what is anger & the effects on mental health?

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Everyone feels angry sometimes. Anger becomes a problem when it begins to impact a person’s daily life and causes them to react in a way that might hurt themselves or those around them.

Feeling anger is OK. Anger can help get us through hard feelings and situations and motivate us to change things we don’t like about our life.  

Anger can become a problem when it affects a person’s daily life and/or relationships. This might be because they find their feelings of anger overwhelming or hard to control, because they express their anger in ways that might hurt themselves or others around them, or because they find it hard to express their anger. Difficulties with anger can be a sign that someone might be experiencing sadness, depression, isolation, discrimination, or another mental health difficulty.

Learning to be aware of our anger and to express it in a safe and healthy way is an important part of good mental health. If you feel angry a lot or have trouble controlling or expressing your anger, there are lots of things you can do to help manage this in a healthy way.

 

Download our fact sheet on anger

Why do I feel angry?

Anger can be our way of expressing or responding to a range of other feelings, like:

  • frustration

  • embarrassment or humiliation

  • guilt or shame

  • jealousy

  • hurt or sadness

  • feeling unable to control a situation

  • feeling threatened or frightened

  • feeling unfairly treated

  • feeling misunderstood or not listened to

  • feeling the pressure of living in two worlds (that is, First Nation Peoples and non-Indigenous)

  • feeling a loss of connection to family, community or country.

When does anger become a problem?

Anger becomes a problem when it begins to affect a person’s daily life and causes them to react in ways that might hurt themselves and/or others around them.

Signs that anger might be a problem include:

  • feeling angry a lot of the time at an intense and overwhelming level

  • behaving aggressively (verbally, physically, passive aggression)

  • having trouble expressing anger

  • feeling sad and distressed as a result of getting angry

  • using alcohol and other drugs to manage anger

  • feeling the need to use aggression to get people to do something

  • withdrawing from people or situations

  • bottling things up rather than coping with them

  • regretting the things you did or said when you were angry

  • expressing anger by saying or doing something aggressive or violent (e.g., shouting, swearing, throwing or hitting things).

Anger vs aggression

Anger can sometimes lead to people being aggressive or violent (e.g. physically, verbally, sexually) but they’re not the same. Anger is a feeling, but aggression and violence are actions, and it’s these actions that can lead to problems.

Anger can sometimes feel intense and overwhelming, but it doesn't necessarily lead to violent or aggressive behaviour.

How can I manage my anger?

There are five steps you can take to manage your anger in a healthy way.

Think about the things that regularly trigger your anger (like running late or being blamed for something you didn’t do). This might help you find a way to respond differently. It might be possible to avoid these triggers in the future, react differently when they happen, or allow you to let others know your triggers so that they can help. 
 
Know your ‘angry signs’. These can be things like; feeling hot or flushed, clenched fists or teeth, a tight feeling in your chest, or your heart beating faster. If you recognise the early signs of anger, you’re in a position to try some new ways to manage this feeling. 

As anger increases, so does our body’s physical reaction. There are a few ways to reduce the intensity of our body’s reactions:

 

  • Slow your breathing. Taking some long slow deep breaths can help to slow down your heart rate, lower your core temperature, and get your thinking brain back online. 

  • Taking a break. You could walk away from a situation until you’ve calmed down – this will stop you from acting in a way that hurts you or someone else.

  • Connecting with nature. Connecting with nature can help to calm down the mind and body, and give you some space, so you can decide how to respond to the situation in a healthier way.

  • Using delay or distraction. Try counting slowly to 10 or doing something physical, like push-ups or bouncing a ball. 

These strategies can help you feel more in control and stop you from saying or doing something you might regret.

Understanding the underlying things that may be contributing to your anger can help you to get back in control of your response to anger. This can make it much easier to work out solutions or alternatives to aggression.

 

  • Did someone do or say something that upset me?

  • Do I have other feelings right now that might affect the way I’m reacting, like being sad or embarrassed, or feeling a loss of connection to my friends or my mob?

  • Does the situation bring up bad memories?

Some people find it easier to write down or draw their answers to these questions.

Brainstorm some helpful ways to express and resolve your anger. It might help to ask yourself questions like:

  • How can I explain the situation in a respectful way?

  • How might other people feel about this situation?

  • What do I want to happen now? Is this reasonable or do I need to think about a compromise?

  • Can I deal with this while being respectful to myself and others involved?

Communicating clearly can help you express your anger in healthy ways instead of bottling it up or becoming aggressive (e.g. I am feeling really angry at the moment and need some time out before I can talk more about this). Check out our interactive tool on communicating well for more tips.

Remember, we can’t always change the things that make us angry, but we can change the way we respond.

  • Your family and friends, a teacher or coach, or your mob or Elders might have ideas about how you can express your anger in healthy ways. Talking with them can be a great place to start.

  • If you’re being harassed, bullied or discriminated against, there are people who can help. A counsellor, a welfare officer at your school or your GP (general practitioner) could help you manage what’s going on.

  • If your anger related problems continue without improvement, then talking to your GP or a mental health professional could help. They could teach skills, like relaxation and communication, help you understand your anger, and help you deal with anger in a healthy way.  

Where to get support

Though it can be hard reaching out to others to let them know what’s going on for you, it can help you feel supported, less isolated, and it can be the beginning of a valuable support network. Whether you are speaking to a trusted friend, family member, Elder or counsellor, it’s entirely up to you what you feel comfortable sharing. You might just want to say you’re having a tough time. 

For more information, visit eheadspace for online and phone support or find your nearest headspace centre . 

 

Additional youth support services 

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800: kidshelpline.com.au (5-25 years) 

ReachOut:reachout.com.au (under 25s) 

SANE Australia: 1800 187 263:sane.org (18+ years) 

Lifeline: 13 11 14. A 24-hour crisis service: lifeline.org.au (all ages) 

 

Other useful resources

Centre for Clinical Intervention: Assert Yourself is a workbook on communicating well and assertiveness

headspace Group Chats host many discussions for young people with clinicians on a range of topics. You can join the chat or view the transcripts. Log in or create a headspace website account to see what chats are coming up or happening now. 

headspace Peer Support Chats host weekly discussions for young people by young people. You can join the chat or view the transcripts. Log in or create a headspace website account to see what chats are coming up or happening now.  

headspace interactive activities can help you reflect on your needs, engage in skill building and set meaningful goals to improve mental health and wellbeing. These include unhelpful thoughts, problem solving and self-compassion.  


The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website. 

Last Reviewed 27 April 2021.

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