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How to keep anger from bubbling over

  • Story Highlights
  • Anger is normal but what sets us off and how we react make a difference
  • American Psychological Association: Anger can lead to physiological changes
  • A professional therapist can help determine whether your temper is out of control
  • Slowing down, deepening your breathing are effective anger-management tools
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Experts are predicting a record voter turnout for tomorrow's presidential election.

Long lines greeted early voters in Miami, Florida, last Thursday.

Long lines greeted early voters in Miami, Florida, last Thursday.

That means long lines, and many people stewing over the amount of time they have to wait to cast their ballots.

We all get angry at times, but it's what sets us off and how we manage that anger that set us apart.

"It's hard to say that anger is normal or not normal," said Mark Crawford, a Roswell, Georgia-based clinical psychologist. "It's how angry you allow yourself to become that's either healthy or unhealthy."

The American Psychological Association said anger may result in physiological and biological changes.

"It's a flight or fight response," Crawford said. "Basically, my heart rate gets high or my blood pressure gets higher. Adrenaline and noradrenaline start secreting and it's energizing me to do something."

He acknowledged that mismanaging anger can have a negative effect on health including increased cardiovascular problems such as heart attack and stroke, as well as poor lung function.

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Among his patients, Crawford revealed that he usually sees two extremes of anger: those who get too angry and those who ignore it all together.

"It's a good thing to become angry if someone is mistreating you, if you're being exploited, if someone is cheating you or someone is abusing you in a relationship," he said. "That is a healthy response."

What's not healthy, he said, is ignoring a troubling situation and holding in your emotions. That can lead to depression and anxiety.

Similarly, he doesn't recommend giving full vent to your anger and "letting it all hang out."

"If you found yourself breathing fast and really pushing to get your words out and your voice keeps rising, you're getting too angry and you need to de-escalate," Crawford suggested.

Professional therapists can help you determine whether your temper is out of control.

One way is to undergo psychological testing that determines the intensity of anger and how you deal with it.

"Professional therapists can give you tools to get things under control. Not to make it go away, but to help control anger," he said.

He typically asks his patients whether they are using the anger to make positive changes or are "you letting it hijack you so you're reacting in an overly aggressive way?"

Crawford said some may find relief on their own and conduct their own version of anger management.

"The most effective thing is to slow your breathing down," Crawford said. "Take nice, slow, deep breaths. Just de-escalate your heart rate."

The American Psychological Association recommended breathing from the diaphragm. Shallow breathing from your chest won't be as relaxing, the group said.

Another way to cool off is to repeat calm sounding words or phrases such as "relax" and "take it easy," the APA suggested.

Health library

  • MayoClinic.com: Anger management

Crawford also touted the benefits of hitting an imaginary pause button during an angry situation and calling for a time out.

Redirecting your thinking can keep your temper from rising, he said.

Avoiding stimulating chemicals such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine might make a difference. "A lot of times I'll find people who are constantly angry and hot headed are ramped up on caffeine so their heart rate is already pretty high," he said.

Finally, Crawford urged his patients to review their past and consider whether they are harboring a grudge. "You need to go back and see if there is anyone you need to forgive because...that can really make you angry at other things."

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