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Angry or Anxious?


What's the pay-off?

Anger is possibly one of the most misconstrued of emotions. We assume anger means the same thing all the time, and we also assume that anger puts us in a position of strength. Well, the latter is sort of true: Anger may help us feel stronger or more powerful, but at the cost of our own control and logic. When is this a good pay-off? When we feel disempowered or afraid.

Anger sometimes is simply anger: you feel that someone has offended you, somehow. True. Sometimes, an inability to control anger, however, can mean something else. Irritability and/or angry outbursts are sometimes a sign of anxiety, especially anxiety that a person has held for quite some time and has not or cannot relieve. If we feel trapped in anxiety, for whatever reason, we may become angry a) as a way to reduce the anxious feeling, b) a way to get some power back, maybe enough to get permission to release anger and/or c) because we are stuck with our anxiety-provoking situation.


A) Anger can reduce anxiety by pushing some of the energy out (thus we become too tired to feel our anxiety) or by convincing us that we are not afraid, but angry. Anger is the most defensive emotion we have, and sometimes we use it to protect ourselves from other emotions we wish to avoid. Just as some people may find it easier to be angry than sad, we may find it easier to be angry than anxious. Anger, especially explosive anger, pushes our anxiety onto other people (they may be anxious about making us angry), or it may seem more socially, culturally, or personally acceptable.

B) Similarly, anger is designed to trigger aggression. Aggression attempts to put the aggressor back in power or control. If any of us becomes angry, we may use their aggressive behavior to take power from another person, or to get our own power back. If an anxious person becomes angry, they might just get enough power to be “entitled” to other emotions. This, however, often fails, because now that they’ve taken this power, they must protect it. Anxiety may cause them to lose that power or control over themselves and their own well-beings again.

C) Very often, people who have chronic anxiety or habitual anxiety will become irritable or angry. This is partially because the anxiety makes one more reactive to other stimuli (makes a person feel more defensive, because of fear), and often because the person feels trapped in their own anxious feelings. Anxiety can be the culprit itself, or it could be that the situation causing the anxiety seems unchangeable. Either way, the person may become angry that they are stuck, angry at someone else for making them stuck, or angry because they feel powerless (please see above), or all of these. Irritability is so common, that it is listed as an anxiety symptom in the DSM-IV. If someone is continuously on alert, it could be easy for them to become tired, frustrated with themselves or their situation, feel like a failure, and also to become over stimulated. For all of these reasons, irritability and anger have a presence with anxiety.


In order to determine if your anger is anxiety, you must be willing to open up with yourself, at least a little bit. Do you have other anxious symptoms, such as fear, withdrawal, fidgiting, difficulty concentrating, or even feelings of fear or anxiety? If so, your anger could be associated with your anxiety.

The trick to getting control of your anxiety and your anger is getting a feeling of control over yourself:

Reassess your life to see if you can find the source of the anxiety- your way of thinking, your environment, your relationships, and your schedules.

What benefit do you get from your anger or anxiety? Is there another way you could get that same reward?

Also, consider stress relieving activities, meditation, yoga, and time for yourself.

For a number of people, therapy or possibly medication are necessary to help with anxiety, or they may help speed the recovery process. A therapist can help you see the factors you may miss, or help you find tools that will help ease your anxiety. Remember, this is not a quick process: it took time to develop anxiety, and it takes time to rewire your brain to accept a calmer, happier mood.


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