Let It Out: Healthy Ways to Express Anger

When it comes to anger, health and psychology experts agree: Better out than in.

Expressing anger in healthy ways can be a challenge; but keeping your emotions bottled up is likely to lead to an explosion down the road. What happens when you get angry, and how can you let it go?

Anger is a physical and psychological response to fear, stress, confusion, anxiety, or some other negative situation that puts you on guard. It's part of our natural warning system that something's wrong. It's normal and completely healthy; that is, unless it's expressed in destructive ways or not vented at all.

What happens when you get angry? A new study from the University of Valencia analyzed changes in the brain's cardiovascular, hormonal, and asymmetric activation response to anger. The results of this study were published in the journal Hormones and Behavior and reveal that anger provokes profound changes in a person's state of mind. When one gets angry, the heart rate, arterial tension, and testosterone production increases, cortisol (the stress hormone) decreases, and the left hemisphere of the brain becomes more stimulated.

In the short term, these responses help us react to anger by fighting, fleeing, or freezing up so we can get out of trouble. Over time, however, stress hormones can take their toll on our health.

Separate studies reveal that expressions of anger are generally accepted in men, but considered unacceptable in women. That's because women are frequently raised to be more passive, less emotionally volatile, and aren't trained to express anger. Both men and women frequently find themselves at a loss for what to do when they get angry. Without appropriate tools and skills, they may resort to substance abuse, violence, verbal abuse, or other negative and destructive behaviors to let a little heat off their temper. Or, they may shove those angry feelings down and wait until they express themselves with anxiety, depression, or health problems linked to chronic stress.

What are healthy ways to express anger?

1. Just Say It

When confronted with an anger, use your words. Appropriate communication is key to anger management. Say: "I'm feeling angry right now." Then, follow up with a simple statement about what you're angry about. Don't call names, make accusations, or say things you'll regret later.

If one particular person or situation repeatedly causes you to feel angry, explore resolutions with your human resources manager, a therapist, or mediator.

2. Walk Away

If you feel like you're about to blow your top, take a fast walk. Walking creates physical space between you and whatever made you mad. It provides physical stress release and energy and gives you time to think things through. Don't run away, however. Walk back when you're calm and address the situation.

3. Take a Deep Breath

Deep breathing calms jangled nerves quickly, provides a moment of clarity, and sends a message to the person you're angry at that says, "I'm trying to stay calm, but..."

Regular meditation, yoga, or other stress management/mindfulness techniques help you stay in the moment, so you can deal with problems effectively as they arise.

4. Seek Help

Some situations are more than any one person can handle. Ask for help when something is getting out of control. Talk to a friend, family member, coworker, or therapist.

If anger is becoming your all-purpose emotion, make an appointment with your doctor. You may be experiencing depression or anxiety.




Hormones and Behavior
Volume 57, Issue 3
March 2010, Pages 276-283
Neus Herrero, Marien Gadea, Gabriel Rodríguez-Alarcón, Raúl Espert, and Alicia Salvador