Reviewed by Heather Cashell, LCSW
Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include assault & violence, which could potentially be triggering.
There are a lot of difficult emotions and symptoms that can come with PTSD. One of these emotions is anger. When working through a traumatic experience's negative effects, you may feel like anger is taking hold of you. Learning how to handle PTSD anger in a healthy way can be an important part of addressing your symptoms.
PTSD Can Lead To A Mix Of Emotions
PTSD, like many mental health disorders, can lead to a wide range of emotions. You may experience feelings of fear, shame, guilt, sadness, and anger. It can be frustrating because people who are not living through the situation you're in may not understand what you're going through. This means that you may be feeling angry over certain events that happened in the past, and a loved one may be confused as to why you're responding the way you are.
It's important to know and understand that your feelings are valid. And that it’s normal to feel different emotions at the same time. For example, if you are an adult survivor of child abuse, you may still have feelings of love towards your abusive parent while being angry about the abuse you experienced.
This can make understanding your emotions a little more difficult. Your emotions may shift quickly, leaving you feeling a little confused about what you feel at any given time. When this happens, it can be normal to start to feel out of control. This can lead to things like angry outbursts, acting out, or turning to escape behaviors to cope with your difficult emotions.
How To Soothe PTSD Anger
The most effective way to address PTSD anger is to seek treatment from a mental health professional. This will help you address all of the symptoms you're experiencing from PTSD and not just anger and irritability. However, as you work on managing PTSD symptoms through treatment, it's also helpful to know effective ways to handle the anger you feel.
Here are some anger management strategies that you can try if you struggle with PTSD anger.
Learn To Recognize what You’re Feeling
As mentioned above, you may experience a wide range of emotions in a short amount of time when you have PTSD. You may also try to avoid feeling some of these emotions as they may be related to the trauma that you experienced.
One of the problems with this is when you try to ignore your emotions, they usually don’t just go away. They can end up festering and building up inside of you. Eventually, this can lead to an outburst of emotion. You can do to manage this to work on identifying the emotions you are feeling and labeling them.
If you’re feeling sad, acknowledge that you’re feeling that way, and it’s valid. If you’re feeling angry, acknowledge that you’re feeling angry. You can do this with each emotion. By learning how to recognize and name your emotions, it can help you take the next step of learning how to express them healthily.
Tap Into Your Emotions
While you're feeling angry, you may be able to reduce some of those feelings by tapping into other emotions. Many people experience high levels of tension when they are upset and angry. Some find that they experience relief from their anger by expressing other emotions that can release built-up tension. For example, some people find that their anger is the result of feeling sad, and if they allow themselves to cry and express that they’re sad, it can help reduce some of the anger they’re experiencing.
Find A Healthy Way ToBe Destructive
If you feel like hitting something and being destructive when you are angry, there are healthy ways that you can engage in this activity. This does take a certain level of self-control because you need to be intentional about how you react.
For example, instead of punching the wall or hitting the first thing you see, it may help punch a pillow, hit your mattress, or even give boxing a try. This can allow you to still use the same punching motion that you want to do but do it in a way that doesn't hurt anyone or anything. This can be effective for releasing anger because it uses your body and energy and allows you to release the negative tension that you may be feeling inside.
Exercise can help release built-up anger because it gives you something to put the energy and emotion towards. Anger can trigger your body’s natural fight or flight response. This response is a good thing and can keep you safe in some situations; if you’re not actually in danger, it can allow tension to build in your body. This is one of the reasons why it’s believed that exercise can help you deal with anger. It gives you a way to release those feelings.
Some research has found that it’s helpful to include aerobic activity in your workout program when using it to help manage feelings of anger.
Exercise has also been known to help other mental health disorders like depressive disorders and other anxiety disorders. It can help boost the chemicals in your brain that can help to boost your mood. Exercise can also help you to shift your attention from the thing that you’re angry about something else. This can give you time to calm down and choose how you want to respond to the situation.
Connect With Others
It can be helpful to have a strong support system around you when you’re working on managing PTSD. This can include trusted friends and family members. You may find it helpful to have someone to talk to when you feel anger rising inside you. Sometimes just the simple act of talking about it can help you address it and move on from that moment in a healthy way. Some people might also help you reframe your anger the way you’re thinking about a situation.
You may also benefit from joining a support group of other people living with PTSD or struggling with anger. There’s a good chance that you will find others who experience similar situations with their anger in either group. This is a good way to gain perspective that you’re not the only person struggling with something like that and not alone. It can also be helpful because you can learn from others who feel the same way you do. They can share what things have helped them with their anger and emotions, which can help you know what to try.
Do Something You Enjoy
Many different, alternative forms of therapy can help people deal with difficult emotions. While they may not all be things that you do when you are angry, participating in them on a regular basis can help you avoid reaching the point of an angry outburst. And there are some that you can do while feeling angry or upset. A few examples include:
- Dance therapy – Using dance to express yourself and your emotions
- Art therapy – Using art to explore your emotions and develop self-awareness
- Horse therapy – Also known as Equine Therapy, this includes being around horses or interacting with them. It’s been found to help people that are struggling with different mental health challenges.
Use Mindfulness Techniques
Learning mindfulness can help you to control your thoughts and learn how to calm down when you’re feeling angry. It can help you learn how to more quickly recognize when you’re getting angry and then choose thoughts that will help shift your emotions. If you struggle with memories that cause you anger, this can help you replace intrusive thoughts with more positive ones.
When you feel anger rise, you may notice that you start breathing faster. This can cause you to feel like your blood pressure is increasing, and your heart rate is going up. All of this can trigger other physical and mental symptoms. By practicing deep breathing techniques, even simply breathing slowly in and out through your nose, you can stop that cycle from the beginning. This can help you feel like you’re regaining control of your physical response, which can help you feel like you’re in control of your emotions and mind.
While you mustn’t feel ashamed of the emotions you experience related to your PTSD symptoms, you also learn healthy ways to manage them. Allowing anger to control your actions can lead to many difficulties in your life. It can make it difficult for you to maintain healthy relationships, keep a job, and even take a toll on your physical health.
If you’re struggling with symptoms of PTSD, you may benefit from seeking treatment from a mental health professional. They can help identify treatment options that can help you learn to manage your symptoms, including anger. If you’re unsure if your anger results from PTSD, you can take this online PTSD quiz to see if this could be the case.