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Understanding the 4 Emotional Stages of Anger

A person sitting on the dock of a lake crying with their head on their knees at sunset

Anger is an emotion that everyone experiences. In fact, it can be a healthy barometer of something that needs to change in your life, or an indication of a relationship issue that needs addressed. Like all emotions, anger has different intensity levels or ‘stages’. Understanding the ways that it shows up in your life can help you manage it better by recognizing the signs that it is rising to the surface. By doing this, you help ensure that it doesn’t create as many negative consequences for you or those around you. Becoming more aware of the stages of anger also helps increase your emotional intelligence, or awareness of the reasons behind it, so you can use it as a tool to make positive and uplifting changes in your life.

Take a look at the 4 stages of anger, and some useful solutions you can utilize to help you de-escalate your emotional reaction at each phase.


Studies have shown that most people become annoyed a few times per day, and this is a sign that something or someone is slightly bothersome or irritating to you. For example, someone may have used the last spoon in the break room at work without replenishing the supply. This leaves you feeling a little miffed. At this level of anger, it’s a good idea to review any thoughts that are going through your head. Since your adrenaline levels are still relatively moderate, you’ll be able to rationally think about some of the reasons behind your annoyance. You’ll also be able to determine if your anger is justified, and you’ll have the piece of mind to find a reasonable solution.

Taking the example of the spoon, reviewing your thoughts can help you determine if your annoyance comes from your irritation at co-workers who rarely replace items, or if perhaps this was an isolated incident and your impatience is due to just being overly hungry. Based on what you decide after reviewing your thoughts, your solution might be to either leave a note for your co-workers to be more considerate or simply ‘let it go’ and eat your lunch instead.

As with all stages of anger, the trigger for your annoyance can either be your internal thoughts or an external event. During times of moderate anger using your head is the best way determine this and find a reasonable solution.


When anger escalates beyond just a mild bother and you feel your stress levels begin to rise, you’ve moved into the state of frustration. Here, you’ll still able to use your brain to think rationally, but because of your heightened resentments or dissatisfaction with what’s happening, it might not be as easy to stay calm and clearheaded. That’s why it’s good to bring in some physical relaxation tactics at this point, such as calming breathing, muscle relaxation techniques, and soothing affirmations. Here are a few examples:

  • Take several slow deep breaths, inhaling for a count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 8. This helps you relax much more quickly.
  • Focus on purposely relaxing your muscles, since anger shows up in the form of tension in the body and is more easily released when that tension subsides.
  • Decide if this is a situation you choose to accept, change, or release. Whichever you decide, repeat it to yourself several times. This helps you feel more in control (and less frustrated) because you’ve made a decision about how you will move forward.


Hostility tends to happen when there has been a large build-up of stress, pain, or anxiety in your life. Your tolerance for frustrating events is too low for you to be able to cope calmly anymore. This can occur for a number of reasons, such as experiencing an overabundance of physical or emotional pain, being overloaded with responsibilities, undergoing hormonal imbalances, or not understanding how to express your emotions in ways that ensure they don’t get ‘stuck’ inside of you. Hostility is the stage where you anger tends to boil up and out of you before a solution can be found to help alleviate it.

At this point, the body’s ‘fight or flight’ system that is set up to warn you of danger takes over. Since this response affects the brain by dampening the parts responsible for moderating social behavior and proper planning, trying to ‘think’ your way down from your hostility will probably only result in further frustration and anger.

Even if you’ve become actively hostile with another person and are snapping or yelling, there are still very effective ways that you can settle yourself back into a more peaceful and relaxed state to turn the situation around. One of the most useful tools at this level of anger is to make a decision to step away and revisit the situation later. This gives you a chance to release the pent-up energy from the adrenaline rush that is part of the body’s response to feeling attacked and overwhelmed with emotion. While you’re taking a break, it’s important to move around physically. Try going for a short walk or even doing a full workout. Breathing to relax is also a great idea at this stage, as are meditation and yoga.


This is the stage when you feel completely out of control. You may exhibit destructive behavior when your anger reaches this point, such lashing out physically, excessive swearing, or threatening violence. This happens very quickly, before the rational center of the brain has time to consciously think about your anger, and the survival center takes over. You might find yourself enraged for many of the same reasons that sparked your hostility, and reaching this stage may also indicate that your ‘reactive’ brain center is generally more active than your ‘planning’ brain center.

When you become enraged, it’s best to turn immediately to the 4-count in, 8-count out slow breathing strategy. This is the fastest way to dampen the intense emotional reaction you’re experiencing. It also helps ensure that you regain control over your reactions as quickly as possible.

Having some healthy management techniques in place to effectively deal with your anger before it overtakes you is also very helpful. Our compassionate experts have the experience to help you increase your understanding of the underlying issues that lead to feeling overwhelmed by anger and provide useful strategies for managing each stage. Contact us today if you’d like to talk to us about ways to harness your anger into solutions that can create positive shifts that help you uplift your life.