Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Anger: Breathe In Breathe Out

Don't let stress make you mad. Learn how to beat your anger.

It's easy to get hopping mad. Anything can set off anger—your spouse forgot to pick up the kids at school, your co-worker is making life at the office miserable, or your flight to Atlanta has been cancelled. Of course, worrying, feeling hurt or even recalling unpleasant memories can also result in anger. In fact, any number of difficulties, both big and small, can ignite fury.

Certainly, some people are naturally angrier than others. They're just born grumpy. These people have a low tolerance for frustration; they can't take everyday annoyances in stride. And then there are people who like their angry side; their rage makes them feel powerful. "Men feel macho. A Saturday night doesn't feel right without a good barroom brawl," says Michael Schulman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who specializes in anger in New York City. "Their sense of self is connected to their ability to explode."

From mild irritation to intense rage, anger increases the heart rate and blood pressure. And worse, the effects of anger can sometimes be devastating. People who regularly feel steamed up often suffer physical problems such as stomach ulcers and heart attack. A Johns Hopkins study of more than 1,000 physicians reports that young men who quickly react to stress with anger were five times more likely than their calmer counterparts to have an early heart attack even without a family history of heart disease.

Clearly, anger can take its toll. So how do you manage such emotions? While aggression is a natural reaction to a threat, inappropriate fury can be damaging. Finding the right response is important. So is it healthier to express or suppress your feelings? Researchers are still unsure.

Some people focus on positive things rather than brood over angry thoughts. The goal is to redirect your emotions into constructive behavior.

While this can be helpful, there are some dangers in this approach. Redirection can be a form of suppression. If your anger remains a force and you keep it simmering inside, there is the possibility of serious consequences such as depression. In addition, unexpressed anger can lead to passive-aggressiveness—indirectly putting others down, for instance.

If you are prone to internalizing anger, expressing yourself may be a better path. The key to successful expression is assertiveness, which is not to be confused with being pushy or demanding. Making your needs clear without hurting others is a healthy way to deal with anger. "What kind of relationship do you want with others?" asks Schulman. "You need to be clear with how you want to interact with people; once you're clear, you can step back and count to ten."

There are a number of ways to keep anger in check. Directing your emotions in a constructive and positive way can be learned. Here are a few strategies:

Relaxation —Try these methods to help ease your emotions:

  • Deep breathing techniques, such as meditation.
  • Exercises such as yoga.
  • Visualizing a relaxing experience, such as walking on the beach.
  • Repeating phrases such as "calm down" also helps.

Better communication :

  • If you are in a fiery discussion, slow down and think about what you are saying. It also helps to listen to the other person; listening will help you form a careful response. If you do this, you may even discover the underlying problem.

Humor :

  • Lightening up also eases hot emotions. If a person is annoying you, imagine that he isn't wearing clothes. Humor often diffuses intense confrontations.

Take a break :

  • Scheduling personal time is important to regain perspective. Try physical activity such as a brisk walk; writing down your thoughts; talking to a friend or listening to music.

Coping with angry feelings can be tricky, but now you know how to stay in control.