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When anxiety presents as anger

Have you ever wondered why people get angry and why some of us are more prone to rage than others? Can stress and anxiety cause irritability? In this article I’d like to shed some light on why this happens and how to deal with anger emotions more effectively.

anger and anxiety

Anger is one of the most fundamental responses. It is automatic and triggered by the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for fight, flight or freeze. 

As it’s an instinctive response it doesn’t involve conscious awareness. This means the brain fires off the nerves for action before we are actually aware of it. On top of that, as it is part of the survival mechanism, it overrides every other reaction.

Are anger and anxiety connected?

Not everyone responds the same way to threatening situations. Some people feel the urge to run away or leave (flight) whilst others get in a state of panic or freeze. The thing is, whether the threat is real or imaginary, our brain still responds as it cannot tell the difference between imagination or reality. Being angry can feel equally as overwhelming for the experiencer  as for the people witnessing the episode. Still, once both sides gain a better understanding of what is happening and why, it becomes easier to find a better response to challenging situations.

 Can anxiety and stress cause irritability?

The reason why anger takes over is due to the brain’s natural tendency to be overprotective. When the brain perceives threat, it surges the body with cortisol and adrenaline.These hormones play an important role here as they allow for fast and strong responses which can save our life when in danger but can prove detrimental if we respond this way in our day-to-day situations. Furthermore, if we are experiencing a lot of challenges on a daily basis , our anxiety levels build up, keeping us on constant alert. All this makes it even more difficult to respond in a calm and restrained way.

What causes anxiety?

 The constant tension may also result in sleep problems, making us more prone to anxiety.

The thing is, anything that is new, stressful, unfamiliar or sudden can cause a build up of stress hormones and can trigger the amygdala to prepare the body for  fight, flight or freeze. In these situations, the combination of intense emotions and their physical expression can turn into powerful and scary outbursts of anger. 

How to deal with anxiety and anger?

  • Talk about your feelings

Angry responses usually have some other emotion running behind the scenes and it is useful to identify the pattern as well as the underlying feeling. Dr Daniel Siegel coined  the phrase “Name it to tame it”. He learnt that when we use our words to explain our emotions they stop feeling so overwhelming. Interestingly, when explaining the way we feel we actually engage the left part of our brain which allows us to asses the situation more rationally.

  • Exercise

Channel the anger into an activity that can help you release tension. Exercise and physical activity in general help the production of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters and are one of the best strategies for reducing stress and lowering blood pressure.

  • Listen to a relaxing hypnotherapy audio

Hypnotherapy has proven to reduce the stress levels and help alternate thought   patterns. It is a simple route to changing habits and relaxing your body.

  • Learn how to keep anxiety at bay

Challenging situations are part of our daily life and it is useful to learn how to keep anxiety at bay despite the brain’s negative bias. This will allow us to stay on top of things and to maintain the intellectual control even when life is testing our resolve. Being aware of these internal processes has proven helpful in becoming more thoughtful and choosing more favourable responses when dealing with stress.

  • Practise, practise, practise

Dr Jeffrey M Schwartz, one of the world’s leading experts in neuroplasticity, said that repeatedly focussing our attention on something (a thought, sensation, event, response or action), the denser our attention is and more likely a specific habit will be wired in your brain. 

‘In the brain, attention density is the first – and most important – step in creating strong enduring brain circuits.’ The more we practise implementing more favourable ways of responding to challenging situations, the easier it becomes to establish them as a new way of doing things.

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