Saint Peter’s Better Health

Sponsored by Saint Peter’s Healthcare System

We’ve all been angry at times. Whether it’s a fight with a friend, an annoyance at work, or something else altogether, anger is never a pleasant experience. But it’s comforting to know that—however unpleasant—anger is part of being human.

At least some anger is needed for survival. When we feel threatened, we develop aggressive feelings and behaviors. This allows us to fight and defend ourselves.

But, frequent or intense episodes of anger aren’t good for you or the people around you. If you find yourself boiling mad more often than not, try some of these tips to keep your temper in check:

  • Check for other illnesses. Frequent feelings of aggression can have an underlying cause, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, or another illness. If you suspect that your temper problems may be caused by another condition, see your health care provider.
  • Be assertive, not aggressive. If you feel angry over a disagreement with someone, the best way to express it is by sharing your feelings in a respectful way. Expressing anger in this way can be healthier than holding it in. Those who hold back their feelings are more likely to develop passive-aggressive behavior and depression, as well as physical ailments like high blood pressure. When you assert your feelings, however, stay calm and refrain from behaviors such as yelling. It may feel good to “let it rip.” But this behavior has been shown to increase anger, not relieve it. In short, don’t be afraid to speak up, but be courteous at the same time.
  • Identify and avoid your triggers. One good way to keep your temper in check is to not get angry in the first place. If you know that bumper-to-bumper traffic stresses you out, try to drive before or after rush hour. If you’re cranky first thing in the morning, don’t start stressful conversations with your spouse until you’ve had your morning coffee. Of course, you can’t avoid every trigger, but recognizing and steering clear of the controllable ones can go a long way toward decreasing your anger and stress levels.
  • Learn to relax. A few tricks to cool your temper can come in handy the next time you feel yourself close to boiling over. Deep breathing, for example, is a simple technique that can be effective at diffusing anger. To do it, inhale slowly through your nose, hold your breath for a few seconds, and then exhale through your mouth. This helps counteract the rapid, shallow breathing that angry people often have. Visualizing a calm place, real or imaginary, can also help. Practice these techniques daily, and they’ll feel more natural as time goes on.
  • Seek help. If calming yourself down isn’t working and no other cause can be found for your anger, sessions with a professional may help you learn better ways of coping. This kind of therapy can be done one-on-one or in a group situation. Most anger-management counseling focuses on controlling anger, conflict resolution, and other tools to help you keep your aggression from getting the better of you. Ask your primary health care provider for a referral to a therapist or group program.

If you think you are going to become physically or emotionally violent, remove yourself from the situation.

Read more health tips in Saint Peter’s Better Health Library.