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Anger and mental health When anger is excessive or becomes chronic, it can negatively impact our health and well-being

Chido Madzvamutse
Mental Wellness

As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.

Anger is a powerful, but normal human emotion that most of us have felt at some point in life often when we feel that we or someone we care about have been wronged or when we feel threatened or when we are frustrated.

Anger can be useful to help motivate us to change the situation we find ourselves in and to fight for issues and causes that matter to us.

However, when anger is excessive or becomes chronic, it can negatively impact our health and well-being.

Impact of anger on physical and mental health

Externalised anger can often result in aggression and violence. These outbursts of rage can affect our physical health (through increased heart rate and blood pressure and overstimulation of the flight/flight response) but can also affect our relationships, alienating us from our support systems

Internalised or suppressed anger can result in physical and psychological health problems. Physically, chronic, suppressed anger has been linked to hypertension and cardiovascular disease as well as insomnia, and skin outbreaks. Emotionally, internalised anger has been linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety as well as self-medication with alcohol and substance use. Suppressed anger may also result in passive aggression where we act out by ignoring those we are angry at, being quietly hostile and resisting any meaningful engagement without actively expressing that we are angry. Passive aggression can worsen challenges within relationships and can further isolate us from others. People may resort to passive aggression if they feel disempowered and unheard.

Do I have an anger problem?

While anger is a normal human emotion, it can become problematic and start to affect our well-being and ability to cope with life and function effectively.

Do you find yourself getting irritable or angry daily or on most days?

Do you find yourself getting easily irritated even by minor issues?

Does your anger seem out of control and do you find yourself becoming physically or verbally abusive and find yourself regretting what you would have said or done in anger?

Is your anger destroying your relationships?

Mental health problems that can result in excessive anger.

While anger is not a mental health problem as such, it can often be a part of the symptoms of underlying mental health challenges including:

Depression: Sometimes, when someone is depressed they may experience irritability and anger more strongly than sadness. This can often result in delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis of the depression

Anxiety: The tension of anxiety may be expressed as anger and a short temper

Alcohol and substance use: dependence to substance may be seen through aggression and anger particularly during withdrawal and cravings

Psychological trauma: part of psychological trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress

Disorder may be experienced as irritability and rage reactions

How can I manage my anger better?

Anger management is a critical life skill and is important to help preserve our mental well-being and our relationships.

  1. Respond, do not react. When you become triggered and start to feel angry, pause for a few minutes and stop yourself from immediately reacting out of emotion.

This allows time to breathe and to think through your response. This may prevent unnecessary external expression of the anger. This may also give you an opportunity to walk away from a potentially explosive situation.

Identify and understand your triggers and where possible deal with these triggers and resolve them.

Do not bottle up emotions. Outbursts of emotions often result from suppression and bottling up of difficult emotions. Find a trusted friend or reach out to a professional counsellor with whom you can express the difficult emotion in a controlled and supportive environment.

Avoid self-medicating with alcohol and substance use. This only worsens the feelings of irritability and anger.

Learn to be assertive and avoid passive-aggression. It is possible to be assertive, to express oneself without being aggressive or hostile.

If you think that you or someone you know may be struggling with anger problems, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.


l Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by: Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse, consultant psychiatrist.

(Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse +263714987729)( ; [email protected]

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