What is anger?
Anger is a normal, healthy emotion, which we all feel sometimes.
We often feel angry when we're frustrated, we don't like a situation or we have been treated badly. But we may also feel angry without knowing why, and that's okay – as long as we find a way to express our feelings safely.
Understanding our anger and thinking about how we deal with it won't get rid of it, but it will help us learn how to manage it.
Anger only becomes a problem when we can't manage it well and it gets out of control. Here's some signs this might be happening:
- You express your anger through unhealthy or unsafe ways
- Your anger is affecting your everyday life
- Your anger is affecting your relationships and the people around you
- Anger is your go-to emotion and it's all you can think about
If you've been experiencing any of these things for a while, speak to a trusted adult as soon as you can.
What are unhealthy ways of dealing with anger?
Angry behaviour may be externalised, which means you express it out loud or at others. Or it may be internalised, which means you take it out on yourself.
Some examples of unhealthy externalised angry behaviours include:
- Shouting or swearing
- Losing control
- Breaking or throwing things
- Emotionally or physically hurting others
- Being rude to others or getting into fights
- Trying to make others angry on purpose
Some examples of unhealthy internalised angry behaviours include:
- Not dealing with your anger and blaming yourself
- Stopping yourself from getting the things you need, like food or sleep
- Stopping yourself from doing things you enjoy, like seeing friends
- Drinking alcohol or taking drugs
Being aware of these behaviours can help you learn new ways to deal with your feelings.
There are many reasons why we might feel angry. We might call them triggers.
We all have our own triggers, but some common ones include:
- Feeling scared or attacked
- Feeling frustrated, ashamed, stressed or powerless
- Feeling misunderstood, judged or like we're not being treated fairly
- Being bullied, discriminated against or abused
- Experiencing grief or relationship problems
- Having low confidence or self-esteem
- Not being able to understand our own feelings, or voice them out loud
- Physical or mental health problems, or conditions like ADHD or autism, that affects our ability to do certain things or be understood by others
- Feeling angry about things happening in the world, like racism or climate change
- Something that's affecting our lives or our future plans, like coronavirus
You may feel angry for reasons that aren't in this list. Or you may feel angry and not know why.
This might be because of lots of things building up. Or it could be because of something that happened to you in the past, that you may not realise is still upsetting you.
Your anger could also be linked to puberty or hormones.
I can be frustrated and I try not to take it out on other people, but sometimes I can't. I get angry at people and sometimes I get really, really sad for completely no reason – Chantelle, 13
Discrimination and feeling angry
Being discriminated against, or worrying about things happening in the world, may make you feel angry, low in self-esteem or sad. But there are things you can do to express your anger healthily.
For example, if you have experienced or are experiencing:
- Homophobia, biphobia or transphobia – you can fundraise to support LGBTQIA+ people and support campaigns.
- Sexism – or you want to support gender equality and feminism, you can fundraise or join campaigns to support young women.
- Racism – read about how to look after your mental health, learn how to report a hate crime, or visit a support platform like Kids of Colour.
- Climate change anxiety – you can join a student network, sign a petition for change, or learn about anxiety and how to get support.
- Abuse – or if you’re not sure what counts as abuse, you can read information and advice on YoungMinds and Childline's websites.
The main parts of the brain involved in regulating emotions are called the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala:
- The prefrontal cortex is involved in planning and making decisions
- The amygdala reacts to emotion and danger to protect you
Normally, when you think and make decisions, the prefrontal cortex carries on working and the amygdala doesn't respond. But if a situation triggers a strong emotion, like excitement or anger, this changes.
When you get angry, your amygdala picks up on this emotional warning. It then sends out a signal to your body to override everything else and act quickly, without thinking about the consequences.
Your amygdala makes you react to what it sees as ‘danger’, even if there isn't actual danger there. This is why you might do or say things you could regret later.
Over time we can learn how to recognise the signs, and slow down or even stop this process. This can give us time to think about how we want to react to the situation.
What does getting angry feel like?
When we're getting angry or wound up, the amygdala starts releasing adrenaline. We might notice physical and emotional changes, like:
- Clenching our fists or teeth
- Faster heartbeat
- Muscles tensing up
- A churning feeling in the stomach
- Feeling dizzy or sick
- Feeling irritated
- Feeling embarrassed or upset
Anger isn't a mental health problem – it's an emotion that we all feel sometimes.
But if you're feeling more angry than usual, it may be a sign that you have poor mental health right now, or that you're dealing with something difficult.
If you feel angry for a long period of time, or you think it's affecting your everyday life, it could be a sign of a mental health problem, like anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Remember: mental health is about how we think, feel and act. Everyone needs support with these things sometimes.
There's an element of taboo surrounding mental health, particularly in my culture, so that's a reason for anger at not being able to get the help you need.
Talking to your doctor can be the first step to getting help with your anger. They can listen to how you're feeling and behaving, and talk with you about whether you need further support.
Treatment and support for anger often focuses on your mental health, current problems or things that have happened in the past.
Your doctor may:
- Refer you to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) so you can talk to a specialist about your anger and how to deal with it
- Suggest counselling or therapy so you can explore the causes of your anger and find new ways to cope.
Many organisations offer text or instant messaging services for extra privacy. For a list of organisations who can help, visit our useful contacts page.
In a world that is so full of negativity, it's easy to feel overcome with anger. But there is support out there!
Self-harm may feel like a way of dealing with anger that works for you. But it's an unhealthy coping mechanism. It may get rid of some of the stress or emotion at first, but it doesn't help deal with the reason you're feeling angry.
And if you start to rely on self-harm as a coping strategy, it stops providing a sense of comfort or release, and it helps less and less.
I used self-harm as a way to deal with all the negativity in my life, but it wasn't enough. I snapped at people, was rude and always angry; at myself, at the world.
If you feel the urge to self-harm, you could think of ways to distract yourself. For example:
- Having a cold shower
- Doing some exercise
- Tidying up
- Snapping elastic bands on your skin
- Smelling something strong, like essential oils or foods
It's important to get help if you're self-harming. If you'd find it easier to talk to someone you don't know, text YoungMinds’ Crisis Messenger service and a counsellor can talk things through with you.
Eventually I learnt healthier coping mechanisms that helped me to move away from self harm. I can say now, that I am almost a year clean (1 month to go!), and that I am dealing with my anger better.
It can be really scary when your anger takes over or you lose control in a situation. But you can learn safer, more healthy ways to manage your anger.
Here are our top tips for managing anger in the moment:
- Spot the signs
- Take time out
- Speak to someone
- Try mindfulness
- Distract yourself
Here are our top tips for managing anger in the long term:
- Recognise your triggers
- Understand your feelings
- Listen to others
- Think about the consequences
- Accept what's out of your control
- Look after your wellbeing
- Be more active
- Build your confidence and self-esteem
- Learn to ‘assert’ yourself
- Reach out for support
- Get help in college or school
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)
These are services that support young people with their mental health.
You might see them called different names sometimes, but they offer the same type of services for young people:
- In Wales, they're called Specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (SCAMHS)
- In England or Wales, you might also hear them called Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CYPMHS)
Find out more in our CAMHS information hub.
- talk through a problem or situation that is negatively affecting your mental health
- recognise how it affects you
- work out positive coping strategies or ways to make the situation better.
It may be face-to-face, over the phone or over video call.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
This is treatment that aims to help improve your mental health and wellbeing. There are lots of different types of therapies. Here are some commons ones you might have heard of:
- talking therapies
- creative therapies
- ecotherapy (being in or around nature)
- medication (also called drug therapy).
Discrimination is when someone treats you differently or unfairly because of:
- Your age
- Your disability
- Your gender
- Your gender identity
- Your sexuality
- Your relationship status
- Your religion or beliefs
- Your race, skin colour or where you were born
- Being pregnant or having a child
In the UK, a law called the Equality Act protects you from discrimination.
The Equality Act says you have a disability if you have a physical or mental health problem that has a substantial, negative, and long-term effect on your day-to-day life.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
This information was published in March 2021. We will revise it in 2024.
The quotes on this page are from young people we spoke to while making this information. They've given us their consent to use their quotes in our information. The words, experiences and opinions in the quotes are not related to the young people shown in any of the photographs we use.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.