What Can I Do with My Anger?


1 May 2023 | ~9:26 Engagement Time


Roz Kalb , Psychologist


Meghan Beier , Neuropsychologist


Anger is a very powerful emotion. It can give us energy and strength to problem solve and move forward, or it can paralyze our thoughts and stop us in our tracks. It can feel good to let it out or it can make us feel guilty and embarrassed. It can help us get a point across to others or it can drive them away or even frighten them. Let’s look at anger more closely to learn:

  • what might be causing it
  • what impact it might be having on you and the people around you
  • how it can be put to good use
  • where to get help if it’s feeling out of control

Where Anger Comes From

Some people carry anger with them throughout their lives. Childhood trauma or other early stressors can sometimes precipitate a lifetime of anger. But most people experience anger in response to common triggers. A person may feel: 

  • Out of control of one’s life or environment 
  • Frustrated or powerless 
  • Afraid or vulnerable 
  • Threatened or attacked 
  • Disrespected or unheard 
  • Stressed beyond one’s capacity to manage 
  • Depressed 

Each of these feelings can come and go – or come and stay – for a person living with MS or a support partner. Let’s look at these feelings one by one. You may find that some or all of these situations happen from time to time in your life.  

Feeling Out of Control

When one person in a family is diagnosed with MS, the entire family is affected. Suddenly, the life that seemed so secure and predictable, becomes uncertain. Plans and dreams that had been taken for granted may suddenly seem out of reach. Daily activities are more challenging. Getting around in one’s environment can be exhausting or even impossible. The personal control we take for granted as adults may be challenged by mobility issues, bowel and bladder symptoms, problems with thinking and planning, or many other symptoms of MS. Support partners may find themselves taking on a variety of additional tasks and responsibilities that they’d previously shared with their loved one with MS.  

Feeling Powerless

MS can be a very tyrannical master. It does what it wants to do, when it wants to do it. When people find themselves unable to do the things they used to do, frustration builds. When people experience debilitating MS symptoms in spite of doing everything they can to manage the disease and attend to their wellness, they feel powerless in the face of MS.  

Feeling Vulnerable

The uncertainty and unpredictability of multiple sclerosis can often lead to feeling medically and emotionally vulnerable. When people feel vulnerable, they may worry about their health, well-being, and safety. Additionally, there may be fears about how others will react to their diagnosis or judge the ups and downs of symptoms. Anger may act as a protective armor to mask these feelings of vulnerability. 

Feeling Attacked

Clearly, it is normal to feel anger or rage when attacked by another person. But attacks of MS can cause those same feelings. Why is this happening? What could I possibly have done to deserve this? How can I fight back? MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks health tissues in the central nervous system. But for many people, it can begin to feel that the disease is attacking their whole beings.  

Feeling Disrespected or Unheard

No one likes to be disrespected or unheard – with family and friends, with one’s healthcare providers, or out in the world. Living with a disability means that others may see you differently, react to you differently, treat you differently. People who use mobility aids often report that others treat them as though they’re less smart or capable that able-bodied folks. Servers in restaurants may ask a family member what the person with MS wants to eat. Healthcare providers may put their priorities for your care in front of your own.  

Feeling Overwhelmed by Stress

Stress creates a fight-or-flight response in our bodies that gears us up to protect ourselves or get away as fast as possible. Stress that’s ongoing – related to managing an unpredictable disease, carrying on at work, managing a busy household, dealing with medical bills, and so on, can create a high level of stress for people with MS and their support partners. And sometimes that built-up stress can feel like it’s going to explode.  

Feeling Depressed

Depression is a very common symptom of MS. We know that many people who are depressed may be very irritable or have angry outbursts in addition to the more common symptoms of depression like prolonged sadness, loss of interest in pleasurable things, among others. Since support partners are also prone to depression for a variety of reasons, they may also display this kind of irritability.  

How to Recognize the Impact of Your Anger on Yourself and Others

The power of anger can feel good – like letting off steam or loosening a knot inside yourself. But it can also be exhausting for you and others when it feels never-ending, harsh, hyper-critical, or even abusive. Whether we direct anger at ourselves or at others, it carries a heavy weight. Try asking yourself the following questions: 

  • Could my anger be wearing me out, contributing to my fatigue? 
  • Is my anger getting in the way of other, more positive emotions like tenderness or happiness? Or perhaps protecting me from other feelings I’m afraid to feel – like fear or guilt? 
  • Do other people seem to distance themselves from my anger? 
  • Have others tried to talk to me about my anger and how it feels to them? 
  • Do others seem confused or frightened by my anger? 

Answering these questions can help you explore the meaning and impact of your anger – which is often the first step to getting a better handle on it. 

How to Put Anger to Good Use

Anger produces its own form of energy. Since expending that energy can also be exhausting, it’s important to put the angry energy to good use. It can help power you in a variety of useful ways: 

Giving your anger a name 

When your anger feels like an amorphous blob of negative feelings, it’s important to think about what’s causing it. The better able you are to pinpoint the cause(s) of your anger, the better able you’ll be to find solutions. Is it a symptom? Some aspect of an important relationship? An activity you can no longer do the way you used to do it? Whatever it is, giving it a name is the first step to addressing it.  


Once you’ve identified the source(s) of your anger you can formulate a step-by-step plan to improve the situation. It helps to write the steps out and check them off as you accomplish them. You might consider: 

  • Having a sit-down with your partner to resolve a conflict.  
  • Scheduling an appointment with your MS provider to talk about a symptom or problem that’s been neglected in your recent office visits.  
  • Or consulting with an occupational therapist about how to rearrange things in your house so you can be more independent.  
  • Maybe you’re frustrated by the loss of your favorite activities and you need a conversation with a physical therapist to learn ways to adapt those activities to your ability level.  
  • Or perhaps you need to ask your MS or primary care provider to screen you for depression.


  • Identifying unmet needs and searching for solutions 
  • Working with your healthcare team to improve communication, feel heard, get your own priorities on the table 

Physical activity and exercise 

  • Working with an exercise specialist to create an exercise regimen that works for you 
  • Engaging in recreational activities  
  • Using exercise snacks to manage bursts of anger 

Where to Get Help if Your Anger Feels Out of Control

 If you begin to feel that your anger is more destructive than constructive, it’s time to reach out for help and support. Perhaps you’re taking your anger out on family members, friends, or colleagues – talking or behaving in ways that don’t feel like you. Or maybe you’re lashing out at strangers on the street or drivers in other cars. You may even be targeting yourself with some of that anger – battering yourself with negative self-talk and harsh criticism. This type of anger isn’t about being a bad or mean person; it’s about feeling overwhelmed. It’s a signal that it’s time to ask your MS provider or primary care provider for a referral to a mental health professional who can help you find some more comfortable strategies for managing your anger.