Anger is an emotional state ranging from mild irritation to intense fury and rage. We all get  frustrated sometimes, but what happens when anger gets out of control?

Speeding cars weaving in and out of traffic on congested expressways. Colleagues playing music or having a loud conversation on speakerphone while others are trying to work. People packing closely in a queue despite social distancing orders.

Some get irritated by these daily inconveniences, but will grit their teeth and move on. Others, however, may just snap — rev their engines and crash into the cars in front; shout at their inconsiderate colleagues; or push and berate the people behind them in a queue.

Most people probably fall into the first category, but for a minority, their anger tips into rage — or uncontrollable, impulsive anger. Some may say that the size of the second group may be increasing as the stresses of modern life, especially in a large city, take their toll on people’s emotions.

“Rage is an extreme expression of anger, especially when the person is not able to handle their anger in a constructive manner. Rage encompasses a mix of other emotions, such as fear, desperation, and panic,” said Mr Kevin Roy Beck, Principal Psychologist, Department of Psychology, Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

Such outbursts of anger or fits of rage are not acceptable whether at home, workplace, or in public, said Mr Beck. Anger does have one positive in that it can be a signal that action needs to be taken
to make something right or to correct a perceived wrong.

Ways to cope

If someone keeps losing their temper, they need to find out what stirs up anger in them. “The triggers are quite individual as what irritates me may not irritate you. For instance, someone may not feel irritated in a packed MRT train, but put that same person there for eight hours and the response would likely be quite different,” Mr Beck said.

Keeping an anger log by jotting down thoughts when feeling angry can help a person recognise the triggers and how to deal with them. “When you are reasonably calm, take some time to examine recent events when your anger flared. Jot the incidents down,” said Mr Beck. Instead of merely reliving the event, look for what triggered the anger and the effects it had, he added.

Physiological responses, such as an increased breathing rate, a pumping heart or a racing pulse, can be early warning signals of anger building up. When that happens, take a few minutes to calm down before reacting — count to 10 or take deep breaths.

While it is easy to tell people not to let anger build up, suppressing those feelings is not such a good idea either. They can end up with another problem.

“Anger turned inward is one definition of depression,” said Mr Beck, adding that it may be preferable in some instances to lose one’s temper and quickly calm down. In the main, however, losing one’s temper repeatedly on the false perception that it is better to get those feelings off one’s chest only serves to reinforce this negative and destructive behaviour.

The thing to do is not to let anger build, but to talk about the problems in a calm and rational manner, or to analyse what is driving those feelings. If a person has worked out what the triggers
are but is unable to accept the situation or environment, then he or she needs to consider a change of environment, said Mr Beck.

​Diffusing anger


Physical activity not only provides an outlet for emotions, but also has the added advantage of producing calming endorphins.

Take time out

Take a few minutes to calm down before reacting to a situation. Count to 10 and take deep breaths, or walk away to defuse feelings of anger and gain a more balanced perspective.

Don’t hold a grudge

Forgive and forget, and focus on moving forward.