Understanding the Connection Between Anxiety & Anger

January 23, 2023

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Written By : Aisha R. Shabazz, LCSW

Anxiety and anger – they’re like two peas in a pod. 

Two enthusiastic messengers waiting for the perfect moment to spring into action and start rockin’ and rollin’ through life. 

Anger and anxiety are often depicted as the evil twins to the more welcomed emotions, happiness and joy. 

And to make matters even more complicated, society attempts to brainwash us into believing that some people are not allowed to express ANY emotions let alone anger. 

This mind numbing tailspin is enough to make anyone feel…angry.

So, if you feel like your anger and anxiety are sitting on the edge of their seat, like The Hulk ready to pounce and you’re unsure why, let’s take the time to understand the connection between anxiety and anger so that you can gain insight into why they often co-exist.


Humble Roommates

Our brain is a marvelous and mysterious organ that has a lot of responsibility. The connections and pathways in this almost 3 pound giant manages our ability to breath, eat, talk, walk, and sleep. The brain (and more specifically the mind) also allows us to express feelings, including anger and anxiety.

These feelings originate in the limbic system and within many tightly wound neurons, millions of signals run on similar circuits, hence why it’s very common for anxiety and anger to play “follow the leader” when life gets tense. 


Fight or Flight

The term “fight or flight response” also helps us make sense of the connection between anxiety and anger. 

Fight is often connected to the need to defend and flight is often connected to the need to escape. Both responses are in place to protect you, and despite what some may think, under the right circumstances, anger and anxiety don’t have to be destructive.

But how do we decrease the likelihood that your anxiety and anger will make a cameo appearance & cause harm?


Name Your Feelings

Even when it comes to anxiety and anger, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings. This is truly the first step in managing your feelings, especially if they have a tendency to cause you or others discomfort. 

If you have a difficult time figuring out how to describe how you feel, the feelings inventory from the Center of Nonviolent Communication, is a great resource to help you expand your vocabulary. Once you can name how you feel, you are more prepared to decide how to resolve those feelings.


Notice Your Boiling Point

Take a moment to reflect on past experiences that have caused you irritation and make note of any patterns.

Identifying the moments when “the anxiety-fueled anger train has left the station” can help you prepare yourself and others for future discomfort. 

For example, if racing thoughts about your endless to-do list, kept you up all night, resulting in you feeling cranky the next morning, do yourself and others and favor and say something. 

Because let’s face it, even the most productive Type-A socially anxious butterfly can’t thrive on 3 hours of interrupted sleep for weeks and weeks on end. 

Alert the people you spend the most time with, so that they don’t misunderstand your cranky vibes and think your irritation is because of them. 

There’s nothing worse than feeling sleep deprived, and then hearing “are you mad at me?” from your nearest and dearest. 

Those 4 little words could be enough to send you into a fiery rage and your fuming fit is completely avoidable, IF you take the time to let people know what’s going on.

Saying something like…

“I didn’t get much sleep last night, so if I’m a bit on edge today, that’s why”

… could be enough to prevent you and the people you care about from being taken for a ride on the anxious+angry express.


Let’s sum this all up

There are instances in which having intense feelings of anger or intense feelings of anxiety can overload your nervous system, and there are ways to express yourself without letting either take control of your life. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing anxiety fueled anger, working with a licensed mental health therapist can help you create a solid routine around naming your feelings and noticing your boiling point so that you can express yourself without causing harm to yourself and others.

Disclaimer: This mental health blog is for informational purposes and is intended to help destigmatize mental health. It is strongly discouraged to use the information contained in this blog in a coercive manner. This information is not intended to diagnose or serve as a substitute for treatment from a licensed mental health professional. 

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