Emotional Effects
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How Anxiety Can Lead to Aggression and Violence

Henry Vyner, MD, Psychiatrist
Medically reviewed by
Henry Vyner, MD, Psychiatrist
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:

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:

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:

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.

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