Is There a Connection Between Anxiety and Anger?


Is There a Connection Between Anxiety and Anger?


In the rich and varied panoply of human emotions, two feelings are closely linked to each other — and to survival.

Anxiety is the worry or fear you feel in response to a perceived threat. Anger is also a threat response, but it’s coupled with a strong sense of annoyance.

Researchers think these two emotions may play an important role in our ability to sense and react to danger.

But are there other ties between anger and anxiety?

How are these two emotions connected?

Anxiety and anger share a lot of territory.

Both emotions cause physical symptoms by releasing powerful hormones into your bloodstream. Both can be triggered by everyday experiences. And both can be either improved or worsened by your thought patterns.

Here’s what we know about how anger and anxiety interact.

Part of the human condition

Everyone gets angry. Everyone feels anxious now and then.

In fact, there are times when anxiety is logical, and anger is an appropriate response — one that can lead to important changes.

During periods of heightened stress and tension, when conflicts in your personal life are amplified by events in the wider world, anxiety and anger may even seem to be a new normal.

Same physiological symptoms

When you’re angry or anxious, your body secretes hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, that prepare you to fight or to flee.

During anxious or angry moments, you’re likely to experience:

  • rapid heart rate
  • chest tightness
  • clenched or tight muscles
  • rushes of heat
  • gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea
  • tension headaches

These symptoms will dissipate quickly under normal circumstances. But if you have long-term issues with anger or anxiety, the release of these hormones over and over may lead to health problems.

Same psychological roots

Psychologists have equated both anxiety and anger with the loss of control.

In other words, when you’re confronted with a stressor you feel you’re not equipped to deal with, you may become anxious.

If you feel even more threatened, that anxiety can quickly morph into anger.

In both instances, an outside stimulus threatens your sense of safety and control over your environment. Anger may simply be a more chemically-charged version of anxiety.

Some psychologists have also suggested that anger lies at the root of anxiety: People who haven’t learned how to express anger constructively may experience prolonged anxiety.

Effect on health

If anger and anxiety feel unmanageable to you, or if people tell you that the way you handle anger and anxiety causes problems, it may be a good time to get help.

Excessive anger and anxiety can be harmful to your mental and physical health.

Researchers have found, for example, that anger is elevated in anxiety disorders and depression disorders.

Other studies have shown that too much anxiety and anger can lead to:

Could it be something else? 

Anger is a symptom of several conditions. If you experience too much anger or anger that’s hard to manage, you may want to learn more about these conditions:

Likewise, anxiety has been associated with a number of other conditions, including:

How can I manage anger and anxiety?

Many of the interventions and strategies that work to calm anxiety are also effective ways to manage anger.

Physical exercise

If you’re looking for an immediate reduction in both anxiety and anger, get moving.

ResearchersTrusted Source found that people who ran on a treadmill for 20 minutes reported fewer symptoms of anger and anxiety than they had before exercising.

Want to feel happy instead? Choose a natural background to look at while you exercise.

The same study showed that people who looked at nature scenes were happier when they finished than study participants who chose other entertaining backgrounds to watch.

Mindfulness practice

Mindfulness is a meditation practice in which you what you’re sensing and feeling in the current moment without trying to judge, change, or interpret your thoughts and feelings.

Mindfulness exercises have been shown to reduce both anxiety and anger.

In a small studyTrusted Source involving women with fibromyalgia, study participants practiced mindfulness exercises, which included:

  • scanning the body to observe physical sensations
  • allowing thoughts to flow freely without judgment
  • doing abdominal breathing exercises

After the 7-week program ended, participants showed less internalized anger and less anxiety than they were experiencing before the study began.

Breathing exercises

Slow breathing has powerful effects on the physiological symptoms of anxiety and anger.

One of the measures of good health is your heart rate variability (HRV), the variation in the amount of time between your heartbeats.

If you’re feeling threatened, your HRV is low. The time between beats doesn’t change a lot. Low HRV is linked to anxiety, depression, and heart disease.

A higher HRV means you can easily adapt to changes in your environment. Your heart speeds up and slow down appropriately.

The good news? You can change your HRV.

Researchers have found that slow breathing (fewer than six breaths per minute) can boost your HRV and leave you feeling less anxious, less angry, and more relaxed.

Massage

Many people find gentle Swedish massage therapy to be a relaxing experience. It’s also been proven effective at reducing anxiety and anger.

In one recent study involving 100 women diagnosed with cancer, study participants received Swedish massage therapy sessions for 5 weeks.

Researchers reported that the women all experienced decreased symptoms in all mood disorders, including anger and anxiety, during and after the program.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works on the premise that you may have unhealthy thought patterns that are worsening your anger and anxiety.

Working with a therapist trained in CBT may help you identify what triggers your anxiety or anger. You can also learn to notice thoughts that are distorting your view of reality.

Once you identify them, you can learn to reframe your thoughts in a way that helps you manage anger and anxiety.

This process isn’t a quick fix, but research shows that CBT is very effective for treating chronic anxiety and anger issues.