5 Tips for Controlling Your Anger

Whether you've been on hold with customer service for 20 minutes or just got cut off by another driver, daily life can throw a lot of frustrations at you. Coping with them without losing your temper can be a challenge.

"Anger is an emotion that everyone has to deal with, and lots of people have trouble controlling their anger," says Scott Wetzler, Ph.D., vice chairman and professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. "But while anger can actually be a useful emotion, if you deal with it in an unconstructive way, it can have a very destructive effect on those around you."

To cope with your anger effectively, it can be helpful to know what's prompting your rage. "Anger is usually connected to thoughts that center around the theme of injustice," according to Simon Rego, PsyD, director of psychology training at Montefiore. "We all have rules and expectations that we think should be followed by everyone, and when those around us break these rules, we can experience anything from mild frustration to real rage, depending upon on how important that particular rule is to us and how rigidly we uphold it."

The next time you feel your anger getting out of control, try the following techniques:

1. Think a Little Differently

"You may want to consider being more flexible with your rules, or beliefs, or even changing some of them—especially if you’re constantly feeling angry," Rego says. "If you can change the way you think, you can change the way you feel."

For instance, say you go to a movie and another moviegoer leaves his cell phone on, despite an announcement to turn them off. As you watch the movie, you can see the light from his cell phone screen. You can either become angry and think how thoughtless and selfish the person is, or you can consider that he may be a physician on call. If you knew that this was the case, would you still be angry? Probably not.

This approach—trying to think of reasons why a person may acting in a certain way, rather than focusing on how frustrating their behavior is—can change your perspective. This can help prevent you from saying or doing things that you may later regret, Rego says.

2. Take a Time Out

Turning away from the source of anger is a tried-and-true method. "Just disengage," Wetzler says. "If you can disengage from whatever is provoking you, you will calm down." Take just 10 minutes to focus on something else. Often, this will give you enough time to get your anger under control.

If concentrating on something else for 10 minutes isn't possible, then count to 10—slowly. "This gives you a chance to suppress the overt materialization of the anger," says Wetzler. "If you count to 10, you can override the emotional signal that ... is telling you to take action, to get angry."

3. Plan Ahead

If you can anticipate what triggers your anger, you may be able to prevent the problem. For instance, if you know you get angry with your daughter about her messy room and her lack of interest in cleaning it, discuss this with her before you're in a towering rage—that is, while her room's still relatively neat.

But understand that when it comes to kids, you may need to consciously change your expectations of what you think your child’s behavior should be, Wetzler says.

4. Stop and Think Before You React

How many times have you regretted what you said or what you texted? "Learning to think before speaking or even hitting 'send' on your cell phone is an invaluable skill, and one that is worth learning," says Victor Fornari, MD, director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, NY and Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, NY.

Make it a priority to just pause and think before you speak out, he advises. "It is a wise way to censor your temper." And if curbing your tongue (or your texts) doesn't make you less angry, it should at least spare you the backlash caused by any hasty, angry comments.

5. Learn Some Soothing Strategies

"When you are angry your heart rate and breathing rate go up, and your muscles tense up," Rego says. "But if you can learn how to override that emotional experience and manage the physiology [the physical function] of anger by doing things like belly breathing, which is deep breathing, you will experience the anger much less intensely."

You could also try closing your eyes for a minute, taking a short walk, or simply going outside for a few minutes to breathe some fresh air. Any of these strategies gives you a mini time-out—and that is all that may be needed for you to keep your cool!

Simon Rego reviewed this article.


Rego, Simon, PsyD. Phone interview May 7, 2016.

Fornari, Victor, MD. Email interview on May 5, 2016.

Wetzler, Scott, PhD. Phone interview on May 3, 2016.