A guide to anger management: Effective anger management strategies

We all have our triggers—those little pet peeves and touchy subjects. But there’s a difference between having our temper flare temporarily and deep, seething anger that can feel impossible to let go of. For some people, anger is an emotion that’s difficult to control. It detrimentally erodes their interpersonal relationships, life goals, career, and self-esteem. 

But controlling anger isn’t impossible; learning the process of anger management through therapy or counseling services might be the extra boost that’s needed to regulate one’s emotions effectively. Those who have difficulty reining in their anger can correct their mindset and learn to cope by discovering and implementing the right management techniques from a mental health professional.

Why Can't I Control My Anger?

A person’s ability to manage their anger is largely influenced by predispositions such as personality, temperament, environment and biological factors. People who have difficulty controlling their anger may also have a low tolerance for frustration. This can occur when a person experiences difficulty with delaying gratification or maintaining their composure in tough times.

It should be noted that anger is not a “bad” emotion: it can be helpful. Anger can help with goal attainment, effective communication, problem-solving, emergency response, and self-protection. Anger is a natural feeling that is generally triggered by frustration, hurt, or being treated unfairly, and is helpful in drawing healthy boundaries, among other things. However, it becomes an issue when that anger starts hurting undeserving people.

What Is Anger Management?

Anger management is quite literally what it sounds like: the therapeutic process that a client goes through to identify what’s triggering their angry emotions. The goal of anger management is to help people identify the sources of their anger, analyze their reactions, and adopt healthier ways of expressing their anger using coping methods and strategies taught to them by their provider. 

While it’s unrealistic to completely remove all anger from a client’s emotional range, anger management will ultimately help the client control and reshape initial reactions to such situations.

How Does the Anger Management Process Work?

Anger management takes clients down a clear road to recovery. They’re given specific instructions on how to express anger appropriately, as well as find a safe outlet for relieving their emotions. 

Therapists encourage clients to examine the root of their anger and to explore those emotions. Then, they teach these clients how to use their newfound awareness to better understand the way their body reacts to specific triggers and circumstances, which will, over time, correct their inappropriate or harmful behavior. 

Anger management therapists can also help their clients discover and address more severe origins of anger. This might include grief, depression, trauma, addiction, anxiety, or other mental health issues. 

Whatever the underlying cause may be, anger management can assist people in uncovering it, which often helps improve their ability to control and manage their emotions. To better manage and express anger, therapists teach their clients a variety of techniques, including:

Aside from individual anger management and therapy, there are group treatment options. In an anger management group, there is a trained mental health facilitator who assists the group through techniques. The benefit of the group is relating to others and feeling understood, thus increasing feelings of support and interpersonal skills.

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What Is the Best Type of Therapy for Anger Management?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often cited as the best choice for those wishing to control their anger. This is due to CBT’s near-universal applicability; the coping methods learned from CBT can help those with anger management issues control their emotions in a healthy way, but can also apply to countless other real-world situations that occur outside of therapy or counseling. 

Cognitive Behavioral Strategies for Anger Control

CBT can help those seeking to better manage their anger to: 

  • Recognize shifts in their mood, as well as what triggers them to become angry
  • Recognize that, if uncontrolled, these unpleasant feelings are harmful to oneself and others.
  • Choose a strategy to regulate their anger. Thought replacement is often the most beneficial—this involves critically evaluating the situation that has caused the client to become angry, and recognizing the need to alter their thinking. Replacing angry thoughts with more benevolent ones often depends on the client recognizing the potential for harm to themselves and others if their anger goes unchecked.
  • Foster personal growth and breakthroughs via journaling (sometimes referred to as diary work). This is often a beneficial strategy assigned as out-of-session homework. Journaling often reveals patterns in thinking or social behaviors that may otherwise go unrecognized to the client.  

What Causes Anger and How It Manifests

There are many factors that contribute to feelings of anger. However, the roots of our anger can be categorized into two main categories: internal and external events. Internal events that might trigger an angry reaction include self-perceived failures and frustrations, while external events can include public humiliation and loss. 

Some specific factors that can contribute to difficulty managing anger include:

  • Personality. People who tend to score high in neuroticism (likelihood of experiencing negative emotions) and low in agreeableness (getting along with others) tend to experience more episodes of anger.
  • Temperament. Those with choleric/driven temperaments tend to be more extraverted, display leadership qualities, and be more prone than the other three temperament types (sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic) to react with impulsivity and anger.
  • Genetics/biology. Certain medical and mental health issues have predispositions that can lead a person to be more susceptible to irritability and anger, such as bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, or autism spectrum disorder to name a few. Many of these disorders can make emotional regulation difficult, making it hard for people to calm themselves down or manage their emotions.
  • Environment. People who live in an environment that commonly sees exclusion, rejection, discrimination, danger, or ridicule are likely to experience feelings of anger.
  • Mistaken thoughts or beliefs. Sometimes people can form thoughts that are distorted or maintain beliefs that are unhelpful. This can create unmet expectations that lead to increased disappointment and anger.
  • Hormones. Excessive testosterone and premenstrual symptoms can contribute to aggression.

Both internal and external events can result in anger, but anger doesn’t always take the same form. Anger can emerge as aggression and tantrums—these are called external behaviors—but it can also build up internally and lead to sulking or even depressive symptoms.

What Are the 3 Types of Anger?

Anger is a strong emotion; therefore, it can be hard for those who aren’t mental health professionals to distinguish the difference between angry states of mind, especially during the heat of the moment. However, expressions of anger are split into three distinct categories: 

  1. Passive aggressive anger: This type of anger occurs when a person refuses or is not able to cope with their emotional response to a triggering situation. This anger involves subtle expressions of displeasure, including sarcasm, holding grudges, backhanded compliments, or stonewalling (ignoring a loved one’s requests for affection or refusing to reconcile after a fight). 
  2. Aggressive anger: The most infamous, and perhaps the most tangibly destructive type of anger is direct aggression. This type of anger occurs when a person expresses their anger outwardly and uses these tactics to control a person or situation. This is typically a fight or flight response to external threats, whether real or imagined. Directly aggressive behavior can involve physical violence, intimidation, verbal abuse, or even the smashing of objects.
  3. Assertive anger: This type of anger occurs when a person attempts to communicate needs and feelings during a triggering situation in a controlled manner. Assertive anger is the least harmful of all three forms, and is what clients seek to transform their unhealthy expressions of anger into. This response is the healthiest way to express emotional displeasure. Assertive anger may involve verbally addressing a perceived slight, comment, or action that bothers a client. The key difference between assertive anger and the other forms is that it is not aggressive, but constructive. 

The goal of anger management is not to eliminate anger—it can be a healthy, helpful emotion if regulated—but to ensure that this potentially explosive emotion is expressed in a way that does not cause harm to oneself, their environment, or other people.  

How Do I Stop My Anger Outbursts? Practical Anger Management Techniques

Anger management involves using a variety of skills to help with expressing anger in appropriate ways. This can include relaxation techniques, cognitive restructuring, communication skills, and removal from the triggering situation.

There are many approaches to managing angry feelings and decreasing acts of aggression. Below are four steps that help with managing angry feelings:

  • Step 1: Identify protective factors. These are actionable items that can counter a trigger in advance. This can include forming meaningful connections, practicing positive self-talk, setting and reinforcing boundaries, and attending to self-care practices.
  • Step 2: Identify triggers. Triggers are events that lead to a strong emotional reaction—in this case, anger. Emotions or situations that trigger anger can include feeling misunderstood, alone/lonely, embarrassed, or ashamed. By identifying these triggers, you can avoid them or be more prepared to manage your anger.
  • Step 3: Identify warning signs. These are observable cues that let you know you are upset. This can include impulsive decision making; becoming more confrontational; reckless behaviors; or making condescending, belittling, or petty comments. This will help you recognize when your anger is taking over and alert you that you need to start to take steps to diffuse it.
  • Step 4: Engage in helpful responses. These are actions you can take to remain safe until you are out of the “danger zone” of intense anger. This can include coping skills, creative expressions, exercise, and thinking about the situation differently.

By taking each of these steps, you can learn to preemptively treat your anger as well as manage it in a healthy way so that it no longer hurts you or others.

How to Control Anger Immediately

If a person is in a situation whereby they need to immediately decrease the intensity of their anger, there are a few techniques that can be helpful.

  • Cognitive restructuring: This helps with identifying the unhelpful thought that’s causing your anger, challenging it, and changing it so that it becomes useful and reasonable.
  • Change perspective: Shift your focus from what is distressing to something that is more balanced and optimistic. Try to see your situation in a new way so that you can accept it rather than let it trigger you.
  • Relax: Relaxation techniques such as diaphragm breathing, visualization, or repeating mantras can help you stay calm and bring your emotions down.
  • Physical activity: Exercise helps reduce tension associated with anger. Try taking a walk or doing some jumping jacks for a start.
  • Take a break: Removing oneself from the situation can be beneficial because it creates space between the individual who is angry and their trigger.

Though effective, long-term anger management can take a while to learn, these are great techniques for momentary and immediate help controlling anger.

How to Control Anger: Home Remedies

Though the most helpful anger management will come from therapy, you can certainly develop, rehearse, and improve skills generally taught in therapy at home in an effort to counteract the effects of intense anger. Some examples of these skill are:

  • Frustration tolerance skills are techniques to keep your composure when frustrated or disappointed, such as stress management, resilience, challenging irrational beliefs, or modifying unhelpful thoughts.
  • Problem-solving skills are structured techniques that help you overcome obstacles through reasoning and creativity to reach a desirable outcome.
  • Assertive communication skills allow you to show others respect while directly expressing feelings and needs. This can involve using “I” statements, being aware of your body language, and saying “no” when you need to draw an emotional or physical boundary.
  • Creating a mantra or repeating words can help you block thoughts and increase relaxation.
  • Modify your routine to include self-care practices. Self-directed activities like physical activity, sleep, and eating balanced meals can help protect you from feeling overwhelmed or emotionally dysregulated.
  • Learning additional coping skills like listening to music, going for a walk, writing a letter, or any other activity that makes you happy or calm can help with adjusting or adapting.

What Are the 5 Keys to Controlling Anger?

There are not any universally agreed upon keys to controlling anger and minimizing consequence. However, 5 helpful keys for controlling anger actually have their origins in a very familiar place—daycare. Believe it or not, the lessons taught during circle time are ones that can be very useful for ensuring that anger is not harmful.

  • Treat others the way you want to be treated. When you get upset, it is important to maintain respect for those around you, or at the very least not express disrespect to others.
  • “Smell the roses, blow out the candle.” Through your nasal passages, take in a bit more oxygen than you are accustomed to and release it all through your mouth a bit beyond where you would normally stop. When you get upset, breathing changes, and that can affect the amount of oxygen transmitted to the brain. You can help regulate yourself by focusing on regulating your breathing.
  • Keep your hands and feet to yourself. Don’t become physically aggressive. This can cause irreversible damage to relationships and is likely to negatively impact your self-perception.
  • If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. When angry words exit your mouth and arrive at the listener’s ear, it is likely to hurt, anger, or elicit fear. More than likely, the words that are used in anger are exaggerations, distortions, or versions of the truth that you want heard. However, this might not be the best time. Take 30 minutes or so and then take inventory of the intensity of your feelings.
  • Go to time out. This one may be a twist. Rather than a place for punishment, think of it as a brief respite during which your rational awareness can catch up with your reality. This involves a hard separation between the triggering stimulus and yourself.

The Emotional and Physical Consequences of Unmanaged Anger: Understanding Anger and Its Impact

Unmanaged and frequent episodes of anger often come at a consequence to an individual’s physical, emotional, and mental health. Here are ways in which anger can impact specific areas of one’s life:

  • Physical health: Anger can affect the functioning and well-being of our body through increased blood pressure, disrupted sleep, digestive issues, muscle tension, and substance misuse.
  • Emotional health: Anger can impact our emotions and feelings by increasing feelings of exclusion or loneliness due to fractured relationships, frustration in relationships, or even embarrassment. Each of these can slowly lower our self-esteem and negatively affect our overall emotional state.
  • Mental health: Anger can also affect how we process information, causing increased vulnerability to disorders such as depression or anxiety, as well as poor decision-making.

When it gets out of control, anger can be very isolating, often making one’s emotional and mental health worse and exacerbating the problem. These issues won’t go away by itself, either—the best thing to do is seek help from a mental health professional about how you’re feeling.

What Are the Benefits of Anger Management?

The benefits of anger management are ongoing—however, they can vary from person to person, depending on the severity of one’s anger and the underlying roots of their anger. Some potential benefits include:

  • Healthier relationships: Often, people with anger management issues have strained relationships as a result of their aggressive or volatile behavior, their loved ones typically being the victims of their anger. Therefore, learning to better manage one’s anger will make for stronger, healthier relationships.
  • Better judgment: Heightened emotions can make for cloudy judgment and poor decision-making. Anger management teaches clients the necessary skills to better judge a given situation and react more appropriately.
  • Reduced stress: Negative emotions such as anger lead to high levels of stress. Once a client learns to reduce and better control their anger, they will subsequently experience less stress, which also lowers their risk for serious health problems like heart disease.
  • Effective communication: Emotions are intensified by ineffective communication. A priority of anger management is teaching clients healthy communication strategies, which will help them to forego those angry outbursts and relieve negative feelings.

When someone struggles to keep their anger in check, it can impact nearly every area of their life. Though it isn’t easy, finding strategies that help you manage your anger can change your life for the better—your relationships, your mental health, and your overall sense of happiness and fulfillment. Anger management could be the key to changing your life for the better.

When to Seek Professional Anger Management Help

If you ever feel as though your anger is a problem, if even for a moment, it’s likely a good time to talk to a professional about anger management help. Many people, including working professionals, students, and court- or self-referred individuals, can benefit from anger management. 

Signs That Your Anger May Require Professional Guidance

Those whose behavior aligns with the following may find anger management particularly beneficial:

  • People who display violent behavior
  • Those who display bullying behavior
  • Those battling substance dependency
  • People with mental health conditions that cause difficult behavioral and/or emotional changes, such as PTSD or bipolar disorder
  • Individuals who sustain injuries that cause difficult behavioral changes

Essentially, if your anger causes distress and impairs your ability to function in a social, residential, occupational, academic, or any other important setting, then it would be advisable to consult with a trained and licensed therapist who specializes in anger management. 

An essential step towards managing one’s anger is to recognize that they have a problem and that there is a need for improvement. If a person fails to do so, anger management will likely be ineffective. Furthermore, individuals with significant underlying issues such as mental health conditions may first need to confront those problems for anger management to prove successful.

Thriveworks: Your Partner in Anger Management

If you find yourself needing anger management treatment, Thriveworks has you covered. Our knowledgeable anger management therapists are ready to guide you through what you’re struggling with by helping you get to the root of the issue and working toward effective solutions together.

Experienced Anger Management Professionals at Thriveworks

Each of the anger management therapists at Thriveworks are either fully licensed providers or working toward their licensure under the supervision of a licensed and experienced professional. That means that every Thriveworks client gets access to expert, compassionate care.

Personalized Anger Management Plans Tailored to You

The anger management counselors at Thriveworks employ person-centered approaches to therapy, meaning that each treatment plan is tailored to you—the client. Our therapists use their expertise to shape treatment plans around your concerns, symptoms, and priorities so that your anger management treatment can be as effective as possible. Get your healing journey started and book a session today.

Table of contents

Why Can't I Control My Anger?

What Is Anger Management?

How Does the Anger Management Process Work?

What Is the Best Type of Therapy for Anger Management?

What Causes Anger and How It Manifests

What Are the 3 Types of Anger?

How Do I Stop My Anger Outbursts? Practical Anger Management Techniques

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Laura Harris, LCMHC in Durham, NC

Laura Harris, LCMHC

Laura Harris is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC). She specializes in anger, anxiety, depression, stress management, coping strategies development, and problem-solving skills.

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Theresa Welsh, LPC

Theresa Welsh is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a passion for providing the utmost quality of services to individuals and couples struggling with relationship issues, depression, anxiety, abuse, ADHD, stress, family conflict, life transitions, grief, and more.

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Hannah DeWitt

Hannah is a Junior Copywriter at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor’s degree in English: Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish from Seattle Pacific University. Previously, Hannah has worked in copywriting positions in the car insurance and trucking sectors doing blog-style and journalistic writing and editing.

We update our content on a regular basis to ensure it reflects the most up-to-date, relevant, and valuable information. When we make a significant change, we summarize the updates and list the date on which they occurred. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  • Originally published on December 9, 2021

    Author: VT

  • Updated on September 11, 2023

    Author: Hannah DeWitt; Laura Harris, LCMHC

    Reviewer: Theresa Welsh, LPC

    Changes: Updated by a Thriveworks clinician in collaboration with our editorial team, updated sections regarding the types of anger, how anger management works, and the benefits of anger management; added new sections about why anger can be difficult to control, how to manage anger, anger management tips for when someone is home or need to get it under control quickly, the consequences of unmanaged anger, the five keys of managing anger, and when to seek anger management help; article was clinically reviewed to double confirm accuracy and enhance value.

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