How To Deal With Anger
Anger is an adaptive physiological response to the perception of threat. It’s one of your fight-or-flight instincts, there to protect you from potential harm by triggering you to fight or run away from danger. Like all of our other emotions, anger serves a purpose, and in and of itself is not a destructive force.
However, according to research, uncontrolled anger becomes harmful and destructive when we allow it to overtake us. Anger can be detrimental to our relationships, and to our own bodies.
When we are angry, the body releases the stress hormone, cortisol. Excessive amounts of cortisol can interfere with your clarity of thought, trigger mood swings, and reinforce other symptoms of anxiety, depression, and trauma. Additionally, too much cortisol can put you at a higher risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, and a weakened immune system.
Read more: Learn about cortisol and how it impacts your body and mental health.
Given that we can’t eliminate anger from our lives, it’s important to accept anger as an aspect of our human experience and to find healthy and productive ways to metabolize it so it doesn’t build up inside and become a chronic issue.
Below, you’ll find nine of the most common expressions of anger and productive remedies to help you process and release anger on a physical, mental, and emotional level.
9 Common Expressions + Remedies for Anger
1. Anger Induced by Grief
There are at least 7 nonlinear stages involved in the grieving process, including shock, denial, guilt, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. If you’re experiencing anger while dealing with a loss of a loved one or during/after a major change in your life, it’s likely that you’re going through a grieving process. While it’s important to allow yourself to experience the full range of your emotions in grief, it’s also essential to have a productive outlet for the anger so it doesn’t get stuck in your body. Over time, trapped anger can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.
REMEDY: Grief can interfere with our mental clarity and memory, making it easy to forget why we are feeling more sensitive or vulnerable than usual. Actively remind yourself that you’re going through the grieving process, and how difficult it can be to lose someone or something important to you. Be gentle with yourself, and treat yourself with the same kindness you would offer to a friend in need. Breathe in compassion, breathe out the pain from your losses. Don’t rush the grieving process and allow it to take as long as it needs to take. Addressing your pain with mindful awareness and compassion can help to soothe the anger so you can eventually shift into acceptance.
2. Carried Anger and Rage Induced by Abuse and Trauma
When an adult mistreats or abuses a child, they are not taking responsibility for dealing with their own anger and other unresolved issues. Instead, they are disowning their volatile anger and using the child as an object to release their rage. Children are vulnerable, and often unconsciously absorb whatever is going on around them. Abused children will often struggle with intense feelings of anger, and at times, uncontrollable rage. This is referred to as carried rage. To be clear, the child’s anger is an appropriate and healthy response to the abuse. The rage, however, is not theirs, but rather a destructive energy they absorbed from the abuser. Survivors of assault, rape, domestic violence, systemic violence, oppression, and war also tend to experience carried anger and rage that they have absorbed from the aggressor.
REMEDY: The first step in releasing carried rage is to acknowledge and accept where it comes from. If you experienced abuse, neglect, abandonment, or bullying it’s important to own the reality of what you lived through without making excuses for the abuser or minimizing how it impacted you. While abusers are often in pain and dealing with their own problems, this does not justify the abuse or change the fact that it had an impact on you. Next, you’ll need to detox from the painful experiences from the past. Enroll a mental health professional to support you through this process. As you release the rage and other inherited emotions, you’ll gain more command over your own emotions and create more space to cultivate your self-worth and sense of empowerment. The next step is a lifelong journey and involves the process of reparenting yourself. In order to reparent yourself, you will need to pay close attention to your needs and take responsibility for tending to your needs. This will enable you to notice when you’re triggered, and use it as a signal to reinforce your boundaries and practice self-care.
3. Assertive Anger in Response to Injustice
In some cases, anger is an expression of your aliveness and a helpful response to your boundaries or values being violated. For example, in the face of injustice, abuse, and oppression, it’s perfectly healthy and natural to experience anger. Anger is one of the ways you can energetically restore your sense of self and integrity, as long as the anger doesn’t overtake you.
REMEDY: Journaling is an excellent way to process and sort through your thoughts and emotions. Write about why you feel angry without censoring yourself. After you have externalized the anger through your writing practice, spend 1-5 minutes breathing to help your body release the stress of anger so it doesn’t build up inside. Close your eyes and breathe spaciousness into your body. Breathe out with the intention of restoring your sense of self. Each time you breathe, imagine that you are filling up with your own energy and embodying your most empowered self.
4. Self-Inflicted Anger
Anger turned inward and directed toward yourself is common if you deal with low self-esteem, low self-worth, or depression. This can range from engaging in unkind or hateful thoughts toward yourself to practicing self harm, such as cutting, eating disorders, substance abuse, or suicide attempts.
REMEDY: Your internal dialogue has a profound impact on your mood, your energy, your motivation, and your sense of well-being. Notice when you’re engaging in unkind thoughts about yourself and interrupt your thinking patterns. Accept that you will need to treat yourself in the same way you would treat a loved one or a close friend in order to heal your self-worth. Choose kind words and encouraging thoughts to lift yourself up. In your meditation practice, visualize loving kindness and compassion filling your body when you breathe in. Breathe out self-hatred and imagine that it dissolves into neutrality as it leaves your body.
5. Anger and Irritability Related to OCD, PTSD, ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Substance Use Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, and Depression.
Anger is sometimes the expression of an underlying disorder, such as PTSD, anxiety, or depression. For example, people who struggle with panic or anxiety attacks tend to hold a lot of anger in their bodies. In cases of depression, there is often a mountain of repressed anger underlying the more passive symptoms of depression such as lethargy, lack of motivation, and anhedonia.
REMEDY: Enroll a mental health professional to help you identify the underlying issue, and develop a treatment plan to address it. If you're dealing with depression, remember that depression can cause you to become disconnected from your body, and from life in general. The first step involves reconnecting with your body and acknowledging the presence of anger, even if you’re not sure where it lives or what it’s about. Next, mobilize the anger through movement and exercise, particularly exercises that involve the leg and arm muscles. Boxing, jogging, kneading dough, any type of strength training or cardiovascular exercise will be sufficient for this purpose as long as you keep in mind the intention of releasing repressed anger. Remember that you will have to engage in this practice consistently in order to notice results. Over time, as you release repressed anger, you will begin to experience a sense of aliveness and vitality.
6. Codependent Resentment and Rage
Feelings of resentment occur in response to having unclear boundaries, and thus, being put upon or burdened by others. This is often the case for people who are overly nice and helpful at their own expense. These codependent tendencies are known as caretaking or people-pleasing behaviors. If you engage in these tendencies, it’s likely that you will eventually feel taken advantage of, and unsupported by the people you so generously support. Naturally, this is followed by feelings of resentment, passive aggression, or in extreme cases volatile anger, which in this context is also known as codependent rage.
REMEDY: Resentment is most often a sign that you need to reestablish your boundaries. It’s likely that you are bypassing your own needs, and instead focusing on other people’s needs or managing what they think of you at your own expense. If this is the case, turn your focus away from what other people are or aren’t doing. Instead, listen to what you need to replenish yourself and make sure to tend to those needs every day. Don't expect other people to read your mind or anticipate your needs. Instead, be clear about your boundaries and limitations, practice non-violent communication with others, and take responsibility for upholding your boundaries.
7. Anger as a Secondary Emotion
Anger goes hand in hand with other emotions and is often considered to be a secondary emotion, rather than something that exists on its own. From this perspective, the emotions underlying anger tend to be of a more tender and vulnerable nature, such as sadness, sorrow, overwhelm, judgment, frustration, annoyance, betrayal, hurt, and feelings of rejection or abandonment. Anger serves to protect these raw and painful emotions.
REMEDY: In your journal, write about any potential primary emotions that may be underlying the anger. Create space for these vulnerable emotions by imagining them as small children who are in pain and need your love and care. Take a deep breath and imagine that you’re breathing support, acknowledgment, and compassion to the hurt parts of yourself. Spend at least 5 minutes per day engaging in this process.
8. Inflammation-Related Anger
The gut is often thought of as the second brain because it contains upwards of 100 million neurons that also produce neurotransmitters that communicate with the brain. This pathway of communication between the gut and the brain, also known as the vagus nerve, plays an essential role in your mental health. When there’s inflammation in the gut, the vagus nerve sends this inflammatory message to the brain, triggering symptoms of anxiety and depression, including anger. By reducing gut inflammation and improving your vagal tone, you can change the signal that you’re sending to the brain, which in turn affects your mental health.
REMEDY: There are six essential practices to help you improve your vagal tone, reduce inflammation, and inflammatory anger.
Diaphragmatic breathing (breathe into your belly for 5 minutes per day).
Hum, or chanting Om for 1-5 minutes per day.
Take a cold bath or shower.
Exercise to help your body release stress and anxiety.
Meditate to help quiet the mind and reduce inflammation in the gut.
Avoid inflammatory foods and alcohol, and follow an anti-inflammatory diet.
Read more: Many people struggle with gut inflammation. Learn more about inflammation, anti-inflammatory foods, and mental health.
9. Repressed, Passive, or Unconscious Anger
For some people, anger is not considered to be an acceptable emotion. Unfortunately, this belief does not prevent your body from experiencing anger and only serves to bottle the anger up, causing damage to your body. Here are some common symptoms of repressed anger:
Tightness, clenching or grinding of the jaw and teeth
Pain or tension in the shoulders, neck, and arms
Panic and anxiety attacks
Nightmares involving themes of fear and anger
Hopelessness and apathy
REMEDY: Acknowledge that you are human and that it’s perfectly natural to experience anger. Notice where in your body you might be holding pent up anger. Next, mobilize the anger through movement and exercise, particularly exercises that involve the legs and arms. You can also explore journaling or expressive arts as a way to externalize the anger.
Anger is a signal that something within you is calling for attention.
Sometimes people think that if they ignore persistent anger, anxiety, depression, or trauma, it’ll go away on its own. However, if untreated, these symptoms will inevitably become worse over time. If you are struggling with anger management on your own, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible so you can regain a sense of emotional balance.