Most people think that anxiety means the inability to fall asleep, tossing and turning in bed, worrying, biting nails, and experiencing episodes of complete isolation from the world when it gets really tough. And although this is true for many who suffer from anxiety, there are also some less obvious signs it can translate into.
To the surprise of many, several studies have pinpointed anger as a sign of intense anxiety. In fact, for people living with ongoing anxiety, anger can often take the place of an anxiety attack, and these two states often intertwine.
In fact, the research has shown that the anxiety-anger relationship works in two ways: anger can intensify anxiety, and anxiety can present itself as anger. This only intensifies the anxiety symptoms among people diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
The research team led by Sonya Deschênes wanted to see how anger and its specific components (such as hostility, verbal and physical aggression, anger expression, and anger control) contributed to anxiety.
After assessing more than 380 participants, the team found that people who exhibited symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder also had higher levels of anger.
Which is more, they discovered that internalized anger and hostility further contributed to the severity of the symptoms of GAD. This goes to support experts’ idea that anxiety and anger go hand in hand, and that there is a unique relation between GAD and heightened levels of anger.
While it is still unclear why anxiety and anger co-occur, a possible explanation given by the researchers is that during ambiguous situations, the same thought process is being triggered in both anxious and easily-angered people, leading them to assume the worst.
“Anger and GAD may be two manifestations of the same biased thought process,” explains Deschênes.
Dr. Gregory Jantz, a counselor, and author of Overcoming Anxiety, Worry, and Fear, suggests that anger may be the result of an unhealthy coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety.
“Both anxiety and anger produce and use adrenaline. When that adrenaline is routed from anxiety to anger, the anxiety takes second position,” he explains in a blog post. “Anxiety leaves you feeling out of control and vulnerable. Anger makes you feel powerful. Compared to each other, anger can appear the clear winner.”
However, this approach doesn’t help in the long run. As Dr. Jantz argues, even if anger can help you to let go of the fear in the short run, it leaves you susceptible in the long run.
“Once the anger dissipates, the body is still in a heightened state, just waiting for the fear to reassert itself. Anger is not peaceful; it is not calming. It produces no sense of serenity. It provides no hedge of protection against anxiety.”
As Deschênes also explains, anger can, in fact, worsen the anxiety symptoms and reduce the benefits of treatment.
So, are you angry instead of anxious? Perhaps you should reconsider your choice in reaction and pay more attention to facing it instead of replacing it with a similarly destructive state.
Never forget that nobody is perfect and that we all suffer from some kind of disorder we’re not aware of. Your awareness of your anxiety gives you the upper hand in facing it and finding ways of treating it for good. You should never be afraid or ashamed of asking for help from professionals and loved ones.