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Anger: Causes, types, health risks, and management

Reviewed by Robert Bogenberger, PhD

Two teenage girls stand outside angrily yelling at each other

What is anger?

Anger is a normal, healthy emotion that usually arises in response to a perceived threat, insult, or injustice.

Why does anger sometimes feel good?

Anger can feel good for a number of reasons. Studies have shown that swearing out loud, for example, can lessen our perception of physical pain.1 For the same reason, many of us turn to anger to try to express our mental or emotional distress.

Is anger always bad?

Anger is a natural response and isn’t entirely good or bad. What matters is how you manage it: It’s important that you choose healthy expressions of anger instead of unhealthy ones that harm yourself or others.

What causes anger?

Anger is related to the body’s stress response. In response to a threat, our bodies often direct energy toward preparing to fight or flee. Anger, part of our “fight” response, is often accompanied by a rush of adrenaline, a rapid heart rate, and increased lung capacity.

This doesn’t mean you have to punch someone or run away every time you’re angry. The body’s fight-or-flight response can fade without those actions. But your excess energy does need to go somewhere—and if it’s not released in a healthy way, you may experience physical or mental stress.

Primary and secondary emotions

Primary emotions are automatic, instinctual feelings we all have.2 They include anger, sadness, happiness, fear, disgust, and surprise. If a friend stands you up for lunch, for example, you’ll probably feel both surprise and sadness.

Secondary emotions occur when we feel another emotion in response to a primary one. Anger can be a secondary emotion as well as a primary one. When anger is a secondary emotion, it’s often masking a more vulnerable feeling—for instance, you may feel angry that the friend who stood you up hurt your feelings.

Some people call anger a secondary emotion to devalue it, painting it as just a cover-up for other feelings. While anger can certainly mask emotions like pain, fear, or shame, it can also be a useful, healthy emotion in its own right.

Types of anger


On the spectrum of anger, annoyance tends to live on the milder end. Annoyance can feel sharp and even painful, but it’s often fleeting. Strong reactions to annoying behaviors are usually viewed as inappropriate and may be a sign of anger management issues.

Moral outrage

Moral outrage is a type of anger that can feel good, healthy, and even productive. People typically feel it after witnessing or experiencing an injustice. When something ethically wrong or malicious happens, anger can be the right response. It can even lead to justice and healing.

However, moral outrage can become unhealthy when it’s used to make someone feel inferior or to justify harming others. Moral outrage can lead to judgment and a desire for revenge, which can escalate to abuse or violence.

Assertive anger

Assertive anger is the healthy expression of anger recommended by experts.3 It enables you to express your point of view with confidence, clearly communicating your feelings without trying to hurt others.

Although you can be assertive about your experience, you shouldn’t use it to place yourself above the person you’re arguing with. Staying clear of superiority and outrage lets you listen to others and potentially change your point of view. It also allows you to seek healing instead of worrying about who is “right” or “wrong.”

Passive anger

Passive anger happens when you refuse to admit or acknowledge your anger. Although this can sometimes be an intentional tactic to harm others (called “passive aggression”), it can also be an unintended way of denying your feelings to yourself. Some people truly believe they’re not angry, even as they sulk or snap. Passive anger can be just as harmful to yourself and others as more direct forms of anger.

Aggressive anger

When you’re feeling aggressively angry, you may find yourself wanting to cause physical or mental harm. The target of your aggression may be another person, or it may be yourself. Outward signs of aggressive anger include:

  • Shouting
  • Swearing
  • Bullying
  • Critiquing
  • Insulting
  • Accusing

Aggressive anger that’s directed inward may look like:

Uncontrolled anger

Uncontrolled anger, also known as rage, is at the most extreme end of the anger spectrum. Rage leads to a number of dangerous and harmful behaviors, including fighting, bullying, abuse, assault, and violence. Rage is never a healthy response to a perceived threat or provocation.

Health risks of chronic anger

Persistent anger that goes unexpressed, unaddressed, or untreated can take a toll on your physical health, increasing your risk for:4

  • Heart disease
  • Bulimia
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Driving accidents
  • Unhealthy lifestyle choices

Anger as a symptom

A certain amount of anger is normal. But frequent, oversize anger could be a sign of an untreated mental health disorder or condition, such as:

How to deal with anger in healthy ways

  • Practice self-care: Basic self-care like eating regularly, getting enough sleep, and taking your prescribed medications are critical for your physical, mental, and emotional health. They equip you to handle the stresses of life and give you a healthy baseline for making good choices. Without this self-care, you’re more likely to mishandle your anger.
  • Learn to self-regulate: Self-regulation is the ability to observe, manage, and adapt your feelings and reactions to suit a situation. A key piece of self-regulation is stress management. If you can learn to self-regulate and manage your stress, you’ll be able to choose healthier responses to situations that trigger your anger.
  • Consider different perspectives: Empathy and compassion can help you view a frustrating situation from another point of view. Seeing the situation from the other side may reveal that anger isn’t the most helpful or appropriate response.
  • Take a break: Stepping away from a situation and taking deep breaths can help you make better choices. It can also help you manage the physical signs of anger by lowering your heart rate and calming your body’s stress response.
  • Communicate your anger: Sometimes it’s healthy and appropriate to express your anger. Assertively sharing your anger can help you communicate your side of the experience while still being open to the experiences of others.
  • Seek professional help: If you’re struggling to manage your anger in healthy ways, anger management therapy may help.

Get professional help

If you need support in managing and expressing your anger, you’re not alone. Here are two ways to get professional help:

  • Take anger management classes: These classes can help you learn how to express anger in healthy ways and how to control your aggressive impulses.
  • Find a therapist: A therapist can help you identify the source of your anger and teach you healthier tactics for handling it. Browse our directory to find a licensed mental health professional near you.

About the author

The editorial team at works with the world’s leading clinical experts to bring you accessible, insightful information about mental health topics and trends.

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