You might be surprised to learn that Anxiety and anger are closely related emotions.
In my office as a psychiatrist, it was a scene that I had seen before. A well-dressed lady sat opposite me with a furrow of worry between her eyebrows.
She said, “Doctor and my husband and kids say I am too angry.” “I’m having trouble controlling my temper.” “Do you think I’m bipolar?”
After a thorough assessment, I concluded that the verbal outbursts of my patient and his tendency to throw things didn’t come from a severe mental disorder but from uncontrollable anxieties. My patient was shocked. Perhaps you are, too.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Anxiety is at an all-time high, and at least forty million U.S. adults currently suffer from at least one anxiety disorder. It’s important to understand the causes and possible effects of these issues. One of the most common misconceptions is that Anxiety can lead to angry outbursts.
Understanding Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders can take many forms. All of the following examples can cause enough Anxiety and fear to affect the sufferer’s daily life.
- Social Anxiety Disorder is a disorder that causes social Anxiety or fear of being negatively evaluated by others.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is characterized by debilitating “running in the loop” thoughts that cause unwanted repetitive behaviors.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a tendency to worry excessively about everyday and common situations.
- Panic disorder can be felt throughout the body, with symptoms such as shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat.
When Anger Leads to Anxiety
You might think that Anxiety and anger are at opposite ends of the spectrum. That is, those who are afraid are not aggressive. Anxiety can increase the risk of anger outbursts. According to Franklin Schneier of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic of New York State Psychiatric Institute, both anger and Anxiety result from emotional dysregulation and perception of threat.
This threat activates the amygdala in the brain, which is a center for processing both fearful stimuli and threats. What is the result? Schneier says, “It is the classic fight-or-flight dilemma.”
It seems logical that those with anxiety disorders would choose “flight,” or avoidance of the threatening situation. But this isn’t always the case. A threat is just as likely to produce irritability — or aggression. In fact, the bond between Anxiety and anger can be so tight that it feels fitting to call the combination “anxry,” like the informal word “hangry” used for anger due to hunger.’
Fear and Anger
Fear and anger are two different emotions, even though they can be related. While anger can lead to Anxiety in some cases, we are focusing on the opposite. Here, fear is the emotion that is underlying, and aggression is what is being displayed.
Why Anxiety can lead to anger?
The claim that Anxiety can cause anger is supported by research. According to research published by the journal Depression and Anxiety, Jesse Cougle is a professor at Florida State University, and his team studied aggression in several anxiety disorders. Researchers found that anger levels were elevated across all anxiety disorders.
This link could be due to several reasons. One reason is that Anxiety itself can cause emotional arousal, which can be very distressing. People with Anxiety may have a tendency to overreact in general.
Cougle says that anger can be triggered by someone cutting them off or causing an inconvenience. They are already distressed and agitated.
One other possible cause could be the temptation to ignore anxious feelings. When you avoid your feelings, you can’t handle them as well. Schneier says that if you avoid Anxiety or don’t acknowledge it because it is too frightening, the anger can build up and explode.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Take social Anxiety. Those with SAD tend to avoid conflict and might go out of their way to appease others. But they also expect others to act in a negative way towards them. Feelings of rejection can lead to irritability or aggressive behaviors — the exact opposite of the timidity that one might expect of someone with Social Anxiety. For example, if you put a socially anxious teen in a setting where they can’t judge another’s intentions — like a high school dance — and when the teen returns home, she lashes out at her parents for forcing her to go.
Lack of sleep
Lack of sleep is another overlooked factor that can lead to Anxiety and anger. People with anxiety disorders often have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. This pent-up fatigue can eventually lead to an angry outburst.
How to treat Anxiety and anger?
Researchers at Florida State University conducted 2021 research that showed reducing Anxiety could positively affect anger. What are the best treatments?
Becoming aware of negative feelings is the first step in preventing them. Anxiety sufferers should be aware of their thoughts, especially spiraling and catastrophic ones.
Cognitive-behavioral (CBT), or cognitive-behavioral treatment, can help
. The therapist will help the patient to change their perspective and behavior.
Schneier says CBT is useful for self-monitoring anxious and angry impulses and thoughts. “[It is about] using anger as information either to address the underlying conflicts or calm yourself so that it doesn’t become out of control,” says Schneier.
Because people with “anxry” are more likely to drop out of treatment than those with Anxiety alone, in some cases, treatment should target both halves of the equation.
“We offer treatments that do not focus on one diagnosis.” […] “They are trying to reduce negative affectivity,” says Cougle.
One of these therapies is “mindful emotional awareness,” or simply mindfulness. It is the ability to recognize the first signs and feelings of anger or Anxiety and to accept them without judgment.
Anger is often associated with other disorders like depression, bipolar, and borderline personality disorder. It can be hard to pinpoint the underlying Anxiety for the person suffering and their loved ones. Anxiety can have devastating consequences. Seeking professional help to diagnose and treat it is a good way to get relief.