Expert Advice

Do I Have Anger Issues? Knowing What's "Normal" & What's Concerning

There’s plenty in the world to be pissed about, but a behavioral health clinician weighs in on recognizing how angry is too angry.

While everyone gets angry, there are red flags you can look for if you think you lose your temper to...
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Starting to worry that you have anger issues or feeling like you're angry all the time? You're not alone. The life of a mother is filled with triggers that can make you mad. Your partner hasn't done any of the things you needed them to do. (And you asked so kindly the first three times.) Your kid just used your boob like a climbing wall hold to pull herself up onto the couch. The cat will not stop meowing. And the neighbor decided to blast Adele at 3 a.m.? Wtf. And those are just the annoyances at home — don't even get us started on the state of the world. So, yeah, a lot is going on that's absolutely worth being pissed off about. It's enough for anyone to stop sometimes and wonder, Do I have anger issues? Or is this just what being a parent in today's world feels like?

After all, we know how to calm our kids, but how do we calm ourselves? Unlike when our mothers were mothering, we can't easily turn it off or filter out what we don't want to deal with. These days our main form of socialization is social media, and social media is filled with all the awful crap that is currently making the world spin around. It's good to know what's going on. It's good to care about what's going on. Even if someone else's issues make you angry, at the end of the day, it just means you're empathetic to other people. In other words, you're not self-absorbed.

Still, how do you know when you're getting too angry? How can you tell if you're not reacting properly? If your anger ebbs and flows in dramatic swells, should you be worried about an undiagnosed mental health condition? Should you be talking to your doctor about medication or anger management classes? We asked an expert for their advice.

How can you tell if your anger is, well, just anger?

Dr. Stephanie Parmely, Ph.D., a behavioral health clinician with Dignity Health Mercy Medical Group, started by explaining that anger isn't a one-size-fits-all emotion. "Anger is a normal human emotion that is usually preceded by a situation that triggers the person feeling angry," says Dr. Parmely. "Some people can be more sensitive to certain triggers that other people are unaffected by. However, the bottom line is that most people get angry and it is not clinical. The concern is how the person behaves when angry. The behavior can be helpful or unhelpful, and depending on the action, can lead to consequences."

This explains why a full sink leaves you feeling enraged but goes unnoticed by your partner. But if everyone has different triggers and reacts to anger differently, how do we know if we should worry about the anger being indicative of something else, possibly an undiagnosed mental health condition such as bipolar disorder?

First, it's important to note that there's more to most mental health conditions than just "anger." Bipolar disorder, for example, is a clinical diagnosis caused by a deficit in certain neurotransmitters.

"There must be at least one episode of manic or hypomanic behavior with a period of depression," says Dr. Parmely. "The manic or hypomanic episode is often a distinct period of increased energy (can look like rapid or pressured speech, flight of ideas, and racing thoughts, more agitation in movements and demeanor), decreased need for sleep while not appearing tired, engaging in more risk-taking behaviors, increase in goal-directed activities (hyper-focus on goals), possibly even having hallucinations/or delusions. For people in a manic phase, they may be more prone to anger and irritability, but it is usually seen with the other above symptoms together."

What if you still suspect you or a loved one has anger issues... or more?

Before confronting a loved one or immediately spiraling after self-diagnosing yourself, seek professional help. "If you suspect any significant mood changes in your child or loved one, talk to their doctor," says Dr. Parmely, noting that while therapy is "very helpful" for anger issues, medication and therapy are often necessary for certain mental health conditions (including bipolar disorder).

How can you regulate your emotions and anger right now?

It's not always quick or easy to get into your therapist or doctor's office. Getting the help they need is often a long, uphill struggle for people dealing with mental or emotional issues. While you should definitely still speak to a doctor, there are a few things to try in a moment of anger.

Remove yourself from the trigger.

Is something frustrating you online? Turn your phone off. Is your kid hitting that one super special whining note that set your teeth on edge? Leave the room.

Take long, slow deep breaths.

There are whole episodes of kids' shows, including Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger, about regulating emotions. Those same steps aren't just for kids, though. Mindful breathing is just one of several mindfulness exercises that can help you recalibrate your emotions.

Count to 10, 20, or 100.

Whatever it takes. Just keep counting.

Find cool water.

Cold water often shocks your system a bit, thus distracting you from your fiery hot emotions. Just wash your hands or, if you can get away with it, splash some water on your face.

Distract yourself.

Another way to calm yourself is to distract yourself from whatever has you worked up. A favored way to do this that is, again, a mindfulness exercise — this time, one to re-center your attention, such as the "Five Senses Exercise." Look around you, notice, take in and name: 5 things you see, 4 things you can (physically) feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.