AnxietyFawn McNeil-Haber

Anger or Anxiety? – Why Anxiety Can Look Like Rage and What You Can Do About It

Managing anger and anxiety

Anger or Anxiety

When you think of someone struggling with anxiety, what picture comes to mind?

If you’re like most people, you might envision a worry wort or a panic-stricken individual. And you’d be right. Anxiety does manifest itself through worry and panic.

But it disguises itself in other ways, too. Namely, behind the mask of anger.

When you see someone act out with rage, social norms have you believing it’s an epic sign of a really bad day or an anger management issue. But strong emotions aren’t always that simple.

It’s time to look a little more in-depth at whether the root of rage could be anxiety.

Why It Can Look Like Rage

Rage can feel like a volcanic explosion Do you often feel like Mount St. Helens? Almost as if a tectonic plate unexpectedly shifts under your surface, erupting a blistering spew of emotional lava.

Perhaps you’ve even looked into taming your temper or Googled “Why am I so angry?” a time or two.

Consider, for a moment, that the emotional overflow you’ve been experiencing may not be anger. It could, in actuality, be anxiety on full display.

Keeping the volcano scenario in mind, imagine the dynamic force of anxiety. It’s that notorious “boiling up” feeling when your fight-or-flight response is activated. Your body recognizes that something is off-kilter and responds by getting ready to defend itself against the “danger.” The problem is that your nervous system can’t tell whether the danger is a deadline at work or a hungry grizzly bear.

Far too often, anxiety is dismissed or pushed down, erupting when your body can no longer contain the pressure. In short, unexpressed or invalidated anxiety can manifest in outbursts of anger. It’s the anxiety’s way of protecting you from the “danger” it perceives.

How It Can Interfere in Relationships

Anxiety interfere with relationshipsAs you may have imagined, this volcanic effect can be detrimental to your relationships. More than from the general negative impact of anxiety or anger, relationships often suffer because there is no warning before the eruption.

You might picture yourself like the little teapot, getting all steamed up, then pouring yourself out. Except that this particular expression of anxiety doesn’t work like that. How so?

You may or may not feel the pressure building up inside of you. The more likely scenario is that you do, but you ignore it to try to remain calm and cool.

Often, the lava is spewing before you have time to regain control or understand what really happened, burning everyone in its path. And it’s that uncertainty in your behavior that hurts those around you. Your partner or your kids don’t know what to expect from you or why you are so upset.

Imagine your nervous about an upcoming work presentation or a medical procedure.  You are preoccupied in your mind preparing for the event, your body is on edge, and you’re having a hard time focusing on the here and now.  Mindlessly, you ask you family repeatedly to get the table ready for dinner. Your spouse is on their phone. The kids are arguing. Now you start to feel like nothing’s going right.  You are feeling out of control and everything begins to blow.

Creating cognitive dissonance and breeding distrust, your loved ones gradually learn not to count on you for emotional stability. They may start to distance themselves from you or cut ties to protect themselves.

What You Can Do About It

Dealing with anxiety When you’re trying to identify your volcano as anger or anxiety, remember that neither is an indictment. You can overcome the cycle, moving forward to nurture healthy relationships.

To start, practice paying more attention to your body, your environment, and how you feel in each moment. Know the signs your body gives you that emotions are intensifying.  Stomach churning? Heart racing? Mind fogging? You’ll likely find a pattern in your physical response and that you’re pushing more emotions down more than you realized.

When you do feel a negative emotion (and the connected body sensations), stop and identify it.  Take a slow breath in and attempt to understand what is happening in your body. Take an even slower breath out.  You can try to trace the emotion back to what triggered it. Thus, learning to recognize your triggers and what you need to do to manage those things in the future.

As with any expression of anxiety, remind yourself that negative feelings pass. But be open with those close to you, making them aware of the intense emotional moments.  Anxiety can be tricky but it doesn’t have to end in an eruption.

When anger or anxiety send your emotions on a downward spiral, you may feel stuck in an endless cycle. Here’s the thing about this negative cycle, it’s difficult to stop on your own. By enlisting the support of a therapist, you can work together to identify the root cause and develop a game plan to overcome it.

Please, contact me when you’re ready to get started.


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Brave Minds Psychological Services helps children, teens and families overcome severe anxiety, stress, and painful experiences.  We specialize in developing brave minded youth that can move forward despite fears and significant challenges.