can also be helpful to talk to a third party, as long it is not done in a malicious way. This kind of discussion can help you gain perspective and has been shown to lower blood pressure.

Of course, if you are constantly angry it may be difficult to find that kind of support because you may find that people generally do not enjoy being around you.

Is there help for chronically angry people?

People who frequently respond to situations with anger tend to have greater levels of family conflict and lower levels of social support because of the effect their anger has on others around them.

Anger management may help them.

While you may think that lashing out or hitting a pillow or punching bag helps you release tension, it doesn't. It teaches you unhealthy behavior patterns that actually escalate tension. That said, we don't want you to hold on to your anger until it eats away at you like ants on crumbs. So instead, adopt healthy behavior patterns that will help reduce anger and anxiety as well as their associated health problems. (Anger has been shown to lead to a higher incidence of heart disease.)

If you're one of the 16 million Americans who have anger issues, try these techniques to make a change that we'll all be thankful for.

Do the opposite. A good way to cope with anger is to do the opposite of what you feel like doing. So the next time you feel like swearing at the guy who just cut you off, consider that maybe there's a reason he did so -- like he just got a call that his wife is in labor or his mom tripped and fell and can't get up.

Remind yourself that few people are jerks on purpose.

Find your pattern. Keep a record -- without censoring – of all the emotions you feel (and why) during the day. This will help you identify the core beliefs that are associated with your anger. Do you get angry at a lack of respect? Wasted time? Insults? Once you understand what sets you off, you'll be able to work on dealing with it.

Work it out. Somehow, you have to acknowledge your physiological response to anger. Telling yourself to stay calm is one of the worst things you can do (second only to being told to calm down) because, as a human being, you're programmed to act out when you feel threatened.

So act out in a way that doesn't burn bridges, or worse. Do push-ups, go for a walk, or try deep breathing.

Choose smart words. When anger's talking, steer clear of words like "never" or "always." Statements like "This machine never works!" or "You're always forgetting things!" not only are inaccurate but also make you feel that your anger is justified, because there's no way to solve the problem. These statements also alienate people who might otherwise work with you to find a solution.

Get real. Make sure you have realistic expectations. Don't blame yourself for things that are out of your control, and don't blame others for things that are out of their control.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.