Emotional Effects

How Anxiety Can Lead to Aggression and Violence

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

How Anxiety Can Lead to Aggression and Violence

Anxiety is associated with fear. It's not exactly the type of condition people associate with anger. The stereotype of anxiety is that it causes shyness and a general struggle to be social and around people, and in some cases this is true.

But in some people anxiety can provoke an aggressive, violent response. Aggression and violence may not be "common" in those with anxiety, but they're very real and can be extremely problematic for those that suffer from them.

Cause of Aggression/Violence With Anxiety

On its most basic level, aggression with anxiety isn't "common." In fact, researchers have found that the stress hormone cortisol may actually inhibit an aggressive response, and since anxiety causes stress, it's implied that those with anxiety are more cautious.

But just because it's not common doesn't mean it doesn’t happen. In fact, there are many reasons that anxiety can lead to aggression. Here are some of the ways that anxiety can make you more prone to be aggressive or violent:

  • Fight or Flight Response Anxiety is caused by the activation of the fight or flight response. It's a response designed to keep you safe from danger, and it is supposed to only occur when you're faced with fear. Anxiety can be defined as the occurrence of the fight or flight response when there is no real danger. While the fight/flight response doesn't necessarily "cause" fighting, it is mediated by the release of adrenaline, which can make a person more aggressive.
  • Irritability People who are more prone to aggression but have otherwise been able to control their aggression may find that it's harder to control their aggressive impulses when anxiety causes them to become irritable.. There are some people who understand that they need to become more cautious when they are irritable, but people who haven’t reflected upon their irritability and its ability to cause aggression can become aggressive when they are feeling irritable..
  • Steroids Use of anabolic steroids is on the rise, despite the dangers. Studies have shown that those that take performance enhancing steroids tend to experience more anxiety as well as more aggression. Anxiety in this cases isn't causing the aggression but the two are related.
  • Workplace Stress Someone that experiences a great deal of stress at work may have anxiety because of pent up aggression that they have repressed as they work. Maybe you’re angry at your boss for his or her consistent criticisms. Maybe you are jealous of a workmate who is more liked than yourself. As pent up aggression builds up, it becomes harder and harder to keep it in, and you might find yourself attacking someone when you really don’t want to do it.
  • Social Anxiety and Aggression Social anxiety often leads people to be shy and withdrawn in social situations. But some people who suffer from social anxiety respond to social rejection with aggression and hostility.

If you find yourself losing control and being hostile and aggressive with people when you don’t want to be hostile, you should seek professional help. It is like any other problem. If you want to stop being aggressive or violent with people, you have to first recognize that you have a problem.

When you attack another person emotionally, or get violent with them, it is not okay for either you or them. When you attack someone, you are going to hurt yourself as much as you hurt the other person, if not more. For example, if you allow yourself to get really angry at someone, that anger can last for hours and cause you to remain in a bad mood. Or cause you to be ashamed of yourself. Or cause a stress reaction within your body. It’s important to find ways to be both honest with yourself when you are angry with someone, and at the same time get to the root of the problem you are having with that person with attacking them.

Tips to Stop Anxiety Anger

The most important thing about anger is to understand that anger is a paradox. Your anger is almost always your ego wanting to attack people who irritate you. At the same time, there is usually something genuine in the midst of your anger that you genuinely want to say or do to another person.

For example, suppose the person in the room next to yours in a hotel is making an immense amount of noise that is keeping you from sleeping. And it is two o’clock in the morning. And now you are boiling mad.

If you put on your bathrobe and go to your neighbor’s door, and explode at him or her when they come to the door, the greater likelihood is that they won’t want to keep the noise down. The thing to do is to let your anger go, but persist in wanting to get your neighbor to stop the noise. Your desire to get them to stop their noise is valid, but your anger is just your ego’s response to the situation. Let your anger go, and go in peace to your neighbor’s door. Things will work out much better. You might even find that the two of you will strike up an enjoyable conversation.

This perception of anger is embodied in the principles of anger management strategies, which include:

  • Walking away until you cool down.
  • Be forgiving and try to make situations more light hearted.
  • Become solution focused and see what you can do yourself.

Anger management is something you learn over time, and something that needs to be completed regardless of its cause. Luckily, there are also some anger management tools that are also relevant for those with anxiety. These include:

  • Exercise Exercise is considered a very effective solution for aggression, because exercise can release the energy of your aggression. Exercise is also an important solution for anxiety. The neurotransmitters and hormones that exercise releases have been proven to have a powerful effect on mental health and drastically improve coping ability.
  • Relaxation Exercises There are several relaxation strategies that are also useful for anxiety, and could play a role in anger management. Deep breathing and meditation are recommended, as they take a person out of the anger/anxiety environment and allow them to regain control of their breathing and their senses.
  • Mindfulness With a few exceptions, anger and anxiety tend to be something that build, and they often build against themselves. Anger tends to start small and spiral out of control. It's the same with anxiety. If you can learn how to notice the signs that anxiety or aggression are coming and take yourself out of that situation or figure out an effective way to control it, you'll be less prone to outbursts and get used to other forms of coping.

Some of these tools can be used to distance yourself from your moment — for example, exercise, walking away and trying to find what you really want to say to the person is making you angry and let go of your anger as you say it.

Other of these tools can be used to develop a state of mind in which you no longer want or need to indulge your anger — for example meditation and mindfulness.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

Ask Doctor a Question


Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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