How to Handle Anger

Last Editorial Review: 1/30/2005

Effective anger management techniques help you express anger -- which is good for you -- in a good way.

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Gary Vogin Even though expressing your anger can be good for you, flying into a rage at every suspected slight isn't the answer. For instance, blowing off steam by hurling hardware at your hubby or breaking plates over the boss's head aren't great solutions. But it is possible -- even desirable -- to use anger in a positive rather than negative way.

Forget the pop notion of channeling anger into more productive pursuits. "Relationship enhancement is the most productive outlet possible for anger," says Deborah Cox, PhD, a psychologist at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield -- and this can happen when you let the other person see you're upset. So what concrete tips might help when you're mad as hell and not going to take it any more? Read on.

  • Seek out a safe place to seethe. Before confronting the object of your wrath, talk with a trusted friend, co-worker, or counselor who can help get to the root of what's pressing your buttons. Mulling it over with someone safe may help you figure out less hostile, more instructive ways to express your feelings with a loved one, colleague, or boss.

  • Approach the person who sent your blood boiling in the first place. As a general guideline, the more significant the relationship, the more important it is to articulate feelings in a constructive way, says Dana Crowley Jack, EdD, a psychologist at Fairhaven College at Western Washington University in Bellingham. She suggests trying something like, "This is bothering me. Something has to change. How can we deal with it?"

  • Identify the reason behind the rage. There's always something underlying an angry reaction. The trick here is to find the trigger. If it's not obvious, keeping a log of anger experiences may help you uncover patterns. For some people, professional help may be needed to delve through deep-rooted feelings of shame and anger that started in childhood.

  • Find a physical release. Though jogging and other physical activities can be helpful, Cox advocates an anger workout: hitting a mattress with a tennis racket or slapping the sofa with a bat when you really start to see red. The key, says Cox, is to talk as you thwack the furniture. Engaging large muscle groups along with your voice should help you work through some of your fury. Kickboxing or Tae-Bo may give the same results. You'll feel less likely to lose it if you have a physical release first, explains Cox. "When a client tells me: 'If I really let it out, we'd all burst into flames,' then I might suggest an anger workout," she says.

  • Take several deep breaths. If you find yourself blinded by heat-of-the-moment anger, try to buy some time to cool off a bit, especially if you think you're at risk of harming someone physically or emotionally. You may even need to walk away from the situation for a while. Remember, though, that in the long run, fleeing the scene won't help you express yourself. So ask for a few moments to collect your thoughts and then say what needs to be said.

  • Look for like-minded souls. All fired up about a societal injustice? Sick of suffering? Then hook up with people who share your passion or problem through a support group or organization. Consider working with an organization for change, like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). "Joining other people who care about what you do can transform anger into a positive expression," says Jack.

Sarah Henry is a freelance writer in San Francisco whose stories have appeared in health magazine and The Los Angeles Times.

Originally published April 17, 2000.

Medically reviewed Feb. 14 2003.

SOURCES: Deborah Cox, PhD, psychologist, Southwest Missouri State University, Springfield • Dana Crowley Jack, EdD, psychologist, Fairhaven College, Western Washington University, Bellingham.

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