When Anger Becomes a Problem…and What to Do About It

Anger blog post2-01
Author: Claudia M. Elsig, MD

Anger is one of the core human emotions and a perfectly normal reaction to a number of events, such as divorce, the loss of a job, or financial uncertainty. Expressing it in a healthy way – and dealing with it – is crucial for mental and physical health. Sometimes, however, anger gets out of control and ends up hurting yourself or those you love. That is when seeking help becomes critical. 

What is anger?

It is an emotional response to feeling attacked, frustrated, or treated unfairly. Anger is not all bad: it can help us identify an unsafe situation. It can motivate us to do something differently. It can point to a problem – at work, in a relationship or at home. Anger is also subjective. The same situation can be mildly annoying for one person and infuriating for another. 

Anger is sometimes learned. You may have grown up in a home in which expressing anger through aggression – or even violence – was common practice. Or maybe you weren’t allowed to express your anger, and it turned inward. Traumatic experiences we experienced both as a child or as an adult that have not been properly addressed can also leave us angry.1

How you express your anger is a combination of past experiences, current circumstances, and ways of dealing with stress — however, these responses are not set in stone. Understanding your anger and learning new techniques to cope with it can be done during any stage of your life. 

What can cause anger?

Anger can be triggered by stressors, temporary circumstances, and deeper problems, including:

  • Stress, especially if excessive – for many people, the stress comes from changes in interpersonal relationships, such as divorce and custody battles, from childhood trauma, and from financial problems.
  • Alcohol abuse – consuming too much alcohol on a regular basis increases aggression.2
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – anger can be one of the symptoms of ADHD, which also include problems with concentration, poor planning skills and restlessness.
  • Depression – along with feeling hopeless and lacking energy, as well as being irritable and experiencing thoughts of self-harm. 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder 
  • Grief – along with sadness, numbness and guilt, anger for those who are grieving can be directed at themselves or at others. 
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): about 50% of people with OCD experience anger attacks.3

Symptoms of anger 

Physiologically, anger increases blood pressure and raises your heart rate. It makes the muscles tense as well. On an emotional level, the person may feel overwhelmed, stressed out, frustrated, irritable, or even enraged. 

Anyone can succumb to anger: none of us are immune. The key is recognizing it and employing healthy coping techniques to deal with the situation.

What are the unhealthy ways we express anger?

There are three patterns of anger expression, and none of these are healthy. 

  • Outward aggression – whether verbally abusive or physically threatening, this type of aggression can range from screaming at others and throwing things to physical violence. Anger is among the top predictors for violence that occurs within couples.4
  • Inward aggression – when anger is directed inward, it can result in self-hate and self-harming behaviors.
  • Passive aggression – less visible than outward aggression, passive-aggressive behavior is just as damaging psychologically. The silent treatment is one such example.

How to know if you’re in trouble

If you feel that your anger is hurting others around you – or yourself – then it is possible that anger has become a problem you have to address. 

You need to seek help for your anger if:

  • You don’t know how to express your anger in a healthy way
  • You are frequently angry
  • Your anger is affecting your mental and/or physical health
  • Your anger is hurting yourself (through self-harm)
  • Your anger is hurting others (verbally, emotionally or physically)
  • You feel like you have lost control of your anger
  • You do and say things out of anger that you later regret
  • Your anger is destructive

Pervasive anger can result in cardiovascular disease, headaches, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal disease, and a number of other physiological illnesses.5

How do you cope with anger?

First, you must identify your triggers – and you might need a professional to help you do so. What are the situations that bring out your anger? What sets you off? Everyone has a pattern when it comes to your anger, and the first step is identifying yours. It may be an alcoholic drink. Or a stressor such as a bad day at work. Or automatic negative thoughts such as “I’m not good enough” or “This is all his/her fault.” 

Communicating effectively is incredibly important to coping with anger. Taking a pause before speaking; avoiding generalities; thinking about your end-goals, and actively listening to your partner, friend or child are some of the techniques.

Looking at your life as a whole will also help. Addressing your nutrition and exercise while avoiding drugs and alcohol can give you a better balance, along with building up your skills to deal with pressure. Sleeping enough is also essential – sleep deprivation and sleep debt are both associated with anger.6

How CALDA Clinic can help with your anger

Our targeted, multi-modal approach focuses on why you become angry and what you can do about it. Together, we look at the causes and triggers that make you to spin out of control, and help you develop skills to better deal with anger and frustration – ranging from what you eat to how you communicate with loved ones.

For each client, we combine conventional medicine with Eastern practices for the best and most effective result. You will leave the CALDA Clinic with a better understanding of yourself and your triggers, and techniques that you can apply for the rest of your life to cope better and therefore have better relationships with those around you.


  1. Adler AB, LeardMann CA, Roenfeldt KA, Jacobson IG, Forbes D; Millennium Cohort Study Team. Magnitude of problematic anger and its predictors in the Millennium Cohort. BMC Public Health. 2020 Jul 27;20(1):1168. doi: 10.1186/s12889-020-09206-2. PMID: 32718306; PMCID: PMC7385895.
  2. Walitzer KS, Deffenbacher JL, Shyhalla K. Alcohol-Adapted Anger Management Treatment: A Randomized Controlled Trial of an Innovative Therapy for Alcohol Dependence. J Subst Abuse Treat. 2015 Dec;59:83-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2015.08.003. Epub 2015 Aug 18. PMID: 26387049; PMCID: PMC4661083.
  3. Painuly NP, Grover S, Mattoo SK, Gupta N. Anger attacks in obsessive compulsive disorder. Ind Psychiatry J. 2011 Jul;20(2):115-9. doi: 10.4103/0972-6748.102501. PMID: 23271866; PMCID: PMC3530280.
  4. Zahl-Olsen R, Gausel N, Zahl-Olsen A, Bertelsen TB, Haaland AT, Tilden T. Physical Couple and Family Violence Among Clients Seeking Therapy: Identifiers and Predictors. Front Psychol. 2019 Dec 17;10:2847. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02847. PMID: 31920876; PMCID: PMC6928105
  5. Futterman LG, Lemberg L. Anger and acute coronary events. Am J Crit Care. 2002 Nov;11(6):574-6. PMID: 12425409.
  6. Saghir Z, Syeda J N, Muhammad A S, et al. (July 02, 2018) The Amygdala, Sleep Debt, Sleep Deprivation, and the Emotion of Anger: A Possible Connection?. Cureus 10(7): e2912. doi:10.7759/cureus.2912