Psychology Tools: Use an Anger Meter to Avoid Negative Consequences
January 10, 2014

Studies show that CBT interventions can help solve anger management problems.  The “Anger Meter” is a simple, but useful cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) tool taught in many anger management classes. This tool helps monitor the degree of anger you’re experiencing, so that you can intervene before it’s too late (i.e., you lose control and suffer negative consequences).

Feeling anger frequently takes a toll on the body and mind.  At it’s worst, extreme anger can lead to significant problems with one’s health and relationships.  With that said, feeling anger is a part of being human.  It’s impossible to avoid feeling anger 100% of the time, nor would you want to.  There are some positives associated with anger; for example, it can indicate that some type of unfairness or injustice has taken place.  Additionally, anger can at times provide some clarity of mind – like when you have to draw the line and give a strong “no” to somebody.

How Does the Anger Meter Work?

Anger can be subjectively measured on a scale of 0 – 10, with zero being a complete absence of anger (e.g., feeling calm, peaceful, etc.) and 10 being extreme anger (e.g., physical violence toward somebody, breaking things, etc.).

One of the initial goals of the Anger Meter tool is to prevent yourself from ever getting to a “10” – that is, to manage your anger enough so that you avoid harming yourself or others.  The long-term goals of the anger meter are to help you increase your self-awareness to a point where you can maintain a low baseline level of anger and frustration – ideally, you will be somewhere between “0-2” much of the time, and rarely above a “5.”

The first step in using the Anger Meter is to start gauging what a “1” is for you, in comparison to a “3,” “5,” etc.  This is a subjective rating instrument, so what may be a “3” for one person, may be something different, like a “5” for another.  A lower number indicates less emotional and physical arousal, and higher numbers indicate the opposite.


0 = feeling calm, peaceful, happy.

2 = slight irritation, boredom (some theorize that boredom is a degree of anger, in the form low-level frustration).

4 = moderately annoyed, moderate levels of stress.

6 = frequently frustrated and irritated, passive aggressive behavior.

8 = feeling on the verge of yelling, physical symptoms such as clenching fists, heart racing and feeling hot, frequent thoughts of lashing out.

10 = losing control of anger: lashing out, emotional abuse, and physical violence.

The anger meter is like an emotional thermometer.  By monitoring your anger on a regular basis, you can tell where you are on the scale and respond accordingly, by giving yourself the appropriate “medicine” at that time.

If you find yourself at a “2” or “3,” you can do something relatively simple to help yourself relax.  If you’re higher, say at a “5” or “6,” then you will likely need to do something more substantial to lower your emotional arousal state.

Doing things like taking a walk, practicing mindfulness meditation, or talking to a friend can be calming and restorative.  Everybody is different, so you need to figure out what works best for you.

If you stop and pause throughout the day, you might be surprised to find times when you have unexpectedly gone up the anger meter.  That marks a great opportunity to initiate some type of action to help bring your score back down.

Key = Intervene Early

Anger is much easier to manage when it’s lower on the scale.  In other words, it’s easier to bring yourself back down to a “1” if you catch yourself at “4.”  More time and effort is typically required to calm down if don’t you catch yourself until you’re at an 8 or 9.  So, a key factor is to be aware of when you start creeping up the scale, so that you can intervene early.

Since anger is a form of emotional arousal, practicing stress management techniques an excellent way to start lowering your baseline arousal state.

Reference: Reilly PM, Shopshire MS, Durazzo TC, and Campbell TA. Anger Management for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Clients: Participant Workbook. HHS Pub. No. (SMA) 12-4210. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2002.

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