How to Calm Down When You’re Angry: Managing Your Anger Without Losing Your Head

You’ve gotten angry before, we all have. Nostrils flaring, heated skin, curled fists, and a sweaty brow. It happens, and maybe it happens more often than we’d like. Things might be said and done that may be regretted. But you don’t need to let anger take over every time it creeps up. Calming down isn’t out of reach, no matter how furious you may feel. This article will show you how to calm down every time.

Why People Get Angry

Why do we get mad? It doesn’t seem to do any of us a lot of good. Researchers believe that anger may have once served a valuable purpose for us – at least back in the Stone Age.

One theory, forwarded by researchers at the Center for Evolutionary Psychology, proposed a new way to think of anger. They suggest that we evolved the ability to feel angry as a tool to aid in bargaining with others. Through anger, primitive humans had a tactic which aided them in putting pressure on a contending party, granting them a better bargaining position in conflicts. Furthermore, anger as an emotion was helpful in creating frightening and intimidating responses to disadvantageous situations. Anger, being a highly passionate emotion, was a powerful indication to a tribe that an item was of special importance to an individual, which helped regulate relationships in a tightly bonded tribe. The mystery of why anger, and many other human emotions, exists is still being uncovered, but its very existence indicates that anger was an been important component of survival for early humans (otherwise it wouldn’t have been selected for).

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But does anger still hold a helpful place in the present day? Thousands of years of evolution certainly has not diminished the intensity of anger, and we still experience anger in the same way our ancestors did, despite living wildly different lives. We no longer live in tight-knit, extremely personal tribes, we are relatively sedentary, necessary resources are abundant, and we don’t need to chase something to get our next dinner.

Given our relatively comfortable situation, it would see that there are few instances where anger would be helpful. Of course, anger happens. Even something small, like a co-worker taking a pen without asking, can set someone off. Bigger things make us angry as well – things that justifiably offend us or insult us stimulate anger.

What does this mean for the present-day human condition?

The Physiological Effects of Anger

When we think of someone getting angry, perhaps the stereotypical red-faced, steaming, popped-eyed cartoon figure looking ready to explode comes to mind. Does this caricature represent the actual physiological response going on in an angry human being?

Anger is expressed physically in different ways for different people, but several responses are fairly typical despite individual variations.

All emotions start their lives in the part of the brain called the amygdala. This part is composed of two, tiny, almond-shaped twin structures. The amygdala launches the chain reaction which triggers physical reactions to emotions by releasing hormones. These give your body a huge burst of energy. This burst of energy explains the enormous amounts of passion and energy you feel when angry. It also explains a lot of the physiological responses, that are indeed like the cartoon we pictured earlier.

The most immediate response to anger is the triggering of the flight-or-fight response, causing our heart rate to rapidly increase, sweating, and an overall sense of warmth to spread through our body. Flight-or-fight also enhances our awareness, which explains why many of us become hyper-focused on whatever is making us feel upset. The focus may be so strong that it becomes the only thing that you think about.

When the hormones calm down, people often feel exhausted, emotionally and physically. In this calmer state, reflection can begin and feelings of regret bubble up. The rational brain once again takes the wheel, which might lead to a lot of critical self-evaluation.

The question is, is anger good or bad for you?

Is Anger Healthy?

Your first instinct might be to say no. It turns out that the answer isn’t clear cut, but the general consensus that places anger as a negative emotion is correct.

First off, anger is not socially healthy. Anger can often cause us to act in ways we may later regret. Uncontrolled anger can often alienate our family and friends, isolating us. It alienates and scares those around us, causing us to lose out on important opportunities and connections. It may even result in negative legal consequences if anger prompts us to act out in destructive ways.

Secondly, anger, which involves high levels of stress, is not physically beneficial in anything more than small doses. Anger’s effects on our physical health are similar to those of anxiety and fear. Our bodies are flooded with hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. While handy in troubling situations, these hormones are harmful to the body. Over the long term, cortisol causes weight gain and immune function impairment.  Constantly unleashing adrenaline can lead to high blood pressure, which places someone in a higher risk of stroke. Chronic anger can also lead to depression, and angry people are predisposed to early cardiovascular disease.

Anger may also lead to more unpleasant symptoms such as digestive issues, including gas and abdominal pain, and sometimes insomnia.

All of this sounds bad – and it is, anger isn’t a great emotion to be harboring. A small caveat is that small amounts of controlled anger can be used to motivate and improve both ourselves and our personal relationships. We might also use anger to express injustice or unfairness with how the world works and demand answers from our politicians and leaders. Anger is not something to completely erase from your life – instead it’s an emotion to be managed carefully. 

How to Deal With Anger

There exists an idea that anger is best dealt with by “letting it all out” – that is, expressing your anger directly with little to no restraint. Research has found that this technique, rather than de-escalating anger, actually causes it to increase. Furthermore, it does nothing to help solve the root problem behind the anger.

It’s best to develop strategies to keep from getting too angry and losing control. Managing our anger and calming down requires that we understand why we’re feeling the way we’re feeling and figuring out a way we can better express anger without losing our heads.

Imagine you’re in a fight with your brother. He borrowed $200 from you and promised to pay you back with his next paycheck. However, instead of paying you back, he treated his girlfriend to a lavish dinner.

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When you find yourself growing angry, take a step back and take a deep breath. The last thing you want is to immediately react without thinking about your actions. Try to identify why you are feeling the way you are. For example, you might say “I’m angry because my brother didn’t keep his promise.” Don’t try to figure out what the other person’s motives were or their internal thought processes. The key is determining what set you off.

Once you have calmed down enough to think rationally about the situation, return to the situation. Explain to the other person how you feel and what set you off. “I’m angry because you didn’t pay me back like you promised.” Invite them to share their side of the story. Maybe it was your brother and his girlfriend’s anniversary. Or maybe he honestly forgot. You won’t know unless you ask.

Think about how you and the other person can solve the problem. For example, you might suggest your brother pay you back in small increments. Practicing better conflict management can make handling anger and calming down much easier in even the most contentious interpersonal conflicts, where unchecked anger can do the most damage.

This anecdote is reflective of the 5 tips the American Psychological Association recommends for managing anger:

  1. Cognitive Restructuring: Changing the way you think about a situation – most things are not final. Instead of giving up on a frustrating situation, thing about positive alternatives and solutions and pursue those instead of hopelessness. Don’t let yourself fall into negative self-talk, swearing, and insulting. It’s always better to approach a situation through reason and thoughtfulness rather than brash emotion.
  2.  Problem solving: Redirect the energy from anger into productive problem solving.
  3. Better communication: Too often, anger is caused by misunderstandings. Don’t get angry and jump to conclusions. Get more information and act on the facts. Learn to listen uncritically to what others are saying instead of getting offended immediately.
  4. Use humor: It’s hard to be mad when you are making light of a situation.
  5. Change your environment: Give yourself a break, go for a walk, and just relax.

To develop a calm disposition, it’s important to incorporate relaxation in your daily life. Things like breathing exercises and physical exercise are both immensely healthful ways of releasing bent-up stress.

Finally, using Spire can help you become far more self-aware in situations which may be triggering intense emotions. By being able to literally watch your anger starting to form, you can take immediate steps to ensure that anger stays in check or is not even triggered at all. Often times, angers gets to us when we least expect it. With Spire, you won’t be caught off guard and you’ll know when it’s time to implement the anger management techniques outlined in this article.

Learning how to better express and address your emotions is the key to learning how to more effectively calm down. By identifying why you feel the way you do and learning how to manage conflict in a way that affirms your feelings and the solutions you need, anger can come in handy and even become a healthy emotion. Master your anger, don’t let it master you.

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