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Why do we get angry when stressed

We may associate anxiety with being worried or scared, but some may also feel a sense of anger, something experts say is common, but shouldn’t be ignored.

Dr. Melanie Badali, registered psychologist and board director at AnxietyBC, says in general, anger is not usually considered to be a symptom of anxiety.

“Anger and anxiety are generally regarded as different emotional experiences with some overlap. They have both unique and common biological, cognitive, and social features,” she tells Global News. “Anger is usually connected to some type of frustration [and] anxiety is usually connected with an overestimation of threat and an underestimation ability to deal with that threat.”

READ MORE: Mild anxiety can get worse — here’s why you shouldn’t ignore it

How anger relates to anxiety

Joshua Nash, a counsellor based in Austin, Texas, wrote an article for GoodTherapy.org in 2014 about anxiety and anger in particular.

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“The point of my article was to show that anger is usually the emotion that people might identify in the moment, but that another emotion (anxiety for example) might be ‘underneath’ the anger, so to speak,” Nash tells Global News. “You won’t know anxiety underlies your anger until you’ve 1) fully felt the emotion first and then 2) introspected sufficiently to determine that the cause of your emotional upset was something you were afraid of.”

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Click to share quote on Twitter: “The point of my article was to show that anger is usually the emotion that people might identify in the moment, but that another emotion (anxiety for example) might be ‘underneath’ the anger, so to speak,” Nash tells Global News. “You won’t know anxiety underlies your anger until you’ve 1) fully felt the emotion first and then 2) introspected sufficiently to determine that the cause of your emotional upset was something you were afraid of.”

READ MORE: Follow this one tip the next time you’re stressed, anxious or nervous

He explains anxiety can morph into anger because we may not be directly dealing with our anxiety.

“Anger very oftentimes is indeed a symptom — it’s the expression of judging another emotion as too painful to address.”

When does it happen?

Dr. Eilenna Denisoff, clinical director of CBT Associates in Toronto, says there are several situations when people with anxiety (or other mental health conditions) can turn to anger.

If someone has an obsessive compulsive disorder, for example, and they follow a very strict routine, any kind of disruption from others could lead to anger.

“When that gets activated, they will respond in a way to try to convince other people to follow their ritual, and if they don’t, they get angry.”

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READ MORE: Reality check: Does too much sugar lead to depression?

And often, when someone is scared or worried about something, they could turn to anger to feel more in control of their situation.

In relationships, she adds, those with social anxiety can also start arguments (sometimes on purpose) with their partners, knowing they could get out of social situations.

“We all have anxiety systems that are natural and normal, but when it interferes with their quality of life, work or relationships, you need to do something about it.”

And ignoring it, Nash says, is worse.

“Unprocessed anger can also lead to medical issues and most especially relationship issues. Unaddressed anger festers in the body mind. It sits there waiting to be unleashed. It either does get unleashed, causing chaos in the person’s life and/or leads to addiction issues.”

How to manage anxiety and anger

Badali says there are three things you can do to manage your anxiety, adding that cognitive behavioural techniques also work.

Tip 1. Challenge anxious or hostile thoughts
This is also called helpful thinking or realistic, rational or balanced thinking, Badali says, because often when people are angry and anxious, they may feel frustrated or threatened.

“This strategy involves learning to see yourself, others, and the world in a balanced and fair way, without being overly negative or focusing only on the bad.

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Tip 2. Learn to relax and be mindful
Calm breathing, muscle relaxation and mindfulness are key, Badali says. You can also try apps to help you meditate or chill out.

“Don’t expect these to change your emotions when you are already anxious or angry. Think of them like — exercise, start practicing them daily, you will see your skills building over time.”

Tip 3. Think before you act (or don’t act!)
If you are feeling angry, before yelling or fighting, ask yourself, “Will this action help make things better or worse? Am I going to feel better now but feel worse later?”

And Nash says at the end of the day, it’s not about coping with anxiety, but rather understanding your condition in full.

“When we learn to connect directly with our anxiety, it doesn’t morph into anger, so there’s no anger to ‘cope with.’ Instead, we fully admit the fear we’re feeling and address it head on.”

Where to get help

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868  all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

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The Link Between Anger and Stress

Buck Black offers psychotherapy for anger issues through his practice in the Lafayette Indiana area (www.BuckBlack.com) via phone, email, and office visits. He …Read More

Have you ever looked at the role stress has in anger? Many people say that stress is more prevalent today than 20 years ago. Likewise, others say there is more anger (road rage, workplace violence, and so on). Stress can certainly create a variety of problems. If you are prone to anger, then stress will likely increase your angry behaviors.

Stress is healthy when controlled. Healthy stress (Eustress) is what gets us out of bed in the morning and makes us pay attention to the details throughout our day. This type of stress does not cause anger or irritability. For those who do not have enough stress in their lives, they are often referred to as “lazy” or “unmotivated.”

Distress, on the other hand, is a type of stress that causes many people to be irritable and sometimes downright angry. This happens when the stress is too much and is no longer a motivator. You can think of this as when there is a combination of stressors and things just keep piling up. One day, the person does not know how to handle this anymore and there is an anger outburst.

What feeling is behind stress? I have asked the same question about anger in a previous article. When you are feeling either stressed or angry, there is some other feeling that is fueling this. Often, it is being overwhelmed, feeling disrespected, helpless, fearful and so on. It is very important to look at the feelings behind the stress to better understand why you are having this reaction. Once this insight is gained, then steps may be taken to relax and feel much better.

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Once you have identified the feelings and thoughts associated with your stress, take a look at your environment. Do you live in a chaotic home environment or perhaps a have a work environment that is adding your stress? When you identify your environmental stressors, take some time to identify ways to limit these stresses in addition to changing the ways you are thinking.

Substances that often increase stress and anger:

  • Sugar
  • Caffeine
  • Excess food
  • Nicotine
    Stress and Anger reducers:

  • Exercise
  • Hobbies
  • Learning communication skills
  • Journaling
  • Engaging in social activities
  • Deep breathing, yoga, Qigong

Here are a few of quick quips for managing stress:

If you allow others to make you stressed, you are allowing them to control you. Do you really want others pulling your strings?

Look at stress as a test. Do you want to fail that test by getting stressed out?

The only person responsible for your stress is you.

Stress is energy. Are you going to use this energy for something productive or destructive?

Will it matter tomorrow? Next week? Next Month?

Keep Reading By Author Buck Black, LCSW

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Anger tells us we need to take action to put something right. It gives us strength and energy, and motivates us to act.

But for some people, anger can get out of control and cause problems with relationships, work and even the law.

Long-term, unresolved anger is linked to health conditions such as high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and heart disease.

It’s important to deal with anger in a healthy way that doesn’t harm you or anyone else.

How common are anger problems?

In a survey by the Mental Health Foundation, 32% of people said they had a close friend or family member who had trouble controlling their anger and 28% of people said they worry about how angry they sometimes feel.

Even though anger problems can have such a harmful effect on our family, work and social lives, most people who have them don’t ask for help. In the same survey by the Mental Health Foundation, 58% of people said they didn’t know where to seek help.

Sometimes people don’t recognise that their anger is a problem for themselves and for other people. They may see other people or things as the problem instead.

What makes people angry?

Anger is different for everyone. Things that make some people angry don’t bother others at all. But there are things that make lots of us feel angry, including:

  • being treated unfairly and feeling powerless to do anything about it
  • feeling threatened or attacked
  • other people not respecting your authority, feelings or property
  • being interrupted when you are trying to achieve a goal
  • stressful day to day things such as paying bills or rush hour traffic

Anger can also be a part of grief. If you are struggling to come to terms with losing someone close to you, the charity Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland can help.

How we react to anger

How you react to feeling angry depends on lots of things, including:

  • the situation you are in at the moment – if you’re dealing with lots of problems or stress in your life, you may find it harder to control your anger
  • your family history – you may have learned unhelpful ways of dealing with anger from the adults around you when you were a child
  • events in your past – if you have experienced events that made you angry but felt you couldn’t express your anger, you may still be coping with those angry feelings

Some people express anger verbally, by shouting. Sometimes this can be aggressive, involving swearing, threats or name-calling.

Some people react violently and lash out physically, hitting other people, pushing them or breaking things. This can be particularly damaging and frightening for other people.

Some of us show anger is passive ways, for example, by ignoring people or sulking.

Other people may hide their anger or turn it against themselves. They can be very angry on the inside but feel unable to let it out.

People who tend to turn anger inwards may harm themselves as a way of coping with the intense feelings they have. Young people are most likely to self harm.

The difference between anger and aggression

Some people see anger and aggression as the same thing. In fact, anger is an emotion that we feel while aggression is how some of us behave when we feel angry.

Not everyone who feels angry is aggressive, and not everyone who acts aggressively is angry. Sometimes people behave aggressively because they feel afraid or threatened.

Read more about anxiety, fear and controlling your anger.

Alcohol and some illegal drugs can make people act more aggressively.

If uncontrolled anger leads to domestic violence, or threatening behaviour within your home, talk to your GP or contact a domestic violence organisation such as: 

How can I handle my anger better?

For more advice on dealing with anger, you can:

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