We may associate anxiety with being worried or scared, but some may also feel a sense of anger, something experts say is common, but shouldn’t be ignored.
Dr. Melanie Badali, registered psychologist and board director at AnxietyBC, says in general, anger is not usually considered to be a symptom of anxiety.
“Anger and anxiety are generally regarded as different emotional experiences with some overlap. They have both unique and common biological, cognitive, and social features,” she tells Global News. “Anger is usually connected to some type of frustration [and] anxiety is usually connected with an overestimation of threat and an underestimation ability to deal with that threat.”
How anger relates to anxiety
Joshua Nash, a counsellor based in Austin, Texas, wrote an article for GoodTherapy.org in 2014 about anxiety and anger in particular.
“The point of my article was to show that anger is usually the emotion that people might identify in the moment, but that another emotion (anxiety for example) might be ‘underneath’ the anger, so to speak,” Nash tells Global News. “You won’t know anxiety underlies your anger until you’ve 1) fully felt the emotion first and then 2) introspected sufficiently to determine that the cause of your emotional upset was something you were afraid of.”
He explains anxiety can morph into anger because we may not be directly dealing with our anxiety.
“Anger very oftentimes is indeed a symptom — it’s the expression of judging another emotion as too painful to address.”
When does it happen?
Dr. Eilenna Denisoff, clinical director of CBT Associates in Toronto, says there are several situations when people with anxiety (or other mental health conditions) can turn to anger.
If someone has an obsessive compulsive disorder, for example, and they follow a very strict routine, any kind of disruption from others could lead to anger.
“When that gets activated, they will respond in a way to try to convince other people to follow their ritual, and if they don’t, they get angry.”
And often, when someone is scared or worried about something, they could turn to anger to feel more in control of their situation.
In relationships, she adds, those with social anxiety can also start arguments (sometimes on purpose) with their partners, knowing they could get out of social situations.
“We all have anxiety systems that are natural and normal, but when it interferes with their quality of life, work or relationships, you need to do something about it.”
And ignoring it, Nash says, is worse.
“Unprocessed anger can also lead to medical issues and most especially relationship issues. Unaddressed anger festers in the body mind. It sits there waiting to be unleashed. It either does get unleashed, causing chaos in the person’s life and/or leads to addiction issues.”
How to manage anxiety and anger
Badali says there are three things you can do to manage your anxiety, adding that cognitive behavioural techniques also work.
Tip 1. Challenge anxious or hostile thoughts
This is also called helpful thinking or realistic, rational or balanced thinking, Badali says, because often when people are angry and anxious, they may feel frustrated or threatened.
“This strategy involves learning to see yourself, others, and the world in a balanced and fair way, without being overly negative or focusing only on the bad.
Tip 2. Learn to relax and be mindful
Calm breathing, muscle relaxation and mindfulness are key, Badali says. You can also try apps to help you meditate or chill out.
“Don’t expect these to change your emotions when you are already anxious or angry. Think of them like — exercise, start practicing them daily, you will see your skills building over time.”
Tip 3. Think before you act (or don’t act!)
If you are feeling angry, before yelling or fighting, ask yourself, “Will this action help make things better or worse? Am I going to feel better now but feel worse later?”
And Nash says at the end of the day, it’s not about coping with anxiety, but rather understanding your condition in full.
“When we learn to connect directly with our anxiety, it doesn’t morph into anger, so there’s no anger to ‘cope with.’ Instead, we fully admit the fear we’re feeling and address it head on.”