Everyone gets angry. But anger can take a toll on your physical and mental health. Anger management is a type of therapy that improves your coping and communication skills. It also teaches relaxation techniques so you can keep your cool.
Anger management is how we handle situations that make us angry. It’s also a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (sometimes, called talk therapy) that can take place in one-on-one or group counseling. You might even take an anger management class. In anger management therapy, you’ll work with a mental healthcare provider to recognize when you’re angry and develop coping skills and strategies so you can deal with these feelings in a way that’s healthy and sustainable for you. You’ll learn about:
In some cases, your therapist may recommend that you see a physician to prescribe medications to help you deal with psychological issues — like depression or anxiety — that often underlie chronic anger issues.
Anger is that beating-heart feeling that rises in your chest as you try to ease your car into a too-small parking space made smaller when your neighbor parked way over the line. It’s that feeling that leads you to shake your fist into your rearview mirror or mutter something under your breath when someone cuts you off in traffic. Or holler at a losing sports team. It can make a toddler bite — or a teen stomp to their room and slam their door — when they don’t get their own way.
So, what’s behind all this? Anger is an emotional reaction to a situation that motivates you to make changes. It stimulates your sympathetic nervous system to trigger a fight-or-flight response, which starts a number of physical changes. Your heart rate and breathing speed up. Your body floods with stress hormones and more blood goes to your muscles. Your focus increases. All this means you have more resources to move away from danger. But the stress of anger isn’t always related to a physical threat. You may also feel angry in social situations, like if you have a conflict with a friend or loved one, notice an injustice, have needs that aren’t met or someone makes fun of you.
Everyone experiences anger differently depending on their personal and relationship history, medical status and current situation. Some people anger faster and feel it more intensely than others. It can range from a slight irritation to a full-on rage.
If you suppress (don’t express) your anger, it can affect your thinking and behavior patterns and create (or make worse) a number of physical problems. When you’re angry more than you’re not, healthcare providers call it chronic anger. Chronic anger has been linked to health issues, including:
Anger is a very common and natural emotion. It can be harmful or helpful — it depends on how you handle it. If you try and fail to get into that parking spot, for example, you might take a minute until that feeling in your chest goes away before driving away. Or you might get out of the car and leave a harsh note on your neighbor’s windshield. You’re angry in both scenarios. But in the first scenario, you notice the anger and let it go. In the second, you spread the negativity around. And probably carry it with you for the rest of the day.
Anger is a very useful emotion. But when you’re angry more often than you’d like, or if it starts to affect your job or relationships, it might be time to ask for help with anger management.
Everyone can benefit from learning anger management skills. And if you have a mental health condition, anger management therapy can make a big difference in your quality of life and relationships. These conditions include:
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In anger management therapy, you’ll learn coping skills that help you understand what makes you angry and what anger looks like for you. Your therapist might ask questions like:
Then, you’ll work with your therapist to develop coping skills or strategies. These are practical skills and things you can do when you notice that you’re angry. Anger management coping skills include:
You’ll also practice these new skills with your therapist during your therapy session. Anger management classes often include practice outside your therapy sessions as well. You’ll need to practice your new plan until you’ve had some success managing your anger (a reduction in the number or severity of angry outbursts) and the techniques start to feel more natural.
There are different approaches to anger management therapy. It also looks different depending on your age, so it’ll be different for your school-age child than your teen, and different for you than your parents. Your therapist’s approach will be based on their previous experience and what they think will work best for you.
With anger management therapy, you may notice improvements in your relationships at home and at work. You’ll feel more in control of your emotions. You may even sleep better and be less likely to get certain diseases.
During anger management therapy, you might feel some discomfort talking about your feelings. After developing a trusting relationship with your therapist, they may ask you questions about your past bring back old hurts. But dealing with these uncomfortable thoughts and memories is often a necessary step to feeling better in your daily life.
Anger management therapy generally involves a series of sessions with your therapist over several months. If you’re diligent about practice, you can start to see the effects of your new techniques fairly quickly.
Your relationship with your therapist may last beyond the anger management series, and it’s normal to need to revisit therapy as things change in your life. For example, the anger management skills you need as a young adult are different from what you need as the parent of a toddler. Work situations change and life events happen, so give yourself some grace and don’t beat yourself up if you need a bit of a tune-up in anger management.
If your symptoms get worse or you’re worried that you might hurt yourself or others, reach out to a provider right away. If it’s after hours or your distress feels overwhelming, call 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Anger is a normal part of being human. But sometimes, it can get out of hand. If you’re feeling like you’re angry more often than not, or if you’ve hurt someone you love with harsh words or actions, you might benefit from learning anger management skills.
It can be painful to explore negative events and emotions. So, it’s important to choose your therapist carefully. Make sure you see a licensed professional who’s trained to teach anger management and assertiveness skills. But you’ll also be spending hours with your therapist throughout your treatment, so it’s important to find someone you feel gets you. Don’t be discouraged if it takes couple times to find the right fit.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/26/2023.
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