Ways to Better Understand Anger

Ways to Better Understand Anger

Here you are, losing your crap again. At the smallest things. The anger is just overwhelming. This isn’t the person you want to be. 

Maybe you’re not the one who notices, but it’s your partner or spouse. They keep hounding you about “what’s wrong,” “you’re always mad,” or “what’s your problem?”

Thoughts of … “I swear, if I have to listen to some BS why this person was going 60 mph in a 40…”, “if I have to respond to another OD call...,” or “why the hell did my kid use a permanent marker on the wall…” are making your anger go from 0 to 60 in about two seconds.  

You’re not alone in feeling your anger explode like a volcano. Many others have felt this way. I’ve felt this way at times.

Explore these topics below to learn more about what can cause anger, how it impacts us, and how you can better handle it. 

  1. Understanding anger
  2. Exploring reactions and feelings of anger
  3. Recognizing and addressing causes
  4. How to help manage 


1. Understanding Anger.

One idea to consider is how anger is one of the most socially acceptable reactions or emotions in our society. 

Think about most videos you see on social media or the internet. Anger is probably one of the top four reactions you see. 

Someone took another person’s parking spot or cut someone off in traffic.


Why is that important? Quite often anger can be a secondary effect. One that we’ve learned is acceptable to show. 

There are times anger is a primary reaction to a situation. However, it is more common to experience as a secondary effect. 

A secondary effect or reaction is the result of other underlying reactions, feelings, or influences we are already experiencing.

Using an example from above, if someone cuts me off in traffic, I can sometimes lose my crap.

But what really might be causing my anger to shoot up like a volcano is my lack of sleep, anxious feelings of getting my kids to school on time and feeling generally overwhelmed. The icing on that cake was feeling disrespected be someone cutting me off. 

I went from being okay in the moment, to having a reaction and honking at the person. 

Understanding your anger is a critical piece to changing your reaction.

Take a minute to think about the last time your anger went off. Was it just the situation at hand? Were you already feeling overwhelmed or stressed out?

Learning about and becoming more aware of what causes our anger can help to achieve the reaction and balance we are looking for.


2. Exploring reactions and feelings of anger.

Exploring the reactions and feelings of what is contributing to your anger is one of the best ways to understand and manage it.

I often use a tool that is called the “anger iceberg”. Anger is the tip of the iceberg, and what we can’t see below the water is all the reactions, emotions, and sensations that contribute to it.

In the example above about being cut off in traffic, I used a few different reactions and emotions. Consider some of the following that may contribute to  your anger:

  • Overwhelmed
  • Threatened
  • Grieving
  • Disappointed
  • Shame
  • Embarrassed
  • Scared
  • Pain/loss
  • Lonely
  • Hungry
  • Anxious
  • Tired

There are lots of different sensations and emotions that contribute to being furious. Are there any other sensations or emotions that come to mind for you?

Often, mine are exhaustion (I have two small children), overwhelmed, anxious, and depending on the day, maybe a few others. 

What often comes after the components that lead to anger is the reaction. Below are some of the many reactions that can occur when all those components mix:

  • Feeling Hot
  • Yelling/ Raising Voice
  • Become Aggressive
  • Throwing Things
  • Start to Argue
  • Body or Hands Shake
  • Headaches
  • Crying
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Shutting Down
  • Blaming
  • Can’t Think Straight 
  • Can’t Sit Still
  • Intense Energy Inside 

Everyone is different in their reactions. It is possible to have physical, emotional, and mental reactions to anger.

Mine is often raising my voice (especially with my kids), feeling hot, and increased heart rate. And it’s exhausting to feel this way. 

To help you best handle and influence your behavior when you get angry, it’s important to know what influences your mood and what reactions you have. 


3. Recognizing and Addressing Causes

After we learn what contributes to us feeling irate and how we react, it can help significantly to learn our boundaries.

Almost everyone has some level of stress or influence daily that can contribute to anger if we do not keep it in check. 

In my example above, I was not physically or emotionally upset until the car cut me off. But all those other sensations and influences were already there for me. The car was just my breaking point in that moment. 

What I neglected to realize that morning was that I had a lot of factors on my plate. There was not room for anything else. Having that car cut me off, my plate became unbalanced and spilled all over. 

It’s a very intentional process of reflecting on how we are doing and managing all those pieces that can contribute to anger. 

Often when people ask, “how are you doing”, even when it has been a crappy day, we say, “I’m doing well” or “I’m doing okay.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve never said, “I’m doing really bad today.”

We don’t need to dump everything from our plate on our family, friends, the cashier at the grocery store, or anyone. We need to acknowledge it for ourselves! 

It helps to know that my plate is full. I can’t put anymore on it and still be the person I want to be. 

Another important part of recognizing causes is knowing if there is a pattern to what makes you angry. 

Is it always after your shift when you’re exhausted, after a fight with your spouse, after certain calls, or all the time? 

Knowing what sets you over the edge to that place you don’t want go is a critical piece to manage your reactions. 

Reflecting helps us identify that we need to do something about all that stuff on our plate. So we can be that person we want and enjoy life.


4. How to Help Manage

Once we’ve figured out we need to do something about everything we have weighing on us, it’s finding the activities that work to help reduce those stressors.

Self-care and coping skills are something that I talk about with every individual I work with. They are VITAL with maintaining balance and enjoyment in life.


Self-care are those activities you really enjoy that fill your cup, so you are better able to manage everything on your plate. 

Coping skills are helpful to reduce feelings when they have started rising to levels that are impacting you.

I love acupuncture as self-care and try to do it regularly to manage stress and keep my body healthy. My coping skills are deep breathing and looking at my evidence. These help me remain balanced and assist me to react in the way I want to.

Another way to manage is planning or preparing for situations that impact you. If you know you are easily agitated right after work, talk with your family about how to reduce this impact, or figure out a winding down period or routine to avoid those reactions.

If none of this works, or you’re having a challenging time getting started, talking with a counselor about what you’re experiencing is another great way to get started. 

There are lots of ways to help manage and prevent those reactions and daily stressors from erupting like a volcano.  


You’re not the only one that experiences those moments of anger. There are ways to understand, manage, and influence what causes you to meet your breaking point. You can live your life with the balance you are looking for!



Be well and take care!


Liz Durfee 


Liz is an Associate Clinical Social Worker in California. She is one of our experienced counselors at Code 3 Counseling. Liz specializes in working with first responder and military trauma. You can contact her through our website.

If you find that this exercise or these conversations brought up some stuff you are struggling with, either individually or in your relationship, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for help. We are here to support you, and we understand that this can be a challenging issue to face.


Remember, it may be your battle, but you don’t have to fight it alone.