What is anger?
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What is anger?
Anger is an emotion that we all experience – it’s part of being human. Like all emotions, anger can make you feel different things. You might feel frustrated, annoyed or irritable. Your body might feel tense, your heart might start racing and you might feel a surge of energy from adrenaline in your system.
Anger is a natural reaction when you feel your boundaries, values or actions have been challenged or criticised. It can be caused by: external events, such as heavy traffic, cancelled plans, or someone being rude to you; or internal events, such as your thoughts. For example, you might feel frustrated with yourself if you don’t do as well as you wanted in an exam or sports game.
A certain amount of anger can be a good thing, as it can help to motivate or energise you. For example, if you felt angry about your mark in an exam, your anger might motivate you to study harder next time. But when anger feels constant, overwhelming or out of control, it can become harmful for you and the people around you.
What are the different types of anger?
There are three main ways that anger is expressed.
This involves expressing your anger about an issue in a healthy, non-threatening way, by calmly and confidently explaining your perspective on it and suggesting how the situation can be avoided in future.
For example, if someone continually borrows your things without asking you first, you could express your feelings assertively by saying: ‘I feel angry when you take my things without my permission because then I can’t find them when I need them. I’m happy for you to borrow things in future if you ask beforehand.’
It’s important to use ‘I’ statements, as they reflect your perspective. ‘You’ statements can sometimes make the other person feel they are being criticised.
This involves trying to repress your anger to avoid a confrontation. Your anger will often end up being expressed in ways that may undermine other people. While passive–aggressive anger can make you feel better in the short term, it doesn’t give you the opportunity to fix the cause of the problem.
For example, instead of speaking directly to the person who is borrowing your things without asking, you might decide to hide your things. Since you haven’t spoken directly to the other person, they might not realise they’ve upset you and so may do the same thing again
This involves mixing anger with aggression. You might lash out and feel unable to control your emotions and how you act. Aggressive anger can sometimes lead to hurting other people or yourself.
It’s important to note that while anger and aggression can sometimes feel related, they are separate things. Anger is an emotion that we all feel, but aggressive or violent behaviour is never acceptable. If you feel the urge to act aggressively when you are angry, it’s possible to learn new ways of responding to anger.
If you feel unsafe in the presence of someone who is angry, or you feel like you might hurt someone else, walk away. Call a mental health hotline for help, or 000 if you or someone else is in immediate danger.
Why am I angry?
Understanding why you feel angry and knowing what management strategies to use can help you to process your anger and move forward in a healthy way.
Anger can be a bit like an iceberg: it’s the visible part of a range of emotions that may lie beneath the surface and that contribute to the anger. These can include:
anxiety or fear
shame or guilt
feeling like you have no control
feeling misunderstood or not seen.
If you notice you’re starting to feel angry, take a moment to think about what emotion might have triggered your anger. By understanding what has caused you to feel angry, you can address the issue and help to resolve your feelings.
Some questions you might ask yourself could include:
What happened? Did someone or something upset me?
What emotions did it make me feel? Do I feel scared, embarrassed, hurt?
Do I feel that one of my boundaries or values has been crossed? What is it, and why is it important to me?
Once you understand what’s triggered your anger, you can work on processing your emotions and planning how you want to move forward.
Why do other people get angry?
Other people will often feel angry for the same reasons that you do: their boundaries, values or actions may have been challenged or their expectations about things might not have been met. We all experience anger in different ways, and some people will have a higher tolerance for things ‘going wrong’ before they feel angry or frustrated. Others might have a lower tolerance and find they can feel frustrated or irritated more easily.
If someone close to you is angry about something, you can help them to understand and address the cause of their anger. You can ask them what they think is causing them to feel the way they do. By using active listening and staying calm, you can support the other person to work out what steps to take next or to seek professional help. Check out our tips for tackling difficult conversations.
If you ever feel like you’re in danger of being hurt, you might want to approach the conversation later, when the other person has calmed down a bit. If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 000.
Why can’t I control my anger?
When anger feels overwhelming, out of control or like it won’t go away, it might mean there are other issues that need to be addressed.
Anger can build up over time and may be a sign of other mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression and personality disorders (such as borderline personality disorder) which are best treated with the support of a professional.
If anger feels like it’s your primary emotion, you can book an appointment with your GP or a mental health professional to discuss support and treatment options. Learn more about making an appointment, getting a mental health care plan and accessing help.
How can I manage my anger?
Like all emotions, feelings of anger and frustration aren’t permanent and will pass in time. If you find yourself feeling angry, here are some ways you can calm yourself down:
Do a breathing exercise. Regulating your breathing can help to slow down your heart rate, making you feel more in control of the situation. Try the 4-7-8 technique: breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and breathe out for eight seconds.
Write down how you feel. This is a way to get all your thoughts out in a private way that won’t hurt anyone. Once you’re calmer, you’ll be able to read back what you’ve written and think about what to do next in a more objective way.
Do some physical exercise. Getting away from the situation, breathing some fresh air and moving your body can help you to calm down. You could do a gentle exercise, like going for a walk or stretching, or a more intense exercise, such as running.
Call or text someone you trust. Talking can help you to process how you’re feeling, and it can often be useful to get an outsider’s perspective. Try to give your friend a heads-up by saying, ‘Do you mind if I talk to you about [situation]?’, rather than just venting.
More resources that can help you to manage your anger
Learn more about anger
Understanding what’s going on with your emotions can help you to manage your feelings better. Check out:
Speak to someone about what’s going on
Sharing how you’re feeling with someone you trust can help you to process how you’re feeling and get another person’s perspective. You could reach out to trusted friends and family, your GP or a mental health professional. If you’re not sure how to start a conversation with someone about your feelings, you can check out our 5 tips for talking to someone you trust.
If you’d rather talk to someone anonymously, connect with other young people on the ReachOut Online Community.
Regularly practise self-care
Looking after yourself on a day-to-day basis can help you to feel happier, more resilient and better able to handle tough situations. When you find a few strategies that work for you, you can use them whenever you’re feeling angry to help calm yourself down. Get some ideas for looking after yourself here.
Get some extra support
If managing your anger is something you find tricky, you can get some extra support in learning how to do this. A psychologist, social worker or peer worker can help you to reflect on your feelings and work out a plan to move forward with the situation. In the long term, you might work together on how you communicate your anger in a healthy way and develop some anger management strategies that work for you. Learn more about getting professional support here.