Anxiety is tightly linked to worry and fear that is out of the ordinary for everyday triggers. Many individuals with an anxiety disorder will often be quick to anger; however, the link between anger and anxiety is often missed or overlooked. Anxiety is often connected with overstimulation from a stressful environment or threat, combined with the perceived inability to deal with that threat. In contrast, anger is often tied to frustration. Often when anxiety is left unacknowledged and unexpressed, it can turn into frustration, which can lead to anger. When anxiety turns to anger, it is because an individual who expresses anger will have an underlying fear about something in their life. When individuals are scared or worried about something, they often choose anger, unconsciously, as a way to feel as though they are in control of their anxiety.
Anxiety not only presents as a pounding heart, shortness of breath, clammy skin, and racing thoughts, but anxiety can also present in more subtle ways such as anger or frustration. Individuals with undiagnosed anxiety may find themselves lashing out and becoming frustrated over everyday occurrences that usually do not warrant an emotional reaction.
Road rage is a perfect example of this. Traffic and crowds are often triggers of anxiety, which can result in becoming angry with people on the road. Maybe they are going to be late for work, are in a bad mood, or have a stressful deadline looming ahead. Sitting in traffic is only adding fuel to their fire. As a result, these people lash out at other cars when, in reality, they are anxious about the stressful environment and personal issues they have going on in their life.
Giving in to anger can ruin relationships and have adverse effects on every aspect of an individual’s life. It can lead to lashing out, making rash decisions, and engaging in risky behaviors.
When individuals feel threatened, their fight or flight response kicks in, and individuals go into defense mode, which sometimes means fighting.
Not all anger is linked to anxiety, but often if individuals take a step back and uncover what is triggering their anger, they may discover that they are showing signs of fear and panic, which may be the root of an anxiety disorder.
How Symptoms of Anxiety Can Trigger Anger
Individuals with anxiety usually have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and, as a result, may be sleep deprived. Over time, lack of sleep can trigger individuals to become more sensitive to small problems and, as a result, are quick to anger. Yelling at the dog for barking, becoming angry in traffic, getting upset because of a long line at the grocery store, or lashing out over an honest mistake are all small triggers that turn into monumental challenges for an individual who is struggling with anxiety and is sleep-deprived. Anger does not have to be intentional, and with individuals who have an anxiety disorder, this anger is often an automatic reaction to an anxious trigger or the effects of long-standing anxiety.
Individuals who have an anxiety disorder are often rigid in their daily routines since the fear of the unknown is often a trigger for their anxiety. When something disrupts their daily routine, it is not uncommon for the individual to not know how to cope with the change and, as a result, lash out in anger.
Seeking Help For Anger and Anxiety
Anxiety and anger can be a toxic combination. Seeking treatment for the anxiety disorder can help an individual uncover the reasons for their anger. Being mindful about anger outbursts by keeping a journal and taking time to reflect on why this anger occurred can often help individuals realize their anxiety triggers, and then seek therapy to find healthy ways to cope with them.
Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a clinical content writer and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of mental health and addiction medicine. She is a family medicine physician and author, who also teaches and contributes to medicine board education. Her passion lies within educating the public on preventable diseases including mental health disorders and the stigma associated with them. She is also an outdoor activist and spends most of her free time empowering other women to get outside into the backcountry.