Sometimes I get angry and mean and completely lose control. I am alienating my kids, and I fear they will never want to visit me when they leave to go out on their own. What can I do to control my outbursts?

Anyone can have problems with anger or irritability, but those problems are more common for people who live with depression or bipolar disorder. Irritability or anger outbursts are common symptoms of mania, and some people have problems with irritability when they are more depressed. Do your problems with anger tend to go along with other symptoms of mania (like feeling speeded up or racy, not needing to sleep) or symptoms of depression (like low mood, negative thinking, or losing interest in things)?

If you are taking medication for depression or bipolar disorder, be sure to tell your doctor about problems with anger or losing control and about how those problems relate to other mood symptoms. If anger problems seem to be symptoms of depression or mania, then your doctor may recommend some adjustment in medication.

Whether or not anger problems are related to depression or mania, there are specific steps you can take to better manage irritability or control anger outbursts. These include:

  • Learning to recognize the external situations (people, places, events) that tend to make you more irritable or angry.
  • Planning ahead for managing those high-risk situations by either avoiding them or preparing for them.
  • Learning to recognize the internal warning signs (thoughts, emotions, physical feelings) that indicate you are more irritable or angry.
  • Identifying specific things you can do when you notice those internal warning signs. Those might include things you can say to yourself, physical relaxation (like deep breathing), or actions you can take to interrupt the anger (like going outside and walking).

If you are seeing a counselor or therapist, you should talk with them about difficulties with irritability or anger outbursts. Your therapist can work with you to find the skills or strategies that help you the most.

Finally, alcohol and some drugs (especially stimulant drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine) can increase the chances that anger will get out of control. If you use alcohol or street drugs and you are having problems with anger outbursts, then you will probably want to look at how alcohol or drugs are affecting you.

About the Doc

About the Doc

Greg Simon, MD, MPH, is a psychiatrist and researcher at  Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. His research focuses on improving the quality and availability of mental health services for people living with mood disorders, and he has a specific interest in activating consumers to expect and demand more effective mental health care.

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