Anxiety and anger: what's the relationship?

Information on the relationship that can exist between anxiety and anger, and advice on how to manage these difficult emotions.

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While anger is not commonly a symptom that is associated with anxiety, there is evidence to suggest that when a person has an anxiety disorder, the rate and intensity of their anger can increase [source]. This piece will explore the relationship that can exist between anxiety and anger.

Why can anxiety make you angry?

Anxiety and anger can become connected in a number of different ways:

Anxiety activates people’s fight or flight instinct

When somebody has an anxiety disorder, they will often feel intense fear towards possible threats and dangers. For someone with a social anxiety disorder, this could be crowds or social events, whereas for someone with generalised anxiety disorder, their fear could be towards a broad range of potential scenarios such as losing their job, damaging their friendships or getting into accidents.

These thoughts cause people to experience symptoms of anxiety such as an increased heartbeat, shortness of breath and nausea. This is because thinking about the possible dangers activates their fight or flight instinct.

While some people ‘take flight’ when they feel anxious and stay away from possible dangers, others find that their fight response is activated. This can result in them becoming angry. This typically happens when the person feels trapped or is struggling to comprehend and express how they are feeling.

People can often feel angry towards their anxiety disorder

People with anxiety can become frustrated and angry about the impact that their disorder is having on their life. Typically, they will direct this anger at themselves.

Irritability is a symptom of anxiety

When a person is experiencing anxiety, they will often be more irritable than usual. It is a common symptom of many types of anxiety disorder.

With their body and mind overwhelmed with worry, the person can feel stressed and depleted of energy. This can make it difficult for them to shrug off or ignore things as they normally would be able to do. In turn, this can cause them to become more irritable and anger quicker.

People can feel anxious about their anger

When someone becomes angry when they feel anxious, it can leave them feeling guilty, ashamed and embarrassed afterwards.

This can cause the person to fear becoming angry in the future. In turn, they may bottle up their anger around others as they worry about being judged, damaging relationships or hurting other people’s feelings.

Coping with anxiety and anger outbursts

If you have been struggling with anxiety and anger, it may be useful for you to introduce a few practical coping strategies for anxiety to help you improve how you’ve been feeling:

  • Take a few minutes for yourself: If something is making you feel stressed, anxious or uncomfortable, remove yourself from that environment if you can. Find a quiet space and give yourself time for your stress responses to reduce, using techniques to help calm your anxiety in the short-term.
  • Exercise outdoors: When you exercise, you focus on your body, which gives you little time to concentrate on or mull over any anxious or angry thoughts. Just being outdoors is known as a well-known mood booster. They stimulate the release of neurotransmitters including endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin, which can leave us feeling more positive
  • Write down your thoughts: Whether you have a physical diary or keep notes on your phone, writing can be a good way to release any anxious or angry thoughts. The act of writing or typing these thoughts can feel as though they are flowing from your mind onto the paper or phone, helping to create some distance between you and them
  • Look after your wellbeing: Give yourself the time to recharge your batteries and keep yourself well. Remember that you deserve to look after yourself and that doing so is incredibly important for your body and mind. Sleep well, eat right and do the things that you enjoy in life

Seeking Treatment for Anxiety and Anger

You should speak to a mental health professional or your GP if you are experiencing anger and anxiety and:

  • Find that it is starting to impact heavily on your life
  • Your friends or family have expressed concern about your anger and anxiety
  • You’re expressing your anger in a verbally or physically aggressive way towards other people
  • Your symptoms are causing you to avoid social situations, or you’re taking time off work

Priory offers world-leading treatment for anxiety that can regain control of your life. We’re also experienced in treating anger management, so we can create a unique treatment plan that gets to the root cause of the difficulties you’re experiencing.

Effective, evidence-based treatments include:

  • Therapy: Therapy sessions will help you to determine the thoughts that have been leaving you feeling anxious and angry, and will work with you to address these thoughts and beliefs so that they have less of an impact on you going forward. Therapy can take place on a 1:1 basis, as part of a group, or online.
  • Inpatient residential treatment: As an inpatient at a dedicated mental health facility, you will receive 24-hour support and ongoing monitoring of your condition. You will also receive a plan that includes therapy sessions alongside wellbeing sessions, including yoga, meditation and mindfulness.
  • Medication: It might also be appropriate for you to take some medication to help relieve your anxiety. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common form of medication taken for anxiety. They allow you to focus fully on the root causes of your complications, without having to deal with severe symptoms.

As a leading provider of mental health treatments, Priory can help you deal with anxiety and anger at any one of our purpose built mental health facilities across the UK. To find out more about treatment options and speak to a compassionate member of our team about the difficulties you are having, get in touch using the information below.

Page clinically reviewed by Dr Renju Joseph (MBBS, MD, LLM, MRCPsych), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woodbourne

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