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Dealing with anger – for young people

Information for young people on anger, with advice on how to manage it and where to go for support. 

This page is also available in Welsh.

Dealing with anger

We can all feel angry at times. But sometimes, how we deal with it can be harmful to us and the people around us.

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 safely. We’re here to help you find a way.

This page covers:

“In a world that is so full of negativity, it’s easy to feel overcome with anger. But there is support out there!” 

What is anger?

Anger is a normal, healthy emotion, which we all feel sometimes.

We often feel angry when we’re frustrated, don’t like a situation, or have been treated badly. But we may also feel angry without knowing why, and that’s ok – as long as we find a way to express our feelings safely.

Anger only becomes a problem when it isn’t managed well and 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. (See our information on managing anger for tips on how to reach out for support.)

Angry behaviour may be externalised, which means it’s expressed out loud or at others. Or it may be internalised, which means you take it out on yourself.

Here’s some examples of unhealthy externalised angry behaviours:  

  • 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. 

Here’s some examples of unhealthy internalised angry behaviours: 

  • 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 
  • self-harming. 

Being aware of these behaviours can help you learn new ways to deal with your feelings.

Expressing your anger through aggression can scare or hurt the people around you. It could also lead to serious problems, like getting in trouble at school or with the police. 

If you become violent when you’re angry, or you’re worried you might, it’s important to get support as soon as you can. But even if you’re never violent or aggressive, your anger might still be a problem for you.

See our information on getting help with your anger.

Why do I get angry? 

There are many reasons why you might feel angry. These are known as triggers.

Everyone has their own triggers, but some shared ones include:

  • feeling scared or attacked
  • feeling frustrated, ashamed, stressed or powerless
  • feeling misunderstood, judged or like you'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 your feelings, or voice them out loud
  • physical or mental health problems, or conditions like ADHD or autism, that affect your ability to do certain things or be understood by others
  • feeling angry about things happening in the world, like racism or climate change
  • coronavirus, and how it's affecting your life or future plans.

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.

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: 

Remember: you’re not on your own. There are places you can get support, and ways you can challenge the things you don't agree with.

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.”

Where does anger come from in the brain?

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, and 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.

What does this feel like? 

When you’re getting angry or wound up, your amygdala starts releasing adrenaline. You might notice physical and emotional changes, like:
 

  • clenching your fists or teeth 
  • your heart beating faster 
  • your muscles tensing up 
  • a churning feeling in your stomach 
  • shaking 
  • sweating 
  • feeling dizzy or sick 
  • feeling irritated  
  • feeling embarrassed or upset.

Your amygdala makes you react to what it sees as ‘danger', even if there isn't actual danger thereThis 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.

Are anger and mental health linked?

Anger isn't a mental health problem it’s a normal 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.

Anger can sometimes be a sign of a condition like ADHD or autism, or a conduct problem. 

These conditions will have other signs alongside anger. If you’re worried, talk to a trusted adult like a parent, carer or doctor.

Managing anger in the moment

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 in the moment.

Here are our top tips:

When you start getting angry, your brain releases adrenaline through your body. You might start to feel: 

  • your muscles tensing up 
  • your heart beating faster 
  • you're shaking or sweating 

Recognising these warning signs can give you a chance to think about how you want to react to the situation. 

The earlier you notice how you’re feeling, the easier it can be to choose how to manage your anger. 

Getting away from the situation, even for a few seconds, can help you work out how you’re feeling and how you want to react. You could try: 

  • taking a couple of deep breaths 
  • counting to 10  
  • going for a quick walk 
  • asking if you can deal with it later. 

I try to get out of the space I’m in.

If you can, talk to a friend or family member who you trust, and who has nothing to do with why you’re feeling angry.  

Talk them through how you’re feeling and ask them what you should do.  

If you’d prefer to speak to someone you don’t know, you could contact Childline or The Mix for a confidential chat with a counsellor.

For other organisations that can help, go to our useful contacts page.

This is about breathing slowly, relaxing your bodyand taking some time to allow your mind to clear. You could try: 

  • A breathing exercise to help you calm down. Try breathing in through your nose for four counts, holding it for two counts, and breathing out through your mouth for seven counts. If you can repeat this, it will help slow your breath and keep you calm. 
  • A ‘grounding’ activity to bring your thoughts back under controlRelax your body as much as you can and focus on where you are. Try to name five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

Do something that distracts you from your anger for a while. This could be: 

  • listening to music and dancing 
  • watching an episode of your favourite show 
  • meeting up with a friend 
  • playing an instrument 
  • writing or journalling 
  • drawing 
  • playing a game or exercising.  

To get rid of your angry energy in a safe way, you could try: 

  • punching a pillow 
  • popping bubble wrap 
  • scribbling on paper
  • smashing ice cubes
  • running or other exercise. 

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. You can find more information on our page on coping with self-harm.

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.”

School and college can be really stressful.

Sometimes if you're angry at school you might not be able to leave and take a breather, like at home.

Here are some things you can try when you're there:

  • Tune into how your body is feeling. If your shoulders are hunched up or you’re gritting your teeth, relaxing those muscles can help you to feel calmer.
  • Take a deep breath. Or try counting backwards from 10, before you say or do anything.
  • Explain how you’re feeling. You could use a phrase like ‘I’m feeling angry because…’, ‘I’m angry and need to take a break because...’.
  • Use your breaks to zone out. Knowing there’s a quiet room or safe space where you can go at break times may help you to deal with your anger. If you’re not sure what’s available, speak to a teacher you trust.
  • Talk to your teachers. Let them know how you’re feeling as soon as you can. This will help them to support you in the moment. When you’re feeling calmer, try to explain what you’re experiencing and how they can help you in the future.
  • Separate yourself from people that make you angry in class. You could do this by asking a teacher if you can change seats, or sitting somewhere else if that’s allowed.

Remember:

Learning something new takes time and practice. And because we can react very quickly when we’re angry, some of these techniques could be difficult to do at first. Try to be patient and remember small changes can make a big difference

Also, what works for one person may not be the same as what works for someone else. Be prepared to try out a few things before you find what works for you.

Dealing with arguments 

Arguments with friends and family are difficult to deal with. But they can be even harder if you feel angry or frustrated.

Here's our top tips on how to deal with them:

  • Think about what you want to say before you say it. Try saying your next sentence in your head before you say it out loud.
  • Take a deep breath before you answer. This might be enough to let your thoughts settle and make a choice about how you want to react.
  • Listen to their point of view. This will help you understand why they feel that way, and it will give you time to think about how you respond to them.
  • Apologise for being angry. Don't use it as an excuse for your behaviour, but try to explain it’s something you’re working on.
  • Think about what you're feeling. Are you angry at the person you’re speaking to, or is it about something else?
  • Think about the consequences of your behaviour. Will this affect your relationship with someone? Will this upset someone? Will this get you into trouble?
  • Think about whether you’ll care about this in six months’ time. If the answer is no, it's probably not worth it.
  • Leave the situation. Can you come back to the conversation when you’re feeling calmer?

Online or over messenger

If you’re struggling to deal with a conversation on social media or a messenger app, you could try to:

  • Think about who you’re messaging, and who will see it. 
  • Ask a friend to look over the posts for you – they could see if your reaction is okay, or help you find a better way to respond.
  • Ask yourself ‘am I angry enough to say something I might regret later?’ – if the answer is ‘yes’, don’t post anything.
  • Take a break and come back to it later – can it wait for half an hour, or until tomorrow? Give yourself time to think about if you want to reply, and what you should say.

It's very easy to get frustrated during disagreements, and get angry which won't help to resolve the issue at hand, and could even cause it to escalate. 

If you’re supporting a friend, girlfriend or boyfriend with their anger, you can read our guide on supporting others for help and support.

Managing anger in the long term

When you’re feeling calm, spend some time thinking about how you want to manage your anger in the future.  
 
You could try to: 

You could try to keep a mood diary or journal to make notes about what happens when you feel angryTry to record: 

  • the day or date and time 
  • the situation or where you were 
  • what made you angry? 
  • how did you feel? 
  • how did you react? 
  • how did you feel afterwards? 
  • how do you think others felt? 
  • what could you have done differently? 

Over a couple of months, you might start to notice a pattern. 

You can then identify safer and more positive ways to manage your anger in triggering situations. 

“Gaining an understanding of my triggers, really helped me manage my anger.” 

You may not always find it easy to recognise how a situation makes you feel. You might feel something you don’t understand, or something you haven’t felt before. And this can be really scary.

You could use an emotions wheel to help you name any feelings that are hard to pinpoint. This could help you understand why you react a certain way and help you talk to others about how you feel.

You can also read our information on understanding your feelings.

Other people might recognise things you do or say as signs that you’re getting angry or wound up, even when you don’t.

Listening to them may help you learn more about your warning signs and triggers. And this can help you understand your anger, and develop safer ways to deal with it.

When you get angry, it can be helpful to ask yourself:

  • Will this help me get what I want?
  • How will this affect me and the people around me?
  • Is it worth getting angry?
  • Will I regret this afterwards?

You could do this before you catch yourself acting on your anger. Or you could do this when you’re feeling calm, so you have something to remember in the future.

Some things that make you angry might be in your control, like choosing whether to fix a mistake or react to criticism.

But you will have less or no control over other things. For example, lockdown rules changing, being on the waiting list for a mental health service or your parents splitting up.

All these things can be really hard to deal with. And because they’re out of your control, you can’t change them. Instead, you have to focus on how you deal with them.

To help you feel in control, make a list of everything that’s making you angry, and note down what’s in your control, and what’s out of your control.

For the things in your control, make a plan on how you’re going to deal with them. For the things that are out of your control, think about using some of our quick tips to safely express your anger.

Wellbeing is about how you’re feeling and how well you can cope with things. Things like what you eat and drink, how much sleep you get, and what you do to relax can all affect your wellbeing.

Looking after your wellbeing can help you to feel calmer and less overwhelmed.

See our page on looking after your wellbeing to find out more.

Any activity that gets your heart rate up, like running, boxercise or swimming, can help you to clear your mind. Even a walk can make a difference.

Exercise can also help you feel happier and more relaxed, as well as giving you something to focus on in the long term.

For more suggestions on things you can try, go to the NHS website.

Feelings of anger may come from not having confidence in yourself or your abilities.

Building your confidence and self-esteem will help you to express how you feel and think more positively.

See our page on confidence and self-esteem for tips on how you can do this.

Being ‘assertive’ means being able to give your opinion, say what you want or need, or say how you feel, without getting angry. It's about standing up for yourself while also being respectful of other people’s views and feelings.

Being more assertive can help make communication easier and help others understand you.

If you want to find out more, Childline has tips on how to be more assertive.

You might feel nervous about opening up, but sharing how you feel can be first step to getting help with your anger.

We have information on opening up to friends and family and talking to a doctor which you might find helpful.

“Without speaking to someone, I would still be in such a terrible state.”

Speak to a teacher you trust, or your pastoral care team, to see how they can help you manage your anger.

If your anger is linked to a mental health problem or another condition, your school or college might also be able to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for you.

These are changes to the physical environment or the support you’re offered. For example, they might let you take time out of class when you’re feeling angry, or provide somewhere quiet and calm for you to spend break and lunchtimes.

See our information on understanding diagnosis to find out more about 'reasonable adjustments'.

“Don’t bottle it up, or push your anger to the side. Because it will build up and you will eventually explode. Deal with your anger little by little – breathing exercises, writing down how you feel, venting to a friend.”

What help is available? 

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.

They may also suggest counselling or therapy so you can explore the causes of your anger and find new ways to cope.

For a list of organisations who can help, visit our useful contacts page. Many organisations offer text or instant messaging services for extra privacy.

This information was published in March 2021. We will revise it in 2023.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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