What is anger & its effects on mental health

Anger is a normal, healthy emotion that can help us to express, and deal with, difficult feelings and situations. It can also motivate us to change things we don’t like about our life.  

Anger becomes a problem when it affects a person’s daily life and relationships. This might be because they find their feelings of anger overwhelming or hard to control, or because they express their anger in ways that might hurt themselves or others around them. Anger can also be a common sign of distress that may be masking sadness or depression.

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

What is anger?

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

  • 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.  


Anger vs aggression

Anger can lead to people being aggressive or violent but they are not the same. Anger is a feeling, but aggression and violence are actions. Anger can sometimes feel intense and overwhelming but it doesn't necessarily lead to violent or aggressive behaviour.


Ways you can manage feelings of anger

Here are five steps you can take to manage your anger in a healthy way. We’ve put them into an acronym of the word ‘ANGER’ to help you remember them.


Signs that anger may be a problem include:


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

  • having trouble controlling anger

  • feeling down and distressed as a result of getting angry, or using alcohol or drugs to manage anger

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

  • withdrawing from people or situations and bottling things up, rather than dealing with them

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

A - Acknowledge your 'angry' triggers and signs

  • Think about the things that regularly trigger your anger (like running late for school or being blamed for something you didn’t do).  This might help you to avoid these things in future or react differently when they happen.

  • Know your 'angry signs' like clenched fists or teeth, a tight feeling in your chest or your heart beating faster. If you recognise that you are starting to get angry, you’re better able to try and stop yourself from getting really worked up.

N - Neutralise the situation

  • When you are angry, think about how your body feels. If you are tense, take some long deep breaths and focus on your breathing, or tense and release some of your muscles. Dealing with your body's reactions to anger can help to calm your emotions and find a better way of expressing them.

  • Take a break. 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. Some people find that reconnecting with country can also help.

  • Use delay or distraction. Try counting slowly to 10 or doing something physical, like housework, push-ups or bouncing a ball. This will take your mind off what is making you angry and can stop you from saying or doing something that you might regret.

G - Get to the bottom of why you are feeling angry

  • Remind yourself that it’s okay for you to be angry and think about why you’re feeling this way. When you realise the real reason for your anger, it is much easier to work out solutions to it.

  • If you’re not sure why you’re angry, you could try asking yourself questions like:

    • 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 mob?

    • Does the situation bring up bad memories?

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

E - Explore your solutions

  • 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 do 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?

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

R - Reach out to someone you trust

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

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

  • If your anger continues without improvement, then talking to your GP or a mental health professional could help. Treatment might involve an anger management course to help you learn skills, such as relaxation and communication, to help you deal with your anger in a healthy way.

If you or someone you know is struggling with anger, visit headspace.org.au to find your local centre or call or contact eheadspace on 1800 650 890 or eheadspace.org.au

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

Last Reviewed 16 March 2017 

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