In the rich and varied panoply of human emotions, two feelings are closely linked to each other — and to survival.
Anxiety is the worry or fear you feel in response to a perceived threat. Anger is also a threat response, but it’s coupled with a strong sense of annoyance.
Researchers think these two emotions may play an important role in our ability to sense and react to danger.
But are there other ties between anger and anxiety?
Anxiety and anger share a lot of territory.
Both emotions cause physical symptoms by releasing powerful hormones into your bloodstream. Both can be triggered by everyday experiences. And both can be either improved or worsened by your thought patterns.
Here’s what we know about how anger and anxiety interact.
Part of the human condition
Everyone gets angry. Everyone feels anxious now and then.
In fact, there are times when anxiety is logical, and anger is an appropriate response — one that can lead to important changes.
During periods of heightened stress and tension, when conflicts in your personal life are amplified by events in the wider world, anxiety and anger may even seem to be a new normal.
Same physiological symptoms
When you’re angry or anxious, your body secretes hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, that prepare you to fight or to flee.
During anxious or angry moments, you’re likely to experience:
- rapid heart rate
- chest tightness
- clenched or tight muscles
- rushes of heat
- gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea
- tension headaches
These symptoms will dissipate quickly under normal circumstances. But if you have long-term issues with anger or anxiety, the release of these hormones over and over may lead to health problems.
Same psychological roots
Psychologists have equated both anxiety and anger with the loss of control.
In other words, when you’re confronted with a stressor you feel you’re not equipped to deal with, you may become anxious.
If you feel even more threatened, that anxiety can quickly morph into anger.
In both instances, an outside stimulus threatens your sense of safety and control over your environment. Anger may simply be a more chemically-charged version of anxiety.
Some psychologists have also suggested that anger lies at the root of anxiety: People who haven’t learned how to express anger constructively may experience prolonged anxiety.
Effect on health
If anger and anxiety feel unmanageable to you, or if people tell you that the way you handle anger and anxiety causes problems, it may be a good time to get help.
Excessive anger and anxiety can be harmful to your mental and physical health.
Researchers have found, for example, that anger is
Other studies have shown that too much anxiety and anger can lead to:
lungproblems, including worsened asthma
- high blood pressure
Anger is a symptom of several conditions. If you experience too much anger or anger that’s hard to manage, you may want to learn more about these conditions:
- obsessive compulsive disorder
- oppositional defiant disorder
- bipolar disorder
- intermittent explosive disorder
- narcissistic personality disorder
- borderline personality disorder
Likewise, anxiety has been associated with a number of other conditions, including:
- obsessive compulsive disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- irritable bowel syndrome
- substance use disorders
Many of the interventions and strategies that work to calm anxiety are also effective ways to manage anger.
If you’re looking for an immediate reduction in both anxiety and anger, get moving.
Want to feel happy instead? Choose a natural background to look at while you exercise.
The same study showed that people who looked at nature scenes were happier when they finished than study participants who chose other entertaining backgrounds to watch.
Mindfulness is a meditation practice in which you focus on what you’re sensing and feeling in the current moment without trying to judge, change, or interpret your thoughts and feelings.
Mindfulness exercises have been shown to reduce both anxiety and anger.
In a small
- scanning the body to observe physical sensations
- allowing thoughts to flow freely without judgment
- doing abdominal breathing exercises
After the 7-week program ended, participants showed less internalized anger and less anxiety than they were experiencing before the study began.
Slow breathing has powerful effects on the physiological symptoms of anxiety and anger.
One of the measures of good health is your heart rate variability (HRV), the variation in the amount of time between your heartbeats.
If you’re feeling threatened, your HRV is low. The time between beats doesn’t change a lot. Low HRV is linked to anxiety, depression, and heart disease.
A higher HRV means you can easily adapt to changes in your environment. Your heart speeds up and slow down appropriately.
The good news? You can change your HRV.
Many people find gentle Swedish massage therapy to be a relaxing experience. It’s also been proven effective at reducing anxiety and anger.
In one recent
Researchers reported that the women all experienced decreased symptoms in all mood disorders, including anger and anxiety, during and after the program.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works on the premise that you may have unhealthy thought patterns that are worsening your anger and anxiety.
Working with a therapist trained in CBT may help you identify what triggers your anxiety or anger. You can also learn to notice thoughts that are distorting your view of reality.
Once you identify them, you can learn to reframe your thoughts in a way that helps you manage anger and anxiety.
This process isn’t a quick fix, but
CBT for Black girls and women
Professors at Kent State University have developed culturally sensitive CBT methods to help Black girls and women process anger and anxiety from dealing with chronic racism and sexism.
Sister circle support groups and
Talk to a mental health professional or doctor if you’re experiencing any of the following scenarios:
- Friends, family, or coworkers have expressed concern about your handling of anger or anxiety.
- You aren’t welcome in certain places of business because of how you express your feelings.
- Episodes of anger or anxiety are frequent and intense.
- You express anger in verbally or physically aggressive ways.
- You’re concerned that anger or anxiety may be making you depressed.
- Your anxiety has caused you to begin avoiding important events and encounters.
- Anger or anxiety has caused you to have thoughts of self-harm.
- You feel your anxiety is interfering with your ability to function or to enjoy your life.
Anger and anxiety are closely related. Because they’re both normal responses to perceived threats, they help us survive dangerous situations.
These two emotions spark similar hormonal surges in the body, and they also share similar psychological triggers.
If you experience anger or anxiety too often or too intensely, it can affect your mental and physical health and can lead to problems in your relationships. A therapist or doctor may recommend:
- mindfulness practice
- breathing techniques
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
These are ways to reduce the stress that excessive anger and anxiety can cause. Learning to manage these two powerful emotions will help you live a longer, happier life.