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Dealing With Anger

Anger is a feeling that ranges from mild irritation to intense rage. Everyone gets angry sometimes. It’s a natural reaction to feeling threatened, mistreated, victimized or frustrated. Anger can have positive effects, like motivating you to change things that are making you unhappy. But it can also have negative effects. It can make you act without thinking and hurt people with harsh words or violence.

Feeling angry is not a problem in itself. It becomes a problem if the anger is too intense, if you feel it too often or if you express it inappropriately. What’s “inappropriately?” People with anger-management problems frequently respond to their angry feelings with aggressive behavior. They tend to act without thinking about the consequences. That can hurt relationships, academic performance, chances for a successful career and may even get them into trouble with the law.

Four Myths About Anger

We all need to learn to deal with anger effectively, but the first step is separating truth from myth. Here are four common myths.

Myth #1: People can’t change how they react when angry.

People are not born with set ways to express anger. Research shows that the ways we express anger are learned behaviors. That means we can “unlearn” destructive old habits and learn good new ones, making our anger work for us rather than against us.

Myth #2: Anger equals aggression.

Anger is not the same as aggression. Aggression is behavior that includes insults, threats and physical violence. Anger is an emotion that does not necessarily lead to aggression. Just because you feel angry doesn’t mean you must express that anger by acting aggressively. Anger does not have to increase until it’s released by losing your temper, shouting or hitting. You can have angry feelings and still control your behavior. Myth #3: Letting your anger explode is healthy.

On the contrary: Screaming or telling someone off is not a good way to release anger. In fact, studies have shown that people who express anger in these ways only encourage their own aggressive behavior and then suffer the consequences. There are much more effective ways to deal with your anger. See “Managing Your Anger” for ways to keep your cool and achieve your goals.

Myth #4: People need to be aggressive to get what they want.

Many people confuse aggression with assertiveness, but they are not the same. Assertiveness is a way of saying how you feel and what you want while being respectful of other people. If you don’t blame, insult or threaten, people will be much more likely to listen to you and make changes.

What is anger?

Anger is an emotion that we experience when something doesn’t go the way we intended. It can vary in intensity from mild frustration to rage.

Some people think that they should never feel angry, but anger is a normal emotion, like sadness, anxiety or happiness, which everyone experiences. There are times and situations when anger is the appropriate response. However, anger can become a problem when it’s too intense, too frequent or occurs at the wrong time. The way you express your anger—your behavior—can also cause you troubles.

How do you express your anger?

People express their anger in many different ways. How do you express yours?

  • bottle it up
  • yell
  • overreact
  • make quick and harsh judgments of others
  • tense muscles, clench jaw
  • curse/swear
  • slam/throw things
  • hit, scratch, punch others
  • act passive aggressively (talk behind someone’s back, don’t return phone calls)
  • hold a grudge

Anger has consequences.

Anger is a lot like a pot of boiling water that’s about to boil over. You can put a lid on it. You can let it boil over. You can take it off the heat. Or you can turn down the heat.

Some people say that expressing anger makes them feel better, and that it’s even healthy to express it. In fact, some research suggests that putting a lid on frequent anger—or holding it in—is associated with higher rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and other health problems.

Other people use anger to make a point. But what if you get angry every time your friend wants to do something different than what you want to do? You may get what you want in the short term, but your friend might not want to spend as much time with you in the future.

Anger is a completely normal, healthy human emotion. But if you feel like your anger is taking control of you—if you’re starting to have problems in school, at work and in your relationships—it may be time to think about anger management.

Anger Management

You may never be able to completely get rid of, avoid or change the people and things that make you angry. But you can learn to recognize your anger “triggers” and develop healthier ways to deal with how anger makes you feel and act. That’s what anger management is about. These anger management strategies can help you keep your anger triggers from tipping you over the edge.

Distraction: You can’t be angry when you’re doing something you enjoy, can you? Distraction is an effective anger management technique because it helps keep your mind off the thing that made you angry. Here are 10 distracting activities you can try:

  1. Play a board game
  2. Work on a puzzle
  3. Paint, draw or sculpt
  4. Play with your pet
  5. Call/text/chat with a friend
  6. Play a computer game
  7. Read a book
  8. Watch a movie
  9. Cook
  10. Meditate


To be effective, a good distraction should fully engage your mind. For example, TV may not be distracting enough to fully get your mind off what made you angry in the first place. How about counting to 10? Counting to 10 is not very distracting because you probably can do it in your sleep—it’s very automatic. Instead, try counting backwards from 100 by 7s. What about punching a pillow—or a wall? Besides the fact that you might break your hand, do you really want to train your brain to hit something when you get angry? More importantly, what happens when there is no pillow? Surely you can think of something else…

5 More Anger Management Techniques

Listen to Music: This is a great strategy, but it depends on what you listen to. Even if Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff” is your favorite song, you might not find it very relaxing. Instead find a song that you associate with feeling good—like a beach song or a great dance tune and shake your booty!

Exercise/Physical Activity: Exercise isn’t just distracting, it’s an excellent way to let off some energy without being destructive (like punching a wall). Exercise also releases endorphins in your brain—and endorphins can reduce pain and naturally induce an overall sense of calm and well-being.

Talk to friends: Socializing can be a great way to cope with anger, but if you dwell on what made you angry, you could stir up your emotions rather than turn down the heat. Instead, talk about something else—a concert that’s coming up, last week’s big game, a movie you just saw, you get the picture.

Laugh: It’s difficult to laugh and be mad at the same time. Figure out what makes you laugh and keep it on hand for when you are upset. Find jokes online or watch a funny movie. There’s a reason they say, “laughter is the best medicine!”

Use calming statements: Just telling yourself to relax and take it easy can be calming. Try these statements:

  1. It’s not as bad as it seems.
  2. I can get through this.
  3. This too shall pass.
  4. I might not like it, but my head won’t explode.

Find more tips on managing anger in Getting to Know Your Anger.

Your Anger Action Plan

Now that you’ve learned a little about anger and your own experiences with it, examine your anger patterns and make an action plan to help you keep your anger in check. Think about:

  1. Your anger triggers—What people, situations or hassles make you angry, annoyed or frustrated?
  2. Your behavior—What do you usually do when you get angry?
  3. Your anger plan—Make a list of strategies you can use the next time you get angry. Write it down and carry it in your wallet, so it’s handy when you need it.

Anger management is a learned technique, and like anything you learn, it takes time. Keep practicing until you see results. Or talk to a counselor at your student center about developing a range of techniques for changing your thinking and your behavior.

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