How to cope with anger

We all get angry from time to time and that's OK. In the right place anger can help motivate us to defend ourselves or others, or to intervene in an unfair situation. But sometimes anger can feel out of control, and in the wrong place it can lose us friends, jobs and relationships, and cause us to act in ways we later regret.

 Understanding anger

Anger is an emotion, often triggered by the thoughts we experience when we think that we have been badly or unfairly treated, or that we are being threatened, verbally or otherwise. These thoughts and emotions kick off hormonal changes in our bodies which are often referred to as the 'fight or flight' response. This is designed to help us in emergencies, when our basic choice is to run away to safety, or stay and defend ourselves.
Anger is the 'fight' part of this, and if we choose to defend ourselves it will help. Anger can be useful if it motivates you to defend yourself or others from a threat or injustice, but it’s a problem if 
  • you feel angry all or most of the time
  • you become angry in situations where it isn’t justified at all
  • your anger is justified to some extent but your reaction is over the top
  • your anger is - or feels - out of control
  • your anger is affecting your ability to do your job or maintain relationships

Anger and Stress

As we've said above, anger is part of the fight or flight response, and we are more likely to become angry if our stress levels are high. Basic stress management such as learning relaxation techniques, and regular aerobic exercise can help reduce your stress and help bring your anger under control.

Shoulds and Musts

As we've said, one reason people become angry is because they believe they have been unfairly or disrespectfully treated. This is often when you find yourself thinking words like 'should' or 'must'. For example, 'he should have kept his promise'.
Sometimes, you might be right, or have a genuine grievance; in an ideal world people would keep promises. But (to misquote Pirates of the Caribbean) in reality this is more of a guideline than a rule. Sometimes circumstances change and make keeping a promise impossible; sometimes other people simply don’t attach the same importance to promises that you do.
To challenge 'musts and shoulds' thinking you need ask yourself - 
  • is my thinking about this realistic? 
  • is it likely that every promise I'm ever given will be kept? 
  • even if I do have reason to be upset, is my anger in proportion to the situation? 
  • is my being angry going to achieve anything, or improve the situation?
Remind yourself that not everyone shares your ideals, or is as honest or fair as you would like them to be.

Look for an alternative way of thinking about the situation that is easier to live with - perhaps 'it would have been nice if he had kept his promise but at least I know not to rely on him next time'. This will take some effort at first, and you won’t feel you really believe it. But the more you practice it the easier and more automatic this kind of thinking becomes.

Anger and 'mind reading'

Another common reason to become angry is because we dislike the way we believe others are thinking, for example 'my boss only asked how things are going because he thinks I'm too slow'. We're making an assumption about what’s going on in the other person's head, which is something we can never know for sure. It's really our own perception of the situation, but in our thoughts we treat it as if it was a fact and respond accordingly.

To cope with this kind of thinking, stop and evaluate the situation instead of allowing yourself to make a 'knee jerk' response. 
  • do you have any evidence that this is what the boss means? 
  • what else could be going on? 
  • is there another interpretation you could put on the question?

Even if the boss's body language, tone and established management style tend to support your idea that his comment is a veiled criticism, will your anger actually help? Is there another way you could react that would be more useful? Take a deep breath, count to ten, and use it.

You might be more likely to assume others are criticising you at times when you are criticising yourself. This can be related to low self esteem or confidence. If you think this might be an issue, there are hints about improving your confidence and self esteem on my hypnotherapy website.

More on dealing with anger in my next article (click here)


Author: is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control.Debbie is has also written about helping people with IBS in the Hypnotherapy Handbook which is available from
Find out more about Debbie's services on  or phone 01977 678593