Anger can be a very difficult emotion because of our upbringing, societal norms and our fear of the intensity this emotion can bring. Anger is a valuable emotion; it’s our reaction to it that we may need to adjust to prevent harm to ourselves and others. 

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What is anger?

Anger is a normal and inevitable emotional response to when something feels unfair or unjust.

We may believe someone has harmed or is threatening to harm us or someone we care about.

The threat may be:

  • Physical harm. Where we believe we, or someone we care about, is in physical danger.
  • Psychological harm. Where we believe we, or someone we care about, is being emotionally or psychologically abused. This could be name-calling, constant criticism, shaming, intimidating, humiliating or belittling.
  • Social harm. Where we believe we, or someone we care about, is being subjected to libel, slander, stigma or discrimination. In the workplace, real or imagined threats to others’ perceptions of us can result in anger. 

Although many people believe anger is a negative emotion that should be suppressed or avoided, anger can also be a positive motivator for us to take action to right a wrong. The anger we feel towards injustices motivates change. However, on a societal level as well as a personal level, anger can be an intense emotion. Anger can be used productively, but when our reactions are not intentional, anger can lead to destructive words, actions or behaviours. 

The function of emotions describes what anger and other emotions might be telling us, and how we can use that information to help ourselves and others. When we understand the information the emotion of anger is providing for us, we are better able to avoid being triggered or reacting in a way that may be destructive.

What triggers anger?

Triggers are automatic and sometimes involuntary responses to a specific stimuli. Emotional triggers are when your response is an emotion like anger, frustration, sadness or shame. 

Our own thoughts, memories, experiences and current mental, emotional and physical states all influence when and to what extent we might be triggered by a particular situation or stimuli. For example, if someone you know and trust gets angry, you may feel compassion. If someone who feels intimidating gets angry, you may feel fear, or get angry yourself. 

Once we can identify that we’re likely to have an automatic response to particular behaviours, words or situations, we’re more likely to be able to choose our reaction to those emotional triggers more intentionally. This will likely result in less conflict, harm and regret. shares the following four main categories of triggers that tend to provoke anger. Some situations fall into more than one category.

  • Frustrations. Anger is a common reaction when we are trying to achieve something important and something gets in the way of success. For example, you apply for a new position you really want, but someone you feel is less qualified gets the position.
  • Irritations. Daily hassles are annoying and can trigger anger. For example, while trying to work, you keep getting interrupted or you realize you’ve left something important at home and have to go all the way back to get it.
  • Abuse. Anger is a normal and expected reaction to verbal, physical or sexual abuse. For example, someone putting you down, hitting you or forcing you to do something you do not want to do.
  • Unfairness. Being treated unfairly can also trigger anger. For example, being blamed for failing to meet a deadline at work when it was actually the fault of your co-worker.

Confrontation is another common trigger for anger. However, learning to tolerate confrontation can help us to learn about another’s perspective and share our own in a more calm and respectful way. You can also see Resolving personal conflict for tips and techniques to use when dealing with conflict. 

Sometimes anger is part of an underlying mental health issue like post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. It also could be the result of a brain injury, or side effects of some medications or supplements or other underlying physical health issues such as chronic pain. In these cases it’s best to treat the underlying condition and include anger as a symptom to be managed. 

When anger becomes a problem

When we hold in or deny our anger, the negative impact from not resolving the issue can build up over time and lead to physical and mental health problems. Unresolved or unprocessed anger can also result in inappropriate reactions that lead to loss of relationships, employment or trust. suggests that anger may become a problem if it:

  • Is too frequent. Sometimes anger is appropriate and useful in pushing us to solve problems. However, if you are coping with lots of anger on a daily basis, it may be reducing the quality of your life, your relationships and your health. Even if your anger is justified, you will feel better if you choose only your most important battles and let go of the rest.
  • Is too intense. Very intense anger is rarely a good thing. Anger triggers an adrenalin response and all kinds of physiological reactions (e.g., heart pumps faster, breathing speeds up, etc.). When we become very angry, we are also much more likely to act on impulse and do or say something we’ll later regret.
  • Lasts too long. When angry feelings last for a long time, they are hard on your mood and on your body. When you stay angry, the littlest thing can really set you off.
  • Leads to aggression. We are more likely to become aggressive when our anger is very intense. Lashing out at others either verbally or physically is an ineffective way to deal with conflict. When anger leads to aggression, no one benefits.
  • Disrupts work or relationships. Intense and frequent anger can lead to problems in your relationships with co-workers, family members and friends. At its worst, anger can lead to the loss of employment and damage or destroy important relationships.

How can I manage my anger?

It’s inevitable that sometimes you’ll feel anger. What’s not inevitable is how you process and express your anger.

Anger can motivate us to take effective action to address an injustice. Anger is only problematic when we allow it to dictate our behaviours rather than using its wisdom and choosing our own behaviours.  Those behaviours exist on a continuum and vary in severity. The intensity of behaviour can include motivation, inspiration, paralysis, fury or rage.

Emotional reactions are often automatic and involuntary. What we do with this emotion is usually within our control. It’s not about never feeling angry, but instead learning ways to express your anger constructively to minimize the negative impacts angry behaviour can have on you or others.

Express anger constructively includes tips of how to respond more effectively when you’re angry. 

When we’re angry, we may change the way we move and speak. It’s important to be aware of these changes, as they can be interpreted in ways you didn’t intend. Body language awareness and Communicating with clarity can help you be more intentional.

Anger may also be a symptom of other strong feelings and emotions. In this case, anger would be considered a secondary emotion to fear, hurt, shame or other emotions. We may feel that an expression of anger shows strength, whereas expressions of fear or anxiety, insecurity or hurt are a sign of weakness. This, of course, is not true, but may be a result of our upbringing or experiences. Knowing the underlying emotion means we’re more likely to be able to deal with the issue that caused it more effectively. Part of emotional intelligence is the ability to express all emotions effectively. 

Challenging angry thoughts can help you when anger feels all-consuming or is holding you back from dealing with other issues. says how we behave once we have experienced an anger-provoking situation can have a big impact on how much anger we experience and how long the feeling lasts.

Try to avoid doing the following: 

  • Bottling it up. One way to deal with anger is to avoid saying anything and walking away mad. This way of coping with anger is usually ineffective, as:
    • the problem doesn't go away,
    • when you think about what happened, you get angrier, 
    • over time, your anger turns into resentment, and 
    • because you haven't tried to solve the problem, you may end up feeling discouraged and even worse about yourself.
  • Getting defensive. If you react too quickly to feeling angry, you are more likely to express unhelpful hostility towards others. When you come across as bitter or antagonistic, it is more likely the other person will act hostile in return.
  • Lashing out. Physical or verbal aggression is rarely the best response to an anger-provoking situation. Aggressive acts are usually impulsive acts that are later regretted. Aggression leads to negative consequences for everyone involved and doesn't solve anything in the long run.

For information and tips on understanding and managing other emotions, see Emotional intelligence for employees.

Additional resources

  • Responding to crying and whining. Many people feel uncomfortable with these displays of emotion. Learn how to respond in a more effective way.
  • Responding to lying. People lie for all kinds of reasons. On this page, we talk about reasons people lie, how you can react to a lie, and ways you can foster safe communication so individuals feel more comfortable telling the truth. 
  • Someone you care about is struggling with anger. Questions and strategies to help you have a supportive conversation when someone you care about is struggling with anger.
  • Team activity — Anger as a symptom. This team activity examines situations where anger is a symptom of an underlying emotion like guilt or shame. 
  • Team activity — Emotional triggers. This activity helps us understand our own emotional triggers in order to choose an effective response rather than react to the emotion.
  • Team activity – Express anger constructively. This team activity explores how expressing anger constructively may be the best way to minimize problematic circumstances in the future.
  • Team activity — The function of emotions. This activity allows team members to examine different ranges of emotional responses and what functions they may serve.
  • Understand guilt. Learn to understand the emotion, so you’re better positioned to deal with guilt in yourself and others.
  • Understand shame. Learn to understand the emotion, so you’re better positioned to deal with shame in yourself and others.
  • Understand fear. Learn to understand the emotion, so you’re better positioned to deal with fear in yourself and others.
  • Understand sadness. Learn to understand the emotion, so you’re better positioned to deal with sadness in yourself and others.
  • Violence response for leaders. Questions for assessing an employee's propensity for violence in the workplace. Consider recommending that the employee see a trauma counsellor.


Contributors include.articlesDavid K. MacDonaldMary Ann BayntonWorkplace Strategies team 2022 to present

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