The Link Between Anxiety & Anger

Instructor: Sharon Linde
Researchers are just starting to understand how anger and anxiety can interact with each other. This lesson provides an overview of these two emotions and the state of current research into the link between them.

Defining Anxiety and Anger

Have you ever been anxious? How about angry? Have you ever wondered if there's a connection between the two? If so, you're not alone. Scientists also like to wonder about and explore the relationships between things, such as the link between these two common emotions. Before getting into that, let's go ahead and define both.

Anxiety is feeling nervous, worried, or uneasy about some future event with an uncertain outcome. Anxiety is usually rooted in fear. You may feel anxiety when a big test is coming up or before giving a presentation. Your heart may race, you get sweaty, your chest feels tight, and you feel general nervousness. Long-term anxiety can lead to serious medical conditions as well as weight gain, high blood pressure, and depression.

Anger is usually more easily defined and recognizable, and you've likely had more experience with it than anxiety. When you're angry, you have strong feelings of being annoyed and typically feel upset with something or someone. You may yell to express your displeasure. Extreme anger can result in rage. Most people learn to deal with situations that make them angry in childhood--we rarely see grown-ups throwing a temper tantrum in the candy aisle.

Other forms of anger that aren't quite so easily recognized are general irritability and passive anger. In passive anger, the person consciously or unconsciously bottles up their anger, and it tends to show in ways not normally associated with anger responses, such as sarcasm, meanness, or apathy.

Now, back to the question: Is there any link between anger and anxiety? Let's take a look.

Anger and Anxiety Intertwined

A common cause of anxiety is pubic speaking. Imagine having to give a presentation in front of hundreds of people. If this thought makes you anxious, you likely feel a great amount of fear. Typically, when people feel anxiety, they are so fixated on the situation making them scared that they aren't angry--at least not in the outward forms we most generally associate with anger.

It turns out, however, that being anxious does cause most people to become irritable. This happens often enough that irritability is on the list of symptoms to look for when diagnosing generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). In fact, the presence of prolonged irritability in a child could be enough for a GAD diagnosis without other symptoms. The same is not currently true for adults, which is causing some researchers to question if the diagnosis guidelines should be changed.

Researching Anger and Generalized Anxiety Disorder

While doing a review of published research in this area before earning her PhD in psychology from Concordia University, Sonya Deschênes discovered there was a clear, but poorly understood, link between anger and GAD.

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