Check out the courses we offer
Knowledge Base » Mental Health » Understanding Anger: Causes, Triggers and Responses

Understanding Anger: Causes, Triggers and Responses

According to The British Association of Anger Management, the UK has the highest level of road rage in Europe, and one in seven people have sought medical treatment for stress. 38% of men are unhappy at work, 30% of us are not on speaking terms with our neighbours and 27% of nurses have been attacked at work. These are some examples of the ways in which anger can impact on our everyday lives if the emotion is not managed effectively.

Defining Anger

Anger is a natural human emotion which is characterised by feelings of displeasure, hostility or frustration. It typically arises in response to perceived threats, injustices or conflicts. Anger can manifest in various ways, ranging from mild irritation to intense rage, and it can be triggered by both internal and external factors.

Physically, anger is accompanied by changes in the body, such as an increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These bodily changes prepare you for a fight-or-flight response, which is the body’s instinctual reaction to perceived threats.

Anger itself is not inherently negative as it is a normal human emotion; however, it is essential to learn how to manage it constructively. Uncontrolled anger can lead to destructive behaviours, strained relationships, and even physical and mental health problems.

Often within society we are taught that anger is a bad emotion, even small children are taught to suppress their anger and often are not taught how to express anger appropriately.

Angry Women at Work

Causes of Anger

People can have trouble managing anger appropriately for a variety of reasons, including:

  • A lack of emotional regulation skills – some individuals may lack adequate emotional regulation skills, making it challenging for them to control their anger when faced with triggering situations.
  • Unresolved issues – past experiences, trauma or unresolved emotional issues can contribute to difficulties in managing anger. If someone has not addressed underlying issues, they may be more prone to explosive or inappropriate outbursts of anger.
  • Learned behaviour – people may have learned unhealthy ways of expressing anger from their family, peers or cultural influences. If they grew up in an environment where anger was not managed effectively, they might replicate those behaviours.
  • Stress and pressure – stressful situations, pressure at work or in personal relationships, financial difficulties, or health problems can all contribute to heightened feelings of anger. When people are overwhelmed by stress, they may struggle to manage their emotions effectively.
  • Personality traits – certain personality traits, such as impulsivity or having a tendency towards aggression, can make it more challenging for people to manage their anger appropriately. Additionally, some people may have a lower threshold for frustration, leading to quicker outbursts of anger.
  • Communication skills – difficulties in communicating their emotions and needs in a constructive manner can lead to frustration and anger. If someone lacks effective communication skills, they may resort to anger as a way to express themselves, even if it is not the most appropriate or productive approach.
  • Substance abuse – substance abuse can impair judgement and exacerbate anger management issues. Drugs and alcohol can lower inhibitions and make it more difficult for people to control their emotions.
  • Lack of coping mechanisms – some people may not have developed healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with anger. Instead of addressing the root causes of their anger or finding constructive ways to manage it, they may resort to destructive behaviours or avoidance tactics.
  • Mental health – anger can be linked to some mental health conditions, for example as a symptom of depression.

Common Triggers

Everyone is different when it comes to emotional responses to a situation, and what angers one person may not anger another person. However, some common triggers of anger include:

  • Frustration – when things don’t go as planned or expected, it can lead to frustration, which may escalate into anger if not managed properly.
  • Feeling threatened or attacked – perceived threats to one’s safety, well-being or ego can provoke anger as a defence mechanism.
  • Injustice or unfairness – witnessing or experiencing situations that seem unjust or unfair can evoke strong feelings of anger.
  • Disappointment – being let down or disappointed by someone or something can trigger feelings of anger.
  • Stress – high levels of stress can lower someone’s tolerance for frustration and increase the likelihood of reacting angrily to minor annoyances.
  • Feeling disrespected or invalidated – when people feel disrespected, belittled or invalidated, it can lead to feelings of anger and resentment
  • Physical discomfort or pain – physical discomfort or pain can make people more irritable and prone to anger reactions.
  • Lack of control – feeling powerless or unable to influence a situation can lead to feelings of frustration and anger.
  • Jealousy or envy – seeing others succeed or possess something desirable that one lacks can trigger feelings of jealousy or envy, which may manifest as anger.
  • Past traumas or unresolved issues – past experiences of trauma or unresolved emotional wounds can create a heightened sensitivity to certain triggers, leading to anger responses.
Anger between two colleagues at work

The Physiological Response

Anger triggers a complex physiological response in the body involving various systems, including the nervous, cardiovascular, and endocrine systems. When someone experiences anger, their body prepares for a fight-or-flight response, which is an evolutionary mechanism designed to help people deal with perceived threats or challenges. Some of the physiological changes that occur when someone feels angry include:

  • Activation of the sympathetic nervous system – anger activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for preparing the body for action. This activation leads to an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and respiration rate.
  • Release of stress hormones – the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis is activated in response to anger. This leads to the release of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, into the bloodstream. These hormones increase alertness, energy and readiness for action.
  • Muscle tension – anger often causes muscle tension as a result of increased activation of the body’s muscles. This tension can manifest as clenched fists, jaw, or tightened shoulders, preparing the body for physical confrontation.
  • Dilation of pupils – the pupils dilate in response to anger, allowing more light to enter the eyes and enhancing visual perception. This physiological change aids in assessing the environment for potential threats or targets.
  • Decreased digestion – when the body is in a state of anger, digestion is temporarily suppressed. Blood flow is redirected away from the digestive system and towards the muscles and organs involved in the fight-or-flight response.
  • Increased blood flow to muscles – anger causes increased blood flow to the muscles, providing them with oxygen and nutrients needed for action. This increased blood flow can lead to a feeling of strength and readiness to confront a perceived threat.
  • Heightened arousal – anger often leads to heightened arousal levels, characterised by increased alertness, vigilance and attention to potential threats. This state of heightened arousal can facilitate quick and decisive actions in response to perceived provocations.
  • Emotional changes – alongside the physiological responses, there are also significant emotional changes associated with anger, such as increased feelings of frustration, irritability and hostility.

While the physiological response to anger is a natural and adaptive mechanism, chronic or uncontrolled anger can have negative effects on both physical and mental health.

Healthy vs Unhealthy Responses

Healthy responses to anger involve acknowledging and expressing feelings in a constructive manner, while unhealthy responses involve suppressing, escalating or avoiding dealing with anger altogether. How we respond to anger can greatly impact our mental and physical well-being, as well as our relationships with other people.

Some examples of healthy responses to anger include:

  • Acknowledgement – recognising and accepting that you are feeling angry is healthy. Denying or suppressing your anger can lead to it festering and becoming more intense.
  • Expression – find healthy ways to express your anger, such as talking calmly and assertively about what has upset you.
  • Taking some time out – if you feel overwhelmed by anger, take a break from the situation in order to calm down. This could involve stepping away, taking deep breaths, or practising relaxation techniques like mindfulness or meditation.
  • Physical activity – engage in physical activities like going for a walk, exercising or practising yoga to help release built-up tension and reduce feelings of anger.
  • Problem-solving – once you have calmed down, address the source of your anger and work on finding constructive solutions to resolve the issue.
  • Seeking support – talk to a trusted friend, family member or therapist about your feelings of anger. They can offer support, guidance and a different perspective on the situation.

Some examples of unhealthy ways of expressing anger include:

  • Suppression – ignoring or suppressing your anger can lead to increased stress, resentment and even physical health problems over time.
  • Explosive outbursts – reacting impulsively by shouting, screaming or behaving aggressively can escalate conflicts and damage relationships.
  • Passive-aggression – expressing anger indirectly through sarcasm, silent treatment, or other passive-aggressive behaviours can erode trust and communication in relationships.
  • Substance abuse – using alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with anger can lead to addiction and exacerbate the underlying issues.
  • Violence – physically lashing out at others or engaging in destructive behaviours is not only harmful to others but also puts you at risk of legal consequences and further anger management problems.
  • Rumination – dwelling on feelings of anger without taking action to address the underlying issues can prolong negative emotions and prevent resolution.

Managing Anger

Managing anger effectively involves a combination of self-awareness, coping strategies and techniques to help you to remain calm. Some ways that you can manage your anger include:

  • Recognise your triggers – pay attention to the situations, people or thoughts that tend to make you angry. Understanding your triggers can help you anticipate and manage your responses.
  • Practise deep breathing – when you feel anger rising, take slow, deep breaths. This can help activate the body’s relaxation response and calm your nervous system.
  • Count to ten – before reacting impulsively, take a moment to count to ten. This brief pause can give you the opportunity to collect your thoughts and respond more calmly.
  • Take a break – if you are in a heated situation, remove yourself temporarily. Go for a walk, listen to music, or engage in another activity that helps you relax and gain perspective.
  • Exercise regularly – physical activity is a great way to release pent-up energy and reduce stress, which can help prevent anger from escalating.
  • Practise mindfulness – mindfulness techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, can help you stay present in the moment and respond to situations more calmly.
  • Seek support – talk to a trusted friend, family member or therapist about your feelings. They can provide support, perspective and helpful coping strategies.
  • Use humour – sometimes, finding humour in a situation, when appropriate, can help diffuse anger.
  • Develop healthy outlets – find healthy ways to express and release your anger, such as journaling, painting or playing a musical instrument.
  • Practise assertiveness – instead of suppressing your anger or becoming aggressive, assertively communicate your needs and boundaries in a respectful manner.
  • Consider professional help – if your anger is significantly impacting your relationships, work, or overall well-being, consider seeking help from a mental health professional who can provide additional support and guidance.

Anger in Relationships

Anger can have a significant impact on relationships, both in personal relationships and professional relationships in the workplace.

Anger in relationships can be problematic as it can lead to communication breakdowns. When one or both partners are angry, they may say hurtful things, shout, or shut down completely, making it difficult to resolve issues or understand each other’s perspectives. Unresolved anger can lead to resentment building up over time or damage trust within a relationship. If anger leads to behaviours like manipulation, verbal or physical abuse, or threats, it can undermine the trust between partners and create a sense of fear or insecurity in the relationship. Other negative consequences of anger within a relationship include:

  • Health impact – chronic anger can have significant health impacts, both physically and mentally. It can lead to increased stress levels, which can in turn contribute to conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, and anxiety or depression.
  • Conflict escalation – anger can escalate conflicts within a relationship. When one or both partners become angry, it can trigger a cycle of escalating emotions and behaviours, making it harder to resolve disagreements constructively.
  • Emotional intimacy – anger can inhibit emotional intimacy in a relationship. When one or both partners are frequently angry, it can create emotional distance and make it harder for them to connect on a deep level or feel emotionally safe with each other.

Managing anger in relationships is important for several reasons:

  • Preservation of the relationship – uncontrolled anger can lead to irreparable damage to relationships. It can cause hurtful words or actions that can strain the bond between partners, family members or friends.
  • Effective communication – anger often clouds judgement and impairs communication. Managing anger allows people to express themselves calmly and effectively, enhancing understanding and resolving conflicts constructively.
  • Emotional well-being – unresolved anger can negatively impact emotional well-being, leading to stress, anxiety and even depression. Learning to manage anger in a healthy way promotes emotional resilience and overall mental health.
  • Conflict resolution – anger often escalates conflicts rather than resolves them. By managing anger, people can approach conflicts in a healthier way.
  • Setting a positive example – in relationships, especially those involving children, managing anger sets a positive example for handling emotions constructively. It teaches healthy conflict resolution skills and promotes a supportive and nurturing environment.
  • Long-term relationship satisfaction – couples who effectively manage anger tend to report higher levels of relationship satisfaction and intimacy. By addressing issues calmly and respectfully, partners can strengthen their connection and deepen their bond over time.

In extreme cases, anger can lead to physical or emotional harm. This can include verbal or physical abuse, which can have long-lasting consequences for all involved. This can be particularly damaging for any children who witness conflict between family members. Domestic abuse is any type of controlling, coercive, bullying, threatening or violent behaviour between people who are or have been in a relationship. It can also happen between family members. It can be very harmful for children and young people. Experiencing domestic abuse is child abuse. Refuge is the largest domestic abuse organisation in the UK and they can provide help and support to anyone experiencing or affected by domestic abuse. You can also contact them on their free phone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000247.


By acknowledging and accepting our emotions, practising mindfulness, and employing effective communication and coping strategies, we empower ourselves to navigate through anger constructively. Cultivating empathy, patience and self-awareness allows us to recognise the underlying causes of our anger and respond to situations with resilience and compassion.

Understanding anger not only grants us insight into our own emotions but also empowers us to navigate conflicts more effectively and cultivate healthier relationships.

If anger is something that you are struggling with, there is help available. You may wish to consider:

You may also be offered an anger management programme, which is a structured intervention designed to help individuals understand and regulate their anger more effectively. These programmes typically involve a combination of educational components, therapeutic techniques and skill-building exercises aimed at teaching participants how to recognise their triggers, cope with anger in healthier ways, and develop constructive communication and conflict resolution skills. You can usually access these locally by speaking to your GP or mental health professional.

A typical anger management programme may involve 1-to-1 counselling and working in a small group and most involve cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Many NHS trusts run free local anger management services; you can ask your GP what’s available near you. You can also contact your local Mind directly to check whether they offer anger management services.

Anger management course

Anger Management Awareness

Just £20

Study online and gain a full CPD certificate posted out to you the very next working day.

Take a look at this course

About the author

Claire Vain

Claire Vain

Claire graduated with a degree in Social Work in 2010. She is currently enjoying her career moving in a different direction, working as a professional writer and editor. Outside of work Claire loves to travel, spend time with her family and two dogs and she practices yoga at every opportunity!

Similar posts