Anger is one of the basic human emotions, as elemental as happiness, sadness, anxiety or disgust. These emotions are tied to basic survival and were honed over the course of human history. Anger is related to the “fight, flight, or freeze” response of the sympathetic nervous system, it prepares humans to fight. But fighting doesn’t necessarily mean throwing punches. It might motivate communities to combat injustice by changing laws or enforcing new norms.

Of course, anger too easily or frequently mobilized can undermine relationships or damage physical health in the long term. Prolonged release of the stress hormones that accompany anger can destroy neurons in areas of the brain associated with judgment and short term memory and weaken the immune system. For those who struggle with chronic anger, or for those who only experience occasional outbursts, learning skills to identify and navigate this powerful emotion can lead to growth and change.

What causes anger?

The question of why some shrug off annoyances while others explode in rage is a fascinating one. One model of anger, put forth by psychologist Jerry Deffenbacher, posits that anger results from a combination of the trigger event, the qualities of the individual, and the individual’s appraisal of the situation.

The trigger is the event that provokes anger, such as being cut off in traffic or yelled at by a parent. The qualities of the individual include personality traits, such as narcissism, competitiveness, and low tolerance for frustration, and the pre-anger state, like levels of anxiety or exhaustion. Perhaps most importantly is cognitive appraisal—appraising a situation as blameworthy, unjustified, punishable, etc. The combination of these components determines why and if people get mad.

How can I manage my anger?

If you are often carried away by anger, it can be helpful to understand the patterns that trigger you. It’s possible to intervene at different points along the way to deal with anger effectively.

1. Sleep: Sleep deprivation makes it harder to control angry impulses, so regular, healthy sleep can prevent you from being provoked.

2. Consider alternative interpretations: And ask yourself what evidence you have to support your angering interpretation. Consider different perspectives.

3. Take deep breaths: Take long, slow, deep breaths, using the diaphragm rather than the chest.

4. Avoid the “catharsis myth”: Venting anger, acting with aggression, and viewing aggressive content does not tend to release anger effectively.

5. Know that it’s ok to get mad: If you have been wronged, treated unfairly, or provoked, you should get angry, but express it assertively instead of aggressively.

How can I manage anger that’s warranted?

In cases of warranted anger, such as a coworker who never contributes to collaborative projects, you may want to use a different set of anger management tips. In those situations:

1. Distance yourself from the angering situation. This will help you stop ruminating and develop a clear path forward.

2. Dedicate time to thinking about how to solve the root problem so it doesn’t occur again.

3. Express your anger assertively, with a solutions-oriented approach, rather than aggressively.