Why So Angry? . . . And What’s Art Got to Do with It?

This blog post was written by Erica Curtis LMFT, ATR-BC, author of Working with Anger Creatively.

Anger is on the rise. International polls show more people have been feeling angrier than ever before (e.g. Fleming 2022; Gallup 2022; Zurich 2019). And this trend started before the COVID-19 pandemic.

[Keep reading or scroll down to “Let’s Give It a Try” to access therapeutic art activities for understanding and soothing anger that you can try today.]

Why are we so angry?

It’s complicated and individual reasons vary. However, this excerpt from my book, “Working with Anger Creatively,” explains how we can not only understand anger’s role, generally, but also how to begin renegotiating our relationship with it in a whole new way.

“Anger intends to protect us, but easily causes unnecessary hurt. Whether prompted by a past, present, or imagined unfairness, boundary violation, or vulnerability, anger turns up nervous system activation. Heart rate, breath, and muscle tension increase to fight or avoid threats. Problem solving, logic, and effective communication are impaired. If an agitated state persists, or if anger spikes quickly, the nervous system may prompt aggression or shift into collapse, resulting in disconnection, lethargy, or hopelessness. Neither option is optimal, and rarely does either bring resolution.

A healthy relationship with anger requires finding a sweet spot where anger can be felt and expressed without overwhelming oneself or others” (Curtis, 2024).

So, what’s art got to do with it?

Art is an ideal way to find the sweet spot where anger can be felt and expressed, without overwhelm. What is more, creative activities, grounded in the theories and practices of art therapy, not only allow us to access something from within but also to reflect on those feelings and even transform them into something new.

It can be challenging to understand and manipulate an emotion we cannot see or touch. This is especially true for an emotion as complex and volatile as anger. It is even more challenging when we actively feel it. Amid an emotion designed to save our hide, the mind is less interested in stopping and thinking and more interested in making sure the body is acting.

Yet, both the creative process and the resulting physical representation of anger through image and form, slows down reactivity.

  • The sensorimotor properties of creative expression allow controlled, physical movements that the body may need to work through.
  • Art making’s unique mindful properties can promote slowing down and self-observation.
  • The resulting image and form can be examined, described, and altered, leading to new insights, problem solving, and productive outcomes.

Not every art activity yields the same results. However, carefully thought-out therapeutic art activities designed to target various aspects of anger, can help us effectively understand, soothe, harness, and redirect anger for meaningful change.

Let’s give it a try.

Start with Understanding.

Use this creative task to learn more about why anger has visited you. It is adapted from an activity in Chapter 2: Get to Know Anger in my new book, Working with Anger Creatively. The activity is called “Anger Advisor.” It provides a helpful framework for understanding anger as simply an over-enthusiastic personal advisor while guiding you to identify deeper, personal reasons for feeling angry.

  1. Make a scribble to represent anger. Consider its size, speed, and intensity. Match your scribbling energy with anger’s energy.
  2. Ask yourself what the scribble would say if it could talk. Spontaneously add words.
  3. Ask the scribble meaningful questions about what it wants you to know or pay attention to. For example: What does it want you to protect? What does it want you to go after? What was unfair? What feels vulnerable? Write down spontaneous replies.
  4. Pay attention to even seemingly random thoughts in response to your questions. They may have surprising meaning.
  5. Reflect on your image and words. What do you notice? What did you learn?

Soothe Anger

Use this creative activity, called “Peaceful Partnership,” to practice a gentler approach to anger, yourself, and others when anger appears. It is adapted from an activity in Chapter 4: Soothe Anger in Working with Anger Creatively. It is designed to shift your mindset from struggling with anger toward taking a compassionate perspective. This not only reduces internal power struggles but also supports a kinder approach that can be applied to many of life’s challenges, even when feeling activated by anger.

  1. Trifold a piece of paper.
  2. Label the first two sections controlling anger and managing anger. Label the third section soothing anger.
  3. Use colors, lines, shapes, patterns, or images to visually represent each.
  4. For example, consider what controlling, managing, and soothing feel like. What do these words remind you of? How might you represent them abstractly or metaphorically?
  5. Reflect on your image and words. What do you notice? What did you learn? What are the drawbacks or benefits of each?

In short, anger is here to stay, but it doesn’t need to fester. With expressive outlets and creative thinking, we can all learn to embrace anger in ways that positively contribute to our lives and the lives of others.

For more unique art activities designed for working with anger, check out Working with Anger Creatively: 70 Art Therapy-Inspired Activities to Safely Soothe, Harness, and Redirect Anger for Meaningful Change.

About the author: Erica Curtis is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Board-Certified Art Therapist with a psychotherapy practice in South Orange County. She teaches for The Arts & Healing Initiative, presents creative wellness workshops for universities and businesses, and has been featured internationally as an expert in over 100 media outlets including The Guardian, PBS, Boston Globe, and ELLE. She has also collaborated with giants like L’Oréal and The Getty Museum on high-impact creative wellness programs. Erica is the author of “The Innovative Parent,” “Art Therapy Activities for Kids,” and the newly released “Working with Anger Creatively.”

Learn more at: www.TherapyWithErica.com or subscribe to her newsletter at www.subscribe.therapywitherica.com/connect


Curtis, E. (2024) Working with Anger Creatively: 70 Art Therapy-Inspired Activities to Safely Soothe, Harness, and Redirect Anger for Meaningful Change. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Fleming, A. (2022) Don’t Take it Out On Our Staff!: How Did Britain Become So Angry? London: The Guardian. Accessed on 07/09/23 from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/aug/04/britain-angry-abusive-behaviour-staff

Gallup (2022) Gallup Global Emotions. Washington D.C.: Gallup World Poll.

World Economic Forum (2019) Global Risks Report: Decline in Human Empathy Creates Global Risks in the ‘Age of Anger.’ Switzerland: World Economic Forum. Accessed on 07/09/23 from https://www.zurich.com/en/knowledge/topics/global-risks/decline-human-empathy-creates-global-risks-age-of-anger

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