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Managing Intense Anger

We all get angry sometimes. The feeling of anger can range from mild to strong. Even when it’s really intense, anger doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s how we react to our anger that really matters.

Some people get angry and act in ways they later regret. They might say or do something hurtful, make verbal threats or destroy property. If your angry behavior is affecting your work or relationships, you can use the information below to better manage your anger.

Know that you can connect with an expert through your Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) or VA. Talk with your provider to learn more about using anger management techniques in your daily life. Consider talking with your provider about what’s causing your anger. There’s a lot you can do to help you cope with anger.

Identify anger triggers

Triggers are things that “trigger” or bring up the feeling of anger. We all have triggers. You might notice angry feelings surface when you’re stuck in traffic or when you feel disrespected. The important thing is to notice your own anger patterns.

Triggers can be things around you, like someone talking loudly when you’re trying to work or getting an expensive bill in the mail. Or they can come from inside of you, like physical pain. Reminders of military combat or loss can trigger a lot of feelings, including anger. Knowing your triggers can help you manage your response when you get angry. After all, anger doesn’t have to be a problem.  You can still choose to respond in a way that helps yourself and others.

Notice signs that you may be angry

Sometimes anger shows up so fast you might react before you realize it. Reacting quickly can be a great skill, like in matters of life-or-death. But in civilian life, it’s often better to slow down, assess the situation, weigh your options and then choose how to respond. One of the best ways to slow down is to notice signs that you may be angry.

Most people can notice signs that they are having an emotion, including anger. You might notice changes in your body. These can include increased heart rate, fast and shallow breathing, a flushed face or clenched fists. Sometimes your body knows you’re angry before you do. Other signs can be thoughts (e.g., “I’ll show him!”), feelings (e.g., fear, hurt, envy, etc.) or actions (e.g., grinding teeth). Notice these signs so you can choose how to respond. Rather than reacting on impulse, you can respond in a way that’s helpful. 

Managing anger doesn’t mean you never get angry. It means taking steps to manage your anger response. Here are some ways you can deal with anger:

Take a time-out

Sometimes getting away from a situation is the best course of action. Walking away doesn’t mean you’re giving up or admitting defeat. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Can I solve this problem right now or can I come back to it later?
  • Will my response be helpful and fitting?
  • Am I sticking to my values and what I care about?
  • What will happen if I take a break?
  • What is best for everyone in this situation?

Pause to take some deep breaths

Most people take shallow breaths when they’re on edge. When your anger level rises, breathe in deeply and let yourself slow down. Start with three slow, deep breaths, and repeat as needed. See the handout on deep breathing.

Phone a friend

Identify one or two people you can talk to when you feel angry or on edge. These should be people you can trust to “hear you out” and won’t “egg you on” or make it worse. Let them know in advance what you’ll need from them when you’re angry. For example, say, “I just need you to listen,” or, “I need you to remind me to breathe.” Be sure to ask if they’re willing to help. Know they won’t always be available and have a list of other coping strategies handy.

Self-care

We’ve all been there. You don’t get enough sleep and it puts you in a bad mood or you’re irritable because you’re hungry. Know that things like sleep and nutrition can help you cope with your anger. Maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, get enough sleep and avoid drugs and alcohol. These self-care tips can pay off - improving your mood and ability to cope with stress.

Getting help from an EAP provider

Know that the EAP offers you free sessions to talk about your anger. If you’re meeting with an EAP provider, you can learn some coping skills. Learn about managing your anger through relaxation skills, dealing with conflict, healthy communication and self-care. Your EAP provider can help you make a plan for managing anger, and can refer you to other resources if needed.

Other help

These tips for coping with anger can work, but sometimes you need more support.  A mental health expert can help you decide if your anger is a symptom of another issue. Sometimes people show anger because of issues like trauma, depression or substance abuse. If you find yourself lashing out physically or verbally, damaging property, taking risks or using drugs or alcohol to manage anger, we suggest you seek expert support.  You can get help through your EAP. Veterans may also contact the VA for treatment and other VA services.

Know that anger doesn’t have to be a problem for you. By doing some work on yourself, you can build the skills to keep angry feelings in check. For more help, consider these web sites:

 

These materials were developed by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) in collaboration with Aetna Inc. (“Aetna”). These materials may be reproduced for use within your practice. These materials do not constitute medical diagnostic or treatment advice and are intended only to supplement information generally available to health care professionals with more specific information about the unique attributes, needs and services available to Veterans. Health care providers (other than VA employees) using these materials are solely responsible for the health care they deliver to patients and shall not be deemed agents or employees of the VA or Aetna. These materials are not intended for use by the general public.