Dealing With the Anger Stage of Grief

Ashley Miller
Contributor: Julie Kirk
Woman feeling grief

Anger, one of the five stages of grief first conceptualized by the renowned psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, is arguably one of the most difficult human emotions to deal with. Once you realize that you can't deny the loss of your loved one, you may start to feel anger or even rage. The anger stage of grief is a normal part of the grieving process.

Six Tips for Dealing With Grief and Anger

If you have difficulty managing your anger, know that you don't have to suffer endlessly. How long grief lasts is different for each person. Implementing specific strategies can help you successfully move through this challenging phase of the grieving process.

1. Allow Yourself to Feel Angry

When you feel angry over the loss of a loved one, it can be tempting to suppress your feelings by trying to put on a strong front or a happy face, especially if you feel like others around you are relying on you to keep it together. When you don't allow yourself to feel angry, you might find yourself blaming others, lashing out or reacting in other unhealthy and counterproductive ways. Although these are all common reactions to anger, they are likely to make the anger phase of grief more challenging.

Accept what you feel and realize that anger is a normal reaction to grief. Let your feelings come naturally. If you don't feel angry yet, you might be in another stage of the grieving process, such as denial. However, according to grief expert David Kessler in an article for Grief.com, the more you allow yourself to feel anger (when you actually do feel angry), the more it will start to dissolve and the sooner you'll begin to heal.

2. Cry It Out

Crying is not a sign of weakness. It is a very healthy and normal expression of anger. You can't force yourself to cry, of course, but don't feel like you have to hold your tears in, either. You might feel like you need to be strong for others, such as children or people who depend on you, but realize that you don't have to be a pillar and that it's okay to lean on others, too. It can be helpful to talk about your feelings of sadness with trusted friends or family members, and if the tears come naturally, try not to hold back. Tears are one of the most healing ways your body releases anger and stress, according to psychiatrist Judith Orloff.

3. Write an Angry Letter

Express your anger to your loved one in an anger letter. Clinical psychologist Monica A. Frank points out that an anger letter can be particularly helpful if you are someone who has difficulty acknowledging angry feelings. You can write an anger letter to let your loved one know how angry and sad you feel that they are no longer with you. No one needs to see the letter but you.

4. Exercise

Find an activity you enjoy, such as running, walking or biking. According to the Mayo Clinic, physical exercise is a helpful way to reduce feelings of stress that can lead to anger. They note that exercise also increases endorphins -- your body's natural feel-good chemicals.

5. Scream

Distraught younger man

Let yourself yell as loud as you need to, even if it's at the top of your lungs. In an article for Help Guide, psychologists Melinda Smith and Jeanne Segal say, "it's okay to yell at the heavens" during the grieving process. Just make sure you're screaming in a safe space, such as in your home or in your parked car.

6. Practice Relaxation and Self-care Techniques

According to the American Psychological Association, unexpressed anger can lead to negative mental and physical effects, such as high blood pressure or depression. During the anger phase of the grief process, it's important to counter these effects by practicing mindful relaxation and self-care techniques, such as:

  • Breathing Deeply - Deep, diaphragmatic breathing can help you slow down and ease feelings of tension, according to the American Institute of Stress. Sit in a comfortable chair and close your eyes. Place one hand on your belly and simply observe your breathing. Then try to slow down your breath. Inhale to a slow count of four and exhale to a slow count of four. Practice this technique for several minutes, several times a day.
  • Yoga - Yoga stretches can be beneficial in learning how to cope with anger and releasing emotional blockages, according to Yoga Journal. It can also help your body relax by easing muscular tension. If you are unfamiliar with the practice of yoga, start with basic poses to introduce your body gently to the exercises.

How Long Does the Anger Stage of Grief Last

It is often thought that the stages of grief last weeks or months. This is simply not true. When dealing with the anger stage of grief you will find:

  • There is actually no timeline when it comes to the anger stage of grief or any stage of grief for that matter.
  • You do not get through each specific stage for a certain allotted amount of time.
  • You may not experience the five stages in chronological order.
  • You may not even go through all the stages of grief. For example, you may not feel anger in your grief process.
  • That there's a good chance you will switch back and forth between the various five stages of grief which is normal.

You must keep in mind that everyone is different. Each individual will handle their grief and cope with their loss in their own unique way and in their own particular timeframe.

What If You Are Stuck in the Anger Stage of Grief

There are people that can get stuck in the anger stage of grief. This can go on for years. You must willingly allow yourself to feel anger during grieving. Anger is necessary even if it feels wrong. You need to let it be a part of the healing process. If you are stuck in the anger stage of grief, you may notice:

  • A feeling of extreme irritability.
  • Continued obsessing about what happened and why. You get stuck in an emotional rewind.
  • There is a feeling of growing anxiety and a fear of loss.
  • There may be a behavioral overreaction.
  • That you may have possible addictive or self-harming behaviors.
  • You may feel an emotional numbness or low-grade depressions.

What Should You Do

Once you embrace your anger, it will gradually lessen and eventually disappear. A few things you can do if you're stuck in the anger stage of grief are:

  • First, allow yourself to be angry. Don't internalize it. Explore it.
  • Share your feelings and reasons why you're angry with those close to you.
  • Do whatever is personally necessary to get closure.
  • Make a move to face what you may be avoiding such as going through your loved one's personal belongings or visiting the gravesite.
  • If you are in a bad behavioral pattern, you'll want to work on changing it. For example, if you are drinking excessively, overeating or self-medicating.
  • If it appears you are stuck in the anger stage of grief, you may need to see a certified therapist, grief counselor or psychologist.

When to Get Help

It's important to give yourself time to go through the anger phase of the grieving process. If you experience extreme feelings of anger or feel like you can't control yourself, seek the immediate assistance of a psychologist or a qualified grief counselor. The organization GriefLink maintains a searchable online database of experienced grief counselors around the world.

Dealing With the Anger Stage of Grief