Anger: When is Your Anger Adaptive?

Anger seems to be a topic on everybody’s mind these days.  Meltdowns in the mall, road rage, demonstrations, shootings… What’s going on?

Well, as we all know, it’s been a stressful two years, and there seems to be a lot of pent-up steam to be let off.  But since we are supposed to be civilized adults, we also need to see this as an opportunity – a teachable moment, if you will – for practicing good anger management and emotional intelligence.

Mindful awareness is always the best starting point. What is pushing your buttons?  Do you feel a loss of control or agency because of pandemic protocols?  Are you feeling anxious or fearful about the future?  Are you coping with loss and grief like so many of our fellow humans in these days?  Are you frustrated about job and career prospects, schooling and studies, travel and leisure plans?

Cooling-down skills

These kinds of stressors and frustrations can lead to unhealthy and unproductive outbursts that leave you feeling helpless ashamed, and more stressed-out than before.  Instead of letting it all out, MoodSurfing recommends practicing cooling down skills such as:

  • Breathing – slow deep breaths and long exhales is the go-to technique for acute pre-outburst stress.
  • Communication – “use your words” as we tell toddlers.  Let others know how they can help you.
  • Physical exercise – good for the body and good for the soul.  Keep on doing regular exercise as much as possible.

Healthy anger

Certainly there are times when anger is healthy – or it can lead you in more healthy directions.  When there is a real, present threat, anger helps you channel your “fight or flight” instincts into protective action.  For people who have been victims of abuse, bullying or ridicule, anger lets you stand up for yourself and assert your own needs and boundaries.  Anger can also be energizing, in comparison with anxiety, which may cause you to shut down; anger empowers you to act, as long as you keep your eye on your own priorities so you don’t make a fool of yourself with your outburst.

We can try to learn to use our anger as a “thermostat” that lets us know what aspects of the environment are not right or safe for us, and what needs to be corrected, but it all takes practice and application to learn the skills needed to navigate emotional minefields such as we find in our surroundings today.

Medical conditions

Finally, it is important to note that some people are carrying anger from deep wounds that cannot be addressed by self-soothing skills like those described above.  Recurrent bursts of misdirected anger can have roots in biological or psychological causes that are not immediately obvious.  Work with a physician or therapist may be needed.  People struggling with anger and other negative emotions should be screened for medical conditions like endocrinological conditions, brain injury, inappropriate medicinal prescriptions or addictions, or other conditions like mood disorders.  Also to be considered are:

  • Severely low frustration tolerance in ADHD.
  • The anger/irritability of depression, especially in younger males
  • Bipolar rage”
  • PTSD
  • The reactivity to feeling abandoned in borderline personality disorder1

Anger is a part of being human, and it, like all of our emotional lives, is a product of evolutionary forces that found it to be an adaptive trait for all of us to have.  However, like anything else in life, it requires mature management, not unrestrained tantrums as babies do.  As we grow, hopefully our skills and knowledge also increase.



Anthony D. Smith LMHC.  Anger Management Takes More Than Coping Skills. Psychology Today; Feb. 15, 2022.  Accessed Mar. 12, 2022.