11 Surprising Causes Of Random Anger

Seeing red? Here's what may be behind it.

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Here are the causes behind feeling sudden anger for no reason, according to experts.
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Whether you catch yourself clenching your fists, screaming into a pillow, or blaring your car horn at someone on a Tuesday afternoon, there’s nothing fun about sudden, intense bursts of rage. While it’s common to experience moments of annoyance, irritation, and even anger when something goes wrong, feeling mad for no reason can certainly come as a shock.

It doesn’t, however, make you a bad person. “It is common to classify emotions into categories such as ‘good emotions’ like happiness, joy, love, or ‘bad emotions’ like anxiety, sadness, and anger,” Lori Ryland, Ph.D., LP, a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. “The truth is emotions themselves are not bad or good.”

Anger is often a side effect of something else entirely — like fatigue or hunger — or a very useful way for your body and mind to tell you something’s wrong. Other times, rage fits can be accompanied by anxiety and feel a bit like panic attacks, Dr. Richard C. Shelton, M.D., a psychiatry professor at the University of Alabama School of Medicine, tells Bustle. But there’s a common denominator, whatever the case may be: “Whenever we feel an emotion — desired or not — it’s an indication that we’ll probably need to take action and do something in order for us to feel different,” says Christina Harrison, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker.

That’s when you might realize, “Oh, I haven’t eaten in a couple of hours,” or “Oh, I’m mad because I’m stressed.” That’s why it’s often helpful to do a mental and physical check-in with yourself to figure out what you could shift or change in order to feel better. But if you aren’t sure why you’re suddenly angry, or if it’s an ongoing thing for you, don’t hesitate to reach out for extra support.

“It can be very beneficial to meet with a therapist even for a brief period to learn more about how to identify anger and establish better strategies to reduce it,” Ryland says. “This is particularly critical if your anger leads to aggression of any kind.” Here are 11 common causes of anger that might explain why you’re seeing red.


You’re Triggered

If it seems like you feel sudden anger for no reason, it very well may mean you got triggered by something you didn’t even realize was there. In some cases, this could even point to post-traumatic stress disorder, which includes anger as a top symptom.

“Triggers can be as subtle as a smell, an image, or an automatic thought,” Jose Ramirez, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor, tells Bustle. “If you notice that you are angry for no reason you should pay attention to external and internal factors.” Check in and ask yourself what happened in the moments before you got upset. In this situation, it may help to walk away and give yourself a chance to reset.

Therapy can also come in handy if you think it would help to further unpack your triggers and the trauma that caused them.


You Don’t Speak Your Mind

Anger can crop up when you hold your feelings back, too. “[It can occur] when we have expectations that we haven't clearly communicated and something doesn't meet our expectations,” psychotherapist Carrie Torn, LCSW tells Bustle. This can happen with friendships, romantic relationships, family, and even at work. If you tend to go through the day hoping things will go your way, but without ever communicating what you want or need, expect to eventually bubble over with annoyance — or even rage.


You Have Depression

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Did you know anger and irritability are lesser-known signs of depression? While other symptoms include sadness, loss of interest, appetite changes, tiredness, physical pains, and feeling “slowed down,” you might also notice that you have a super short fuse, pick fights, or feel mad at everyone and everything for no reason.


Anxiety Is Taking Over

Anger can also be indicative of underlying anxiety, whether you have an actual anxiety disorder or are experiencing an anxiety-inducing moment. In both cases, anger is a way to release internal tension, according to therapist Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW.

Think of the time you snapped at a partner when getting ready for a job interview. You weren’t mad, you were just anxious. The same goes for feeling irritable when you have chronic anxiety. When the body is in a constant state of fear, it’s easy to lash out.


You’re Too Stressed

Similarly, anger can spring up seemingly out of nowhere when you’re busy, overwhelmed, and thus super stressed. “Some describe this as a ‘short fuse’ or feeling like they are like a ‘pressure cooker,’” says Ryland of another culprit.

All it takes is the sound of your phone ringing or one too many emails before you blow up. In those moments, Ryland suggests “letting off some steam” by going for a walk or venting to a close friend.

“Another strategy is to ‘turn down the flame,’” she says. “Ways to do this include mindfulness or meditation, taking a personal day to recharge, or engaging in leisure activities and self-care.”


You’re Actually Afraid

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According to Harrison, anger is typically a secondary emotion. “For example, a fairly common way that anger can show up for folx is road rage,” they say. “When we’re driving, we’re minding our own business, following the rules of the road in order to get us to our next destination. Then someone comes along speeding, cuts us off, and forces us to slam on our brakes.”

In this moment, your first emotion is fear: fear of an accident, fear of injuring others, etc. “We create a narrative that the other driver is intentionally being careless, reckless, and inconsiderate,” Harrison says. “Their behavior threatens our well-being, and can possibly hinder our ability to be alive, thus cueing anger.”

This is just an example of how fear can trigger anger. The next time you’re mad for no reason, consider if something startled you or made you feel unsafe, and you very well may have your explanation.


You’re Hangry

While this one seems super simplistic, low blood sugar really can make you see red. “We get more irritable if we don’t feel our best,” Natalie Capano, MHC-LP, a counselor, tells Bustle, which is why “hangry” is a word everyone has in their vocabulary. If it’s been hours since you ate, don’t be surprised if you snap.


You Stop & Start Antidepressants

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If bouts of pure fury are taking over your life, consider your medications. While not guaranteed, “rage attacks” are a potential side effect when you stop taking SSRIs, which are a class of medication often used to treat anxiety and depression. It’s one of the many reasons why it’s important to talk with your doctor before going off them.


You Have PMS Or PMDD

If you tend to get mad right before your period, that rage-y feeling could be due to PMS or even premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Along with anger and irritability, other psychological symptoms of PMDD include anxiety, extreme fatigue, confusion, crying spells, forgetfulness, and trouble sleeping.

Healthy habits like exercising and eating a balanced diet can help curb PMDD, but sometimes psychiatric drugs and hormone therapy are necessary. If you experience rage attacks around your period, don't suffer in silence. Talk to a doctor, especially if it's significantly impacting your life.


You’re Uncomfortable

Discomfort — whether it’s due to hot weather, painful shoes, an itchy sweater, or the fact you haven’t had any water today — can be enough to cause irrational anger, too. The best way to fix this type of fury? Take better care of yourself at the moment, as well as going forward.

One way to do so is with the HALT trick: “HALT is an acronym that reminds us to take a pause and check in with ourselves,” Torn says. “It stands for Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?” All of these things can contribute to anger, she says, which is why HALT is a good way to make sure your needs are being met.

If you’re hungry, have a snack. If you’re angry, take a walk. If you’re lonely, call a friend or family member. And if you’re tired, take a dang nap! (Or, you know, work on improving your sleep schedule so that you don’t get as cranky.)


You Have A Mood Disorder

Mood disorders, like bipolar disorder, can cause intense emotional swings that are difficult to regulate, Capano says. The same goes for personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, which includes anger and impulsivity among its many symptoms.

If you’re prone to emotional ups and downs, it may help to look for patterns, learn more about your triggers, and then practice ways of regulating them. “Grounding techniques and mindfulness can help,” says Capano. “Have you ever seen a movie where a character splashes frigid water on their face? This can serve as a reset button to hit when you’ve reached your tolerance for frustrating situations.”

Medication may also come to the rescue, as well as outside support. “If you find yourself frequently becoming angry and you can’t identify the cause or seem to control it, therapy might help,” says Capano.

Studies referenced:

Galovski, T. (2014). Changes in Anger in Relationship to Responsivity to PTSD Treatment. Psychol Trauma.

Sahu, A. (2014). Depression is More Than Just Sadness: A Case of Excessive Anger and Its Management in Depression. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine.

Walsh, L. (2018). The Relationship Between Anger and Anxiety Symptoms in Youth with Anxiety Disorders. J Child Adolesc Couns.


Lori Ryland, Ph.D., LP, CAADC, BCBA-D, licensed clinical psychologist

Christina Harrison, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker

Jose Ramirez, LMHC, licensed mental health counselor

Carrie Torn, LCSW, psychotherapist

Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW, therapist

Dr. Richard C. Shelton, M.D., a psychiatry professor at the University of Alabama School of Medicine

Natalie Capano, MHC-LP, counselor

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