Anger management

NHS Choices Syndication

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Anger management


Anger management is a form of counselling to help you cope with angry feelings that affect your health, work, behaviour or personal relationships.

Anger is a natural feeling that affects everyone.

Things that can make you feel angry include:

  • losing someone you love (grief)
  • sexual frustration
  • being tired, hungry or in pain
  • coming off certain medicines or drugs
  • pre-menstrual syndrome
  • being insulted
  • feeling under threat
  • feeling that you are being ignored or not taken seriously
  • being under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • something in the present reminding you of unpleasant memories

Mild anger can be expressed as annoyance or irritation.

However, some people become angry frequently and inappropriately, and may be unable to control their actions once they become angry.

Once anger gets out of control like this, it can cause problems with relationships, work and even the law. Uncontrolled anger can lead to arguments and physical fights. It can cloud your thinking and judgment and may lead to actions that are unreasonable or irrational.

In a recent survey for the Mental Health Foundation, 28% of adults said they worry about how angry they sometimes feel, and 32% have a friend or relative who has problems dealing with anger.

Physical signs of anger

Everyone has a physical response to anger. Your body releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which increase your heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and breathing (the “fight or flight” response).

This allows you to focus on the threat and react quickly. However, it can also mean that you do not think straight, and may react in ways you might regret later. 

When your body has to cope with large amounts of stress hormones due to angry outbursts, you may become ill.

How anger can affect your health

Intense and uncontrolled anger is linked to health conditions such as:

If anger is hidden or buried, it can lead to:

Helping yourself

Dealing with anger in a healthy way includes:

  • recognising when you get angry
  • taking time to cool down
  • reducing your general stress levels in life

You can also look at what makes you angry and how you deal with those feelings. Find out about self-help tips for anger management or see the Mental Health Foundation’s Cool Down booklet, which includes advice on where to get professional help.

Anger management

For some people, self-help techniques will not be enough and they will need to attend an anger management course to learn how to manage their anger.

Anger management usually involves a combination of one-to-one sessions with a counsellor or therapist and group work with other people with anger management issues.

Read more about how anger management works.

If you think you need anger management, contact your GP. There may be an NHS-funded course or course run by a voluntary organisation in your area. However, there could be a waiting list.

The alternative is to pay for a course or counsellor privately.

Make sure that any therapist you see is registered with a professional organisation, such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

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Published Date
2014-09-04 13:30:08Z
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NHS Choices Syndication

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Anger management

Self-help techniques

If you have an anger problem, there are methods you can use to try to control this yourself.

Recognising your anger signs

Your heart beats faster and you breathe more quickly, preparing you for action. You might also notice other signs, such as tension in your shoulders or clenching your fists.

If you notice these signs and you struggle to stay in control, try to get out of the situation using the methods below.

Count to 10

Counting from 0 to 10 and then backwards from 10 to 0 gives you time to cool down so you can think more clearly and overcome the impulse to lash out.

Breathe slowly

You tend to breathe in more when you feel angry. Make sure you breathe out for longer than you breathe in, and relax as you exhale. This will help you calm down and think clearly.

Leave the environment

If your environment or the people you are with make you feel angry, then briefly leaving the environment may help. Try having a walk around the block or sitting on the toilet for a few minutes.

Talk yourself calm

Some people find it useful to repeat a phrase or word to themselves when they are feeling angry, such as “take it easy” or “these feelings will soon pass”. Or you could imagine a calm person who you know talking to you and giving you advice to relax.


Distracting yourself from the situation that is making you angry can help, such as reading a magazine or listening to relaxing music.

Relieving physical tension

It is possible to relieve pent-up physical tension without harming yourself or others. If you feel the need to hit something, use a mattress. And if you feel like screaming, you could try screaming into a pillow.

Exercise is an excellent way of relieving tension as well as improving your mood (see below).

Venting your feelings

Sharing your feelings and frustrations with friends can often help you get a better perspective on a situation.

You could also try writing about how you feel. However, don’t post something in the heat of the moment on the internet or a social network site, which you may later regret.

Changing the way you think

Often how you think about people, problems and situations can determine how you then feel and act about them. It is common to fall into unhelpful patterns of thinking, which can then lead to unhelpful patterns of behaviour.

Changing the way you think plays an important part in a type of talking therapy known as cognitive behavioural therapy.

When people become angry, the language they use is often very black and white, such as: “It’s all ruined now,” which reinforces their feelings of anger. This type of language and thinking also stops you seeking a potential solution to a problem and can upset people around you.

When you begin to feel angry, avoid using words and phrases such as:

  • always (“You always do that”)
  • never (“You never listen to me”)
  • should/shouldn’t (“You should do what I want” or “You shouldn’t be on the roads”)
  • must/mustn’t (“I must be on time” or “I mustn’t be late”)
  • ought/oughtn’t (“People ought to get out of my way”)
  • it’s not fair

Angry people tend to make demands rather than requests. This can make a bad situation worse. It is always healthier to say that you “would like something” than you “must have it”.

Anger can quickly cause you to become irrational and lose all sense of perspective. Try to step back and think logically about a situation. For example, losing a wallet or purse can be annoying, but most people will lose a wallet at least once or twice during their life. Frustrating as this may be, it is not the end of the world.

Problem solving

Situations or issues in your life that cause you anger can be resolved by planning and problem solving.

For example, if driving to work in traffic causes you to become angry with other road users, it may be better to catch a bus or a train or, if possible, work different hours to avoid the rush hour.

If you tend to argue with your partner in the evening, it could be because you are both tired after a day’s work. You could wait until Sunday morning to talk about issues.

However, not every problem can be solved and you may need to focus your efforts on learning how to best cope with the problem, and then moving on.

Improving communication

Often when you enter into an angry exchange with someone, both your and the other person’s responses can quickly lead to misunderstandings and incorrect conclusions.

This is why it’s important to slow down, listen to what is being said, and then think carefully before responding.

If you are being criticised by somebody, it is natural to feel defensive, but this should not encourage you to respond with your own “verbal attack”. Instead, try to remain calm and ask non-threatening questions about why the person feels the need to criticise you in this way. Often what you may first see as an attack is actually a problem that the other person is trying to cope with.


Humour can play an essential part in helping reduce feelings of anger and maintain a healthy sense of perspective.

For example, imagine you are having a really bad day where everything is going wrong. Rather than picturing yourself as a victim and getting more and more angry, try picturing yourself as a sitcom “figure of fun” – a Basil Fawlty, David Brent or Homer Simpson, for example. Then, if things continue to go wrong, you may start to find them ridiculous rather than frustrating, and your mood may improve.

Learning not to take yourself or your life too seriously can often help put things in the proper perspective.

However, it is important to avoid using sarcasm while dealing with other people. Sarcastic humour can be perceived as a form of aggression.

Managing anger in the long term

Once you can recognise the signs that you are getting angry and can calm yourself down, you can start looking at ways to control your anger more generally.


Exercise is one of the best ways to release built-up anger and tension. Running, walking, swimming, yoga and meditation are just a few of the activities that boost your production of “good mood” hormones (such as endorphins) and help reduce stress.

Read more about the benefits of exercise.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is a breathing exercise that focuses on fully inflating your lungs, helping you to unwind. A simple guide is:

  • Sit or lie comfortably and loosen your clothing.
  • Put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach.
  • Breathe in through your nose and slowly count to three in your head.
  • As you breathe in, feel your stomach inflate with your hand. If your chest expands, focus on breathing with your diaphragm.
  • Slowly breathe out through pursed lips and slowly count to six.
  • Repeat two more times.


Listening to calming music, such as classical music, can help you relax. It can slow your pulse and heart rate, reduce stress hormones and lower your blood pressure.

Massage and relaxation

The kneading and stroking movements in massage relax tense muscle and improve your circulation.

Some people find that relaxation classes are good at reducing stress levels and help control anger. Yoga, pilates and tai chi may also be helpful.

Read more about how to start doing yogapilates and tai chi.

Published Date
2011-12-19 14:39:09Z
Last Review Date
2011-11-04 00:00:00Z
Next Review Date
2013-11-04 00:00:00Z
Anger management,Getting active

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