Hey Watch It! Learning to Get a Handle on Anger

By David Whitehouse, M.D.

We all get angry sometimes; it is an unavoidable part of life. Maybe a rude driver cut you off during your commute last night, or your spouse or partner didn’t do a chore they promised to do. Anger is a natural, normal human emotion. However, if not controlled and expressed in a healthy way, anger can have some negative consequences.

Anger shows itself in different ways depending on the person. Some people get only mildly irritated, while others get furiously mad. Some get angry over external events like the actions of a co-worker or being stuck in a traffic jam; while others get upset over internal issues, like recalling a frustrating event, being let down or worrying about finances.

These few tips will help immediately if you find yourself in a situation and can feel your anger rising:

• Leave the situation (if possible)

• Count to ten

• Take three deep breaths

• Repeat a calming phrase such as “relax” or “calm down”

And here are some popular ways to deal with anger in the long run:

Change your view. Anger leads people to think in exaggerations and generalizations. Replace thoughts like “something terrible always happens to me” with more rational ones.

Think logically. While some anger may be justified, it can easily become irrational. Remind yourself that no one is “out to get you,” but that frustrating and disappointing things happen.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Use humor to face the problem constructively. This is not to say you should “laugh” it off, but humor can help lighten intense emotions.

Slow down. Don’t quickly assume you know what the other person is trying to say. Listen carefully and take time before you answer.

There is no telling what causes certain people to get angrier than others. Evidence suggests that from an early age, some children are naturally more irritable, touchy, or easily angered. Other influences could be a person’s upbringing, genetics or general outlook on life.

It is important to learn to properly express anger in a healthy way, otherwise the pent up aggression can lead to violence or another type of behavior known as passive aggressive behavior. Individuals with passive aggressive behavior get back indirectly at the person who has angered them, often by being cynical, critical or negative. This type of behavior makes it difficult to have successful relationships.

Sometimes life can feel overwhelming. If you find that anger is interfering with your daily tasks or that problems are affecting your relationships, you should consider seeking professional counseling. Asking for help is never a sign of weakness or failure, especially in situations too difficult to handle alone.


American Psychological Association

Phone: 1-202-336-5700


Information about the nature of anger and different approaches for controlling it.

The information and therapeutic approaches in this article are provided for educational purposes only. They are not meant to be used in place of professional clinical consultations for individual health needs. Certain treatments may not be covered in some benefit plans. Check your health plan regarding your coverage of services.

1 Deffenbacher, J.L., Deffenbacher, D.M., Lynch, R.S., & Richards, T.L. (2003). Anger, aggression and risky behavior: A comparison of high and low anger drivers. Behavior Research and Therapy, 41 (6), 701-718.

Dr. David Whitehouse is the Chief Medical Officer, Strategy and Innovation, for United Behavioral Health. United Behavioral Health, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, provides behavioral health services to more than 43 million members across the country. Since 1979, United Behavioral Health has earned a reputation as an innovative developer of clinical solutions that improve total health and well-being. More information about United Behavioral Health can be found atwww.unitedbehavioralhealth.com





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