When Anxiety Turns to Anger: The Link Between the Two

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

A surge of anger can sometimes feel like it comes out of nowhere, leaving you confused and even a little scared. For many, it is a common experience, and it can often be sourced to a single problem: Anxiety. With this in mind, how can you avoid the anger triggers that push you over the edge, or how do you handle them when they occur?

Below, we delve into the complex relationship between these issues and learn how one is a catalyst for the other. As you read on, you will also learn about the fight-or-flight response and discover a few practical tools to help you regain emotional balance.

Understanding the Link Between Anger and Anxiety

These two concepts are often interconnected. The link between anger and anxiety is due to the body’s natural stress response, called “fight-or-flight”. Fight-or-flight can trigger a burst of adrenaline and cause anger as your body shifts towards defending itself. 

If the body remains trapped in this response, anger can build up and result in an outburst.

Understanding this anxiety/anger connection is an important step in learning how to manage your emotions effectively. Acknowledging that anger may be a symptom of underlying anxiety may warrant proper treatment.

Anxiety as a Precursor to Anger

Anxiety can often build up over time, leading to frustration. Anger acts as a release mechanism, but it can lead to regret and even feelings of depression.

Therapists can assist you in learning about your anxiety triggers and why anxiety can lead to anger. They can then help you develop healthy coping mechanisms that teach you how to emotionally regulate.

Identifying Why Anxiety Turns to Anger

Anxiety is a complex process and can often lead to someone feeling as though they are not in control of their own life. Anger acts as a way to regain that control in many people.

In high-stress situations, the body’s fight-or-flight response kicks in. When this occurs, it can sometimes lead to a person wanting to take back such control and using anger as a protective measure.

Exploring Anger Triggers and the Fight or Flight Response

A therapist can help you identify the physical triggers and distorted thought processes that turn anxiety into anger. Once you understand the precursors, you can develop strategies to cope better with these emotions and express yourself in more adaptive ways.

Through assertiveness training, for example, you can practice balanced and direct communication skills that will focus on your needs and wants while being equally respectful of others’ needs and wants. Replacing an aggressive style or a passive style with a healthy assertive approach, you will promote better mental health and feel a deeper sense of control over your emotional well-being.

Handling Anxiety Symptoms

The symptoms of anxiety can often vary widely. They may include:

This list is not exhaustive, but several techniques can help handle most of them. When not with a therapist, a sufferer can attempt strategies such as:

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Grounding techniques

These may not get rid of the anxiety completely, but they allow someone to gain a level of control over their emotional state.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is the practice of identifying and changing thought patterns that lead to anxiety or other negative feelings. The techniques used in this therapy include:

  • Challenging fears alongside a specialist
  • Practicing problem-solving skills
  • Developing coping strategies
  • Engaging in positive self-expression
  • Journaling
  • Practicing interpersonal skills

These all lend a hand in understanding the connection between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Over time, they can help someone challenge their anger issues with a new set of skills.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Whereas CBT allows you to look at your emotional patterns and start to build alternate ways of responding to them, DBT is a more holistic approach. It builds on the idea of CBT to offer skills that can help when dealing with difficult emotions, such as anger.

Core techniques of DBT often include:

  • Building healthy tolerance to distress
  • Emotional regulation
  • Developing interpersonal skills to manage anger
  • Mindfulness and reducing reactivity

This form of therapy touches on many areas of a patient’s life. It often focuses on resolving extreme emotions and requires patience and compliance. 

Recognizing and Managing Anger and Anxiety in Daily Life

Several potential triggers can lead to feelings of anxiety and anger. Work stress, strained relationships, and money worries, to name a few, can all exacerbate emotional issues.

A specialist can help you keep track of such patterns through journaling, worksheets, and weekly exploration. You will soon be able to recognize cycles of thoughts and behavior that trigger emotional reactions. You and your therapist can then work together to avoid these triggers and thus, promote positive change. 

In addition, implementing time for relaxation and self-care is essential in helping you to stay emotionally regulated by preventing the build-up of stressful feelings.

Tools and Strategies to Handle Agitated Unease

Agitated unease is a physical state that people experience in their bodies before anger presents itself. By recognizing the physiological manifestations, such as clenched fists, racing heart, hot flushes, or tightness in the chest, one can slow down reaction time and bypass the intense anxiety or anger that would ordinarily follow.

As people learn more about the inner workings of their body and mind, they can build up an effective toolkit of emotional management strategies. These tools can help them recognize the feeling of agitated unease, avoid the escalation of anger, and use healthy communication and problem solving skills.

Practical Exercises to Reduce Anxiety-Induced Anger

Many therapists use meditation, including guided imagery and visualization, to help calm a patient’s mind. At the same time, they may recommend the use of aerobic exercise as a physical way to release tension.

Assertiveness training also offers tools to help regulate emotions through direct, concise and authentic communication styles.  

Finding the Right Behavioral Therapist for You

Reading this article is the first step in making a commitment to controlling your anxiety and anger triggers. At Advanced Behavioral Health, we are devoted to helping you find strategies to manage these difficult emotions.

We have decades of experience in the use of CBT, DBT and assertion training and can teach you effective tools to live a healthier, more mindful life. Contact us today and let us know your target goals, and we can help you embrace a happier you today.

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