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.
How Bad is Your Anxiety?
Anxiety causes severe, constant stress. That means that you become irritable easier, and high stress quickly. The more severe it is, the worse that anger can be. Our free 7 minute anxiety test can score your anxiety severity and compare it to others.
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 isn't there. In fact, there are many reasons that anxiety can lead to aggression. Start by taking my free 7 minute anxiety test to see if you may have anxiety. It may be nearly impossible to determine how your aggression started, but causes include:
- Fight or Flight Response Anxiety is the activation of the fight of 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 occurs when the response is malfunctioning. While the fight/flight response doesn't necessarily "cause" fighting, it does prime the body for a fight, so that those that are slightly more prone to fighting (either because of genetics or upbringing) feel more anger and aggressive.
- Irritability Similarly, those that may be more prone to aggression but have otherwise been able to maintain it may find that it's harder to maintain it when they have anxiety because anxiety causes irritability. This type of irritability usually causes people to close off or become passive aggressive, but in some people, that same irritation can cause them to react more strongly and possibly show aggressive behaviors.
- General Anger/Negative Emotions While some evidence suggests that the hormone released by stress (cortisol) reduces aggression, stress itself has been linked to an increase in aggression. Once again, this tends to be more common in those with naturally aggressive tendencies, but not necessarily. If you experience anxiety (even from problems at work or struggling finances), your body may essentially be priming for anger.
- 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.
- Similar Causes Much like anabolic steroids, anger may not be a symptom of aggression but the two may have similar development. Using the workplace example above, someone that experiences a great deal of stress at work may have both anxiety and pent up aggression that they become more likely to let out (in this case, possibly because of feelings of helplessness).
- Anxiety and Fear of Specific Issue Anxiety is still fear, and fear can cause people to respond in violent ways. One study showed that certain types of social anxiety could evoke an aggressive response in males in relationships. They explored a type of social anxiety fear known as "fear of negative evaluation," but it stands to reason that other types of fear (fear of abandonment, etc.) could also cause violent responses.
Now, it is important to note that despite these causes, aggression is something that needs to be controlled. There is still no excuse for violence, and those that act violent shouldn't be excused for their actions because of anxiety. If you experience violence and aggression as the result of anxiety - or for any reason - you should get help for your aggressive tendencies.
Most evidence suggests that anxiety only triggers aggression in those that already have a predilection towards aggression, so controlling your anxiety may not be enough.
But anxiety is still something that is incredibly treatable, and should be a priority of yours to reduce if you have aggression when you suffer from anxiety.
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Tips to Stop Anxiety Anger
Anger management strategies are still important, even if you have anxiety. Anxiety is something that does happen. Even if your cure your anxiety disorder, you cannot turn off anxiety altogether, and so controlling your anger should be a priority. Experts recommend solutions such as:
- 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 tends to put the mind in a happier and more relaxed place. It turns out that 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.
- Distractions Because of the fact that both anxiety and aggression have a tendency to grow the more you think about them, distractions play an important role as well. Keeping regularly busy with emotionally healthy activities, calling people when you feel stressed, and making sure that from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed you're busy thinking about interesting things will all help to ensure that you donít let your thoughts get out of control.
Anxiety, like anger, is treatable. But you have to show a willingness to treat it and a commitment to overcoming these issues. Take my free 7 minute anxiety test to find out more about how to control your anxiety.
Hanby, Michelle SR, et al. Social Anxiety as a Predictor of Dating Aggression. Journal of interpersonal violence (2011).
Dengerink, H. A. Anxiety, aggression, and physiological arousal. Journal of Experimental Research in Personality (1971).