Anger

Anger in adults, children, and adolescents, signs to look for, and support options
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Found in: Mental Health Conditions
Date: December 2022

About anger

Anger is one of the many emotions that humans experience. Anger is not “good” or “bad”. It can be helpful when it motivates you to take positive action, but it can also feel uncomfortable and drive behaviours that can cause problems in day-to-day life.

Like all emotions, anger occurs for a reason. It might mean that your brain has recognised that something around you needs to change. Often, anger covers up other emotions such as stress, embarrassment, fear, hurt or helplessness.

As with other difficult emotions, sometimes people bottle up their anger and struggle to express it. As a result, you may feel sad, guilty, ashamed or scared. Or you may feel overwhelmed by anger and get so caught up in emotion that you do or say things you later regret. The expression of anger can often affect our relationships with other people.

It’s never okay to be violent or hurt someone else just because you are angry. Seeking help to understand and better manage strong emotions can help to prevent harming others.

Anger in children

Children sometimes express anger about things that seem trivial to adults, or find it hard to articulate what they are angry about. If you can take time to understand what is going on for your child, you will be better placed to help them get what they need without hurting themselves or others.

Let your child know that all their feelings – including the more difficult ones – are normal and acceptable. Allow the space for them to express and talk about their anger, and listen to them without judgement. 

As an adult, you can model healthy ways of expressing anger. Talk to your child about how you’re feeling and the techniques you find helpful during challenging times.

Anger in adolescents

Disagreements and mood fluctuations are normal during adolescence. In many ways, it is healthy for your adolescent to argue with you; it’s a sign they are exploring boundaries as they begin to seek independence.

However, there might be a deeper problem if the arguments feel constant and bitter, or if the young person is being violent towards you or another family member, missing school, getting into fights, or having run-ins with the police.

If you are concerned about your adolescent’s behaviour, talk to the school counsellor or your GP about what support might be available.

Anger in adults

Through childhood and adolescence, our brain develops and most of us learn ways to manage our anger effectively and appropriately. However, for some adults, this is more difficult. Difficulty managing anger could be attributable to a range of things. For example, you may not have learnt to regulate emotions earlier in life, or perhaps you have experienced traumatic events throughout life, and so your anger is more easily brought on by small things. Other factors can affect our ability to manage anger too, such as substance use, head injuries and some neurological conditions.

Anger can be obvious, for example, feeling furious in response to relatively minor situations or feeling that you have no control of your anger. Other signs of being affected by anger could be less obvious and include:

  • being irritable, and noticing that little things make you angry
  • anger being your “go-to” response in stressful or challenging situations
  • saying things to others that are aggressive or nasty, and out of proportion in the given situation
  • feeling depressed
  • avoiding being around friends or family
  • social relationships with family members, friends or with work colleagues becoming strained because of things you have felt, said or done
  • using drugs or alcohol to make you feel more relaxed or calm.

Support options

Talking to your doctor

At some point you may decide to talk to someone about your anger, or your child’s anger. Starting with your GP is helpful, as they can recommend counsellors and therapists to talk to.

Anger may be a symptom of another mental health condition, for example depression, so it’s important that your GP spends time with you to get a full understanding of the difficulties you have had, both from your and your family’s perspective.

Your GP can also help with finding support for managing any related issues, such as drug or alcohol use, that may be causing you concern.


Talking therapies and counselling

Treatment of anger can involve a number of aspects, each of which can be tailored to your individual needs. Talking therapies can be good place to start. Whether it’s for you, your teenager or your child, there are age-appropriate services that your doctor will advise you about.

Talking therapy involves talking with a trained professional who uses clinically researched approaches to treating the issues you wish to work on. They can help you to understand and address your emotional needs, and take into account your thinking, behaviour, relationships and the environment you are living in.


Medication

While there is not a specific medication to reduce anger, medication can be helpful as part of treatment for any specific mental health disorders that may be related to the experience of anger.

If you are prescribed medication, you’re entitled to know the names of the medicines, what symptoms they are supposed to treat, how long it will be before they take effect, how long you will have to take them for and what the side effects may be. 

Finding the right medication can be a matter of trial and error. There is no way to predict exactly how medicines will affect you. So be patient until you find the right medication for you. 

Even if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, medication might be an option. It is best to discuss with your health provider what might be on offer for you.


Complementary therapies

The term complementary therapy is generally used to indicate therapies and treatments that differ from conventional western medicine. Some people may find such therapies helpful for maintaining their overall wellbeing. For example, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, yoga, exercise, relaxation, massage, mirimiri and aromatherapy have all been shown to have some effect in alleviating mental distress. Specific interventions to support cultural wellbeing and connection can also contribute greatly to overall wellbeing.


Physical health

It is also important to look after your physical wellbeing. Make sure you get an annual check-up with your doctor, and do what you can to reduce stress, get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet and exercise. Being in good physical health will also help your mental health.