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Anger, Hostility, and Violent Behavior

Topic Overview

Anger signals your body to prepare for a fight. This reaction is commonly classified as "fight or flight." When you get angry, adrenaline and other hormones are released into the bloodstream. Then your blood pressure goes up, your heart beats faster, and you breathe faster.

Many people mistakenly believe that anger is always a bad emotion and that expressing anger is not okay. In reality, anger can be a normal response to everyday events. It is the right response to any situation that is a real threat. Anger can be a positive driving force behind our actions. Anger can also be a symptom of something else, depending on how often a person feels angry and how angry the person feels.

Hostility is being ready for a fight all the time. Hostile people are often stubborn, impatient, hotheaded, or have an "attitude." They are frequently in fights or may say they feel like hitting something or someone. Hostility isolates you from other people.

Anger and constant hostility keep your blood pressure high and increase your chances of having another health problem, such as depression, heart attack, or a stroke.

Teens who say they often feel angry and hostile also more often feel anxious, stressed, sad, and fatigued. They have more problems with alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, and eating disorders than teens who do not have high levels of anger.

Violent behavior often begins with verbal threats or relatively minor incidents, but over time it can involve physical harm. Violent behavior is very damaging, both physically and emotionally. Violent behavior can include physical, verbal, or sexual abuse of an intimate partner (domestic violence), a child (child abuse), or an older adult (elder abuse).

Violence causes more injury and death in children, teenagers, and young adults than infectious disease, cancer, or birth defects. Murder, suicide, and violent injury are the leading causes of death in children. Violence with guns is one of the leading causes of death of children and teenagers in the United States.

If you are angry or hostile or if you have violent behavior, it is important to find help. You can learn ways to control your feelings and actions. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline toll-free at 1-800-799-7233 or the National Department on Mental Health at 1-888-793-4357 to help you find the help you need.

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

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Home Treatment

If you are angry, hostile, or violent, it is important to find help. You can learn ways to control your feelings and actions. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline toll-free at 1-800-799-7233 or the National Department on Mental Health at 1-888-793-4357. These agencies can help you find the help you need.

You can control your feelings of anger or hostility and avoid violence.

  • Think before you act. Take time to stop and cool down when you feel yourself becoming angry. Count to 10, or practice some other form of mental relaxation. When you have calmed down, you will be better able to deal with your conflict thoughtfully.
  • Recognize feelings that often lead to angry outbursts. Do you have trouble dealing with feelings of sadness, confusion, or helplessness? Identify these feelings, and develop positive ways to express them.
  • Come up with a reasonable explanation of why you are angry. If a person triggers your anger, suggest to yourself that perhaps the person is having a bad day.
  • Avoid situations that trigger your anger.
    • If you have trouble coping with heavy traffic, try to adjust your work schedule so that you do not have to travel in peak traffic hours.
    • Do errands at less-busy times if standing in line bothers you.
  • Evaluate your lifestyle choices. Anger and hostility may be a symptom of unhappy feelings or depression about your job, your relationship, or other aspects of your personal life.
  • Notice when you start to become angry, and learn to express your feelings in a positive manner. Don't just ignore your anger until you "blow up." Express anger in a healthy way:
    • Give yourself a "time-out." Go someplace quiet to allow yourself time to calm down.
    • Try screaming or yelling in a private place, not at other people.
    • Go for a short walk or jog.
    • Talk about your feelings with a friend. Avoid gossiping about the person you are upset with.
    • Draw, paint, or listen to music to release the anger.
    • Write in a daily journal.
  • Develop assertive skills to replace your aggressive behavior. Use "I" statements, not "you" statements, to discuss your anger. Say "I don't feel valued when my needs are not being met" instead of "You make me mad when you are so inconsiderate."
  • Listen to what the other person has to say. This can be hard. Try to understand his or her point of view. Seek to understand, then to be understood.
  • Explore other resources that may be available through your job or your community.
    • Contact your human resources department at work to see whether you have services available through an employee assistance program.
    • Contact your local hospital, mental health facility, or health department to see what types of programs or support groups are available in your area.
  • Read books on anger and how to handle it.
  • Forgive and forget. Forgiving helps lower blood pressure and ease muscle tension so you can feel more relaxed.
  • Take care of yourself.
    • Exercise regularly.
    • Eat a balanced diet. Do not skip meals.
    • Try to get 8 hours of sleep each night.
    • Limit your use of alcohol, and do not use illegal drugs.
  • Practice a relaxation technique such as yoga, meditation, or tai chi.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor to evaluate your feelings if your anger, hostility, or violent behavior becomes more frequent or severe.

Prevention

To prevent anger and hostility and to avoid violence:

  • Seek nonhostile ways to resolve conflicts. Arguing is fine, even healthy, as long as it does not turn violent.
  • Prevent violence with guns and other weapons.
    • Do not provide your children or teenagers with unsupervised access to guns or other dangerous weapons.
    • Do not keep guns in your home.
    • If you have guns in your home, unload them and lock them up. Lock ammunition in a separate place.
    • Do not keep guns in a home where there is someone who has a drug or alcohol problem, is prone to violent behavior, or has threatened suicide.
    • Make sure that no one in your home will have access to guns or other weapons unless he or she knows how to use them safely.
  • Take steps to lead a healthy life.
    • Engage in some type of regular physical activity. Exercise is one of the best ways to release all types of stress, including anger. A brisk walk is a good way to start. For more information, see the topic Fitness.
    • Eat a balanced diet. Remember to drink plenty of water.
    • Establish a healthy sleep pattern. Try to get the same amount of sleep each night.
    • Limit your use of alcohol, and do not use other drugs, such as cocaine, crack, or methamphetamines. Alcohol and drugs may make your feelings of anger and hostility worse and make them even harder to handle. For more information, see the topic Alcohol and Drug Problems.
    • Practice a relaxation technique such as yoga, meditation, or tai chi.
  • Consider your feelings before you become angry:
    • Talk about your feelings with a friend.
    • Draw or paint to express your feelings.
    • Write in a daily journal.
    • Think about your relationships with others. Don't spend time with people who are apt to make you angry or who add negative energy to your life.
  • Think before you act. Take time to stop and cool down when you feel yourself becoming angry. Count to 10, or practice some other form of mental relaxation. When you have calmed down, you will be better able to deal with your conflict thoughtfully.
  • Teach your children that anger is not a solution.
    • Give your children consistent love and attention.
    • Settle arguments without yelling or hitting.
    • Do not use physical discipline, such as spanking or other forms of corporal punishment. If you need help controlling your children, consider taking a course in parenting skills.
    • Limit your child's exposure to TV, movies, and video games. Watch television with your children to discuss or limit violent content.

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:

  • How long have you felt you had a problem with anger, hostility, or violent behavior?
  • What makes you feel better or worse? What have you tried to control your feelings or actions?
  • Is your use of alcohol or illegal drugs leading to your feelings of anger or hostility or violence? Are you using alcohol or drugs as an attempt at "self-medication" to relieve your symptoms?
  • Have you or anyone else in your family ever been diagnosed with depression or other mental problems?
  • Do work or relationship issues contribute to your feelings of anger? Think about these issues before your visit.
  • Have you experienced any recent major life changes, such as a move, new job, divorce, marriage, or retirement?
  • What medicines do you use, both prescription and nonprescription?
  • Do you have access to guns or other violent weapons?
  • Do you have any health risks?

While waiting for your appointment, it may be helpful to keep a diary of your feelings.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised December 23, 2011

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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