How Anger Manifests Physically and 7 Ways to a Healthier Outlook

Healthy Anger Management is Possible

When you get really angry, it can affect your physical health. Whether you’re mad at a friend, fighting with a parent, or going through a breakup, anger can be tough to get through in a healthy way, and could easily take its toll on your physical health.

There have been times I’ve been so upset that it felt like anger took over my mind and body. My shoulders tensed up. My stomach tightened, and I felt my body temperature and heart rate rise. In those moments, it was harder for me to think clearly about my feelings, and I often did or said things I regretted later. 

That’s not to say anger on its own is “wrong” or “bad”. In fact, there are plenty of good reasons to be angry. If someone has hurt you or treated someone you love cruelly, for example, it’s completely understandable why you would be upset. However, if you let it rob you of your peace of mind or drain you physically, that’s a sign that the way you express your anger (or the choice to bottle it up rather than express it), is unhealthy.

The physical anger response varies from person to person, but some signs you are carrying anger in the body include, “teeth grinding, fists clenching, flushing, paling, prickly sensations, numbness, sweating, muscle tensions and temperature changes” [source: Travis].

If you’re feeling any of this when you’re upset, you could be letting anger get the better of you. Feeling physical signs of anger is a natural response to such a strong emotion. There’s nothing “bad” about feeling angry, and even feeling strong anger. But anger can sometimes become so overwhelming that we feel like we might hurt ourselves, hurt others, or damage something valuable. If your anger is pushing you to the limit, there are things you can do to stop it from taking over and becoming harmful.

I would like to offer you 7 anger management tips to help you funnel your anger, use it for good and release it from your body. 

1. Recognize My Feelings are Valuable

One of the things that adds to frustration when you already feel upset is that people sometimes just tell you to, “calm down”, and “stop being emotional” without really listening to what you’re saying or feeling. But your feelings are valuable, and there are often real reasons to be angry, especially about injustice or harm. Remembering you and your feelings have value is a good first step toward mentioning and managing those feelings.

2. Use My Energy for Something Meaningful

Anger can “fuel” us, can’t it? After all, we get a surge of energy from the adrenaline pumping through our veins when we get mad. We want to do something with what we’re feeling. We want things to change. I think that can be turned toward healthy and meaningful actions, but of course it isn’t just going to happen overnight. It will take work, and some days you may feel like you aren’t able to stop being angry. That’s okay. It’s all part of the process. Just keep trying and do your best to find hope in the progress you’ve made. 

You probably can’t change the person or situation that’s making you angry, but if you’re angry about harm or injustice, there are things you can do with that energy:

  • Volunteer to help people or causes you care about: Taking time to uplift people who have experienced hurt, injustice, or mistreatment is definitely a healthy use of our anger.
  • Reach out to others who need encouragement. Sometimes getting “out of my own head” for a moment to write, call, or text someone to check in with them is just what I need to get my own difficult feelings and situations into perspective. 
  • Set goals for changes you want to make: Anger often comes from wishing things were different. Are there things in your own life and routines you’d like to change? Working on those can help you find peace and acceptance, which is useful when acknowledging things, we can’t change right away. In addition, you will make yourself proud of the growth you are capable of, even if you couldn’t change anything in the moment.

3. Remember People Care About Me

We get angry because we get hurt or because people who are important to us have been treated unkindly or unjustly. In those moments, it can seem like no one cares, because your feelings are so strong and present. But there are many people who care about you and who want to help you when times are tough. Keep a list of people you’re grateful for, who you know love you unconditionally, and remember them first when your anger is trying to convince you no one cares. Another good idea is making a list of things you are grateful for in your life, whether it be a family pet, a memory, a piece of music, etc. These lists can center you in the heat of the moment and bring some comfort. If it’s hard to think of people or things you’re grateful for, start with happy memories, favorite songs, or listing shows, movies, or books that make you feel better when nothing else seems to work.

4. Breathe

Deep breathing is helpful at calming the heart rate and slowing your body down. In a moment of intense anger, taking some deep breaths before you act or speak can be the difference between an overreaction and a
healthy response. You can try a breathing exercise right now to see what a difference it can make. 

  • Breathe in through your nose, slowly, for a few seconds. 
  • Hold your breath for a few seconds. 
  • Breathe out slowly through your mouth. 
  • The tension that releases with each breath will likely help you feel more relaxed and centered, which is key to managing anger in a healthy way. 

It’s good to practice deep breathing techniques daily to get in the habit of calming and centering ourselves. When we do get angry, we are more likely to pause and take some deep breaths if it’s already something we’ve been practicing. Even better, we will likely understand the benefits of these cleansing breaths the more we engage in centering ourselves before reacting.

5. Move Your Body

Movement is another excellent way to battle anger and stress. Whether it’s gentle stretching, going for a walk, or more intensive exercising to release the pent-up energy that puts you on edge, these are all helpful tools that can positively affect your mind and body. Working healthy movement into your daily self-care routine makes it an easier “go-to” when you’re feeling upset.

6. Pray

If you have never prayed before, praying about anger may seem like a strange suggestion. But prayer is a good option when you feel like your problems are too big for you to understand, to solve, or even to control. Prayer doesn’t require you to be in a good mood, or to feel great about your life. There is a whole book of the Bible, called the Psalms, with written prayers, many of which were prayed during times of intense anger and frustration. 

That’s the good thing about prayer. You can pray no matter how upset you are, or what state of mind you're in. You can even pray if you’ve never prayed before, or if you’re unsure if God will even listen to you. That’s because God loves us no matter how we feel, whether we are certain we believe in Him or not, and he wants to hear our prayers. 

I’ve found it really helpful to pray for the people who make me angry, too. It’s not easy to do, especially in the heat of the moment, but it can make a big difference in our mindset over time. Does praying make others’ hurtful words and actions okay? Of course not. But it is something that can help me remember that God can handle things and people, that are too big, or too much, for me to take on by myself.

If you have a hard time praying, or are unsure how to pray, it could help to have someone you trust pray with you, or to ask someone to pray for you. 

7. Know I Can Get Help

Anger can be overwhelming, especially when you have other physical and mental health issues that make it more difficult to manage strong emotions on your own. Don’t feel afraid or ashamed to reach out for help. You can talk to a faith leader, a close friend, or a counselor. And if you’re not sure where to start, you can get help here.
TheHopeLine offers online mentoring and resources if you need help with anger or other tough emotions. Talk to a HopeCoach today to start sorting through your anger. We’re here to listen and help without judgment, and there is hope for greater peace of mind.

Has anger taken over your life? Listen to my podcast as people talk openly with me about their anger issues looking for help to deal with it. 

Dawson McAllister
Dawson McAllister, also known as America's youth pastor, was an author, radio host, speaker, and founder of TheHopeLine. McAllister attended Bethel College in Minnesota for undergraduate work where he graduated in 1968, began graduate studies at Talbot School of Theology in California, and received an honorary doctorate from Biola University.
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