Understanding The Anxiety and Anger Connection

    dealing-with-anxiety-and-angerJake has been working on a big sale for the last 15 months and now as the deal is ready to close the customer is starting to back out. He desperately needs this big commission to keep from having a significant drop in his income this year. So he's scrambling to do everything he can to keep the customer on-board. Understandably, he's freaking out. Do you think Jake is feeling anxiety or anger about losing this big deal?

    We'll answer that question about Jake a little later on. But first, here are a few other questions to think about -- Is there a link between anxiety and anger? Does one cause the other? Can you have both anxiety and anger at the same time? Are they different for men verses women?

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    All of these are important questions. So let's take a look at answering them:

    • First, most people don't typically think of a connection between anxiety and anger. You either have one or the other. Usually one is much more obvious than the other and so that's what's recognized.
    • Second, anxiety and anger look very different. Hyperventilating from a panic attack sure is different from the rage that leaves a smashed phone in pieces on the floor.
    • Lastly, more women are aware of anxiety in themselves than are men. So there's a difference between the sexes that influences recognition too.

    It's easy to assume you're either anxious or angry, but not both. And if you've asked a doctor you may have been diagnosed as having one or the other as well. In reality they can be very interconnected, hard to decipher and even difficult to recognize.

    How Men Describe Anxiety & Anger Differently Than Women

    In my years of counseling men I've found that rarely do men seek for help with anxiety, instead they ask for help with anger or stress. Women on the other hand seem to have no problem saying they've got anxiety and will seek help for it. Fewer women though will admit they've got a problem with anger.

    I'm not only confused, but very stressed at the thought of another failed relationship, by no fault of my own this time. I've been with my girlfriend for over 3 years now, and we have lived together for the past 2 of those. Just a little over a year into our relationship, I found out that she was sending emails and explicit photos of herself to several other guys. Photos that not even I had seen at any point. I addition to this, I also came home early from work one day just around the same time to find her still in bed, having video sex with another guy. Needless to say, she was surprised as hell when I flung the bedroom door open and stormed in. She tried to tell me that it was a "friend" who had sent her a link to some online site, and that she was curious about it and had never done it before. Problem is, that in her phone history, there were several other missed incoming and outgoing video calls. I'm not naïve, and I truly didn't believe that this was her first offense. After several days of thinking, I decided that forgiveness might be the best option as I truly love her and didn't want to throw away what we had. Or what I thought we had. I've been cheated on in the past, and already had trust issues, but this just floored me! We're still together at this point, like I said, over 3 years together now, but recently my curiosity got the better of me and I'll admit that the trust has never even come close to returning, so I had the chance to snoop on her phone. What I found were text messages to and from other guys dated well after her and I had become serious about each other. Explicit messages. It seems that all I keep finding are little tidbits here and there of past indiscretions and it really has me in a bad place now, wondering what the heck I'm meant to do. In my heart I want to believe that she's stopped doing all this behind my back like she's said she would, but my gut tells me otherwise and that maybe she's just become a lot smarter and stealthy about it all after finding this new information. Please help..."- Antonio

    If you ask men if they feel anxious most will say, "no." Ask them if they feel stressed and many will have no problem saying, "yes." So what's the difference between anxiety and stress? Not much. But for men the perception difference is huge.

    Understandably, Antonio is feeling anxious about what his girlfriend is doing "behind my back," but he doesn't say he's anxious, he says he's "very stressed." Remember Jake at the beginning of this article? He said he's "freaking out," but does that mean he's anxious or angry? Most likely both, but he probably won't admit it either.

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    Men have anxiety they just don't see it as anxiety. Because anxiety is associated with nervousness, uncertainty and fear, for a lot of men it challenges their masculinity and self-identity, which most believe must convey strength and confidence no matter what the circumstance. Admitting having anxiety could be a sign of weakness for many men and thus is avoided. Even though Jake's "freaking out," he wouldn't admit to being anxious. Stressed? Yes. Worried? Probably. Anxious? Not likely. The same goes for Antonio.

    Men and women acknowledge and describe anger problems differently too. Men are more willing to admit to having anger issues than are women, yet still are reluctant. In men anger is expressed more directly, outward and in physical ways. Such as, yelling, "You piss me off" followed by a slammed door. For women anger is usually less direct, often passive, and more emotionally than physically released. The silent treatment is an example of how anger in women can be expressed, or when she cooks she won't make any extra for him for a week.

    Diagnosis Rates Of Anxiety & Anger In Men Verses Women

    Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health disorder in the United States, affecting almost 1 in 5 adults. Women are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder than are men. Only with social anxiety is there little difference between the sexes.

    There are a number of theories attempting to explain this difference in occurrence, with a number of them focusing on brain differences between women and men. For example, the fight-or-flight response is more easily triggered in women and stays active for a longer period than in men. The brain chemical serotonin is believed to play a part in anxiety and stress, and the female brain doesn't process this chemical as effectively as in men.

    In addition to sex, race and ethnicity can play a part in diagnosis rates as well. For instance, Asian Americans report psychological problems at a lower rate than European Americans. We also know that men as a whole are less likely to report medical problems than women. Rather than report mental health issues many people will use alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs to self-medicate. Additionally, stress and anger, in men especially, is often seen as normal, even expected or societally rewarded -- "He's such a hard worker."

    Unfortunately, anger is not diagnosed nor tracked in a similar manner and so there aren't clear statistics to reference. Because of the differences described above in how anger is expressed in men as opposed to women, problem anger is much more associated with men than women. However, in reality the occurrence difference may not be as significant when the differences in how it's expressed are factored in.

    Does Anxiety Cause Anger?

    Anxiety and anger can be very interrelated. In fact, either one can cause the other. Additionally, it's not uncommon to have both at the same time. So what does that look like?

    Here are a few real-life examples from patients I'm treating of how anxiety and anger can affect each other and how it can look. Even though these cases are all men, any of these situations could describe a woman as well.

    Having Anxiety over Anger - Rob has a physically demanding job as a roofing contractor. He’s in the sun and heat all day long which only adds to his having a short fuse. He admits he has anger problems and dealing with demanding customers can really test his ability to control it. He’s become anxious over his anger, worrying that he could lose his job if people hear him cursing on a job site or if he looses his cool with a rude customer. "I'll explode using the f-word and then I'm cursing and throwing things."

    Having Anger over Anxiety - Kevin is a physician who describes the stress of his job as “death by a thousand cuts.” He’s also got stress at home managing a defiant 15-year-old son and dealing with a verbally abusive wife. She calls him fat and ugly, says she never loved him and only married him because she got pregnant. He says, "I'm scared of her." He’s angry over the anxiety he feels in almost every part of his life and his anger comes out in "snap reactions" at his wife and son.

    When Anxiety fuels Anger - Tony owns his own contracting business. Being self-employed is tough enough he says, but he fears the next slow down in the housing market and what that will mean for his income and life-style. He’s also angry over the possibility of losing the business he’s spent a decade building, particularly after losing his prior business in the last recession. His wife's resentment that he doesn't earn more only adds to his worries and stress. "I can be an a--hole. I won't hold back. I'm ruthless and don't care if I hurt others."

    When Anger fuels Anxiety - Mitch is a repair technician who works at customers’ businesses all day long. His wife is at home and calls him repeatedly throughout his workday when she has something to tell him. He hates the interruptions, especially about topics he doesn’t view as important enough to disrupt his work. The pressure of managing over 100 calls and texts a day from customers, and then on top of it calls from his wife, in the middle of a hectic workday makes him frustrated and angry. He ends up anxious and on edge all day long anticipating the next demand of his time, especially the needy calls from his wife, which he knows if he doesn’t answer will only upset her.

    Is there any doubt after reading these stories that anxiety and anger are interrelated?

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    Anxiety or anger in our partner can cause it in us too. For example, many men can be very uncomfortable with emotions. A common male response to a partner's feelings, particular difficult ones like anger or anxiety, is to want to fix it or make the emotion go away. When they can't, it can create anger or anxiety in them as well. A guy can get angry because he can't make his wife's anxiety go away or be anxious about the next time she's going to blow-up at him (obviously the same can happen in women).

    How To Know When Anxiety Or Anger Are A Problem

    Struggling with anxiety and anger is extremely common for both men and women. We all can have times when we're either anxious or angry. Just being anxious, however, doesn't have to mean it's a problem. The same goes for anger. There are three elements to consider in determining if either could be a problem:

    • Severity -- How severe, debilitating, or damaging is the emotion on you or those around you?
    • Length -- How long does the feeling last?
    • Frequency -- Does the emotion reoccur and, if so, how often?

    While you'll know the answers to these questions you won't know if the answers mean it's a problem, but you're like to have a sense. A mental health counselor or doctor will be able to better tell you what it all means. However, you don't have to be diagnosed or take medication in order to do something about improving your situation. Here's an example:

    We have been married for 50 years. 5 years ago my husband had a midlife crisis. A 5 year affair, refuses to reach a compromise when I ask for any intimacy. Does love me, but few kisses, hugs. Friendly, but treats me like a sister?? Too old to leave and love him. Am dealing with anger, anxiety, especially at night in the same bed. Hurts too bad to be next to him, so I go to another bedroom, this seems to help me go to sleep. How can I live being content in this situation??" -Rose

    Does Rose have anger and anxiety that's causing her problems? Yep, that's pretty obvious, and it doesn't require a professional like myself to diagnosis it. Rose can see this herself too, which is why she's on our website looking for help. It's also completely understandable why she's struggling. Her marriage is broken -- she's been cheated on and doesn't know if it will happen again, or if her husband really does love her. That's going to make anyone anxious and angry.

    The biggest question for Antonio, Rob, Kevin, Tony, Mitch and Rose is what they're going to do about their anxiety or anger. Unfortunately, most people ignore it. Admitting it's a problem and getting help to change it is the better choice.

    What's anxiety or anger look like for you? Please share your experience with us in a comment below.

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