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Why anxiety can lead to anger

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.[1]

Within this blog, we will explore the relationship that can exist between anxiety and anger. We will also highlight the help and support that is currently available at Priory Group for people who are experiencing such emotional distress.  

Anxiety and anger: what is the relationship?

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 a general 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 with anxiety to experience symptoms 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 the 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.

Tips for dealing with anxiety and anger

If you have been struggling with anxiety and anger, it may be useful for you to introduce a few practical coping strategies into your daily life 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. You may want to try some deep breathing - take in a slow deep breath through your nose for four seconds. Imagine filling your lungs from the bottom right to the top, making them as full of air as possible. Hold the breath for another count of three, and then exhale gently through your mouth for another count of six
  • Exercise outdoors – doing something that requires a lot of energy like running or cycling can help. When you exercise, you focus on your body, which gives you little time to concentrate on or mull over any anxious or angry thoughts. Moving and being outdoors are also well-known mood boosters. 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. When you’re feeling drained and have little energy, this can have a detrimental impact on your mood and mental health. 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

Treatment for both anxiety and anger

If you are experiencing both anger and anxiety, and find that it is starting to impact heavily on your life, you may want to think about accessing professional treatment. Taking steps to address and manage both of these emotions can help you to start improving to how you currently feel.

At Priory Group, when you first visit us, you will meet with a consultant psychiatrist, who will work with you to determine the best treatment plan for your requirements. This could include:

  • Weekly therapy sessions – it may be recommended that you come to your local Priory Wellbeing Centre or sign up to our online therapy service Priory Connect for weekly sessions with one of our therapists. Your therapist 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
  • A programme of day or half-day sessions – if it is felt that you would benefit from more intensive treatment, it may be recommended that you come to Priory for a series of day or half -day sessions. Depending on your consultant psychiatrist’s recommendations, your programme could include one-to-one or group therapy sessions, counselling, anger management sessions, family or couples therapy and mindfulness sessions
  • Residential treatment – if your consultant psychiatrist believes that it would be best for you to receive a more structured form of treatment, they may suggest a stay at one of our hospitals. Here, 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

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21284067/

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

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