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What to Do When Your Anxiety Manifests as Anger

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It all started as anger. After years of childhood bullying, I was a very angry 13-year-old. That anger never went away. But where did it come from?

Of course, I’m not special. This issue has been studied quite a bit, but I had to discover that. It seems years of abuse led me to a high level of anxiety and self-doubt. These can and do present themselves as anger. I was angry at those who abused me. I was angry about my lot in life and why it happened to me. Most of all, I was anxious about it happening all the time and felt threatened all the time. For me, this manifested as anger.

I feel lucky the anger did not come out as physical violence, but definitely as mental abuse of others. I was mean, easily threatened by things others don’t get threatened about, and found both yelling and blame to be a big release of these pent-up emotions. Of course, I mainly took these feelings of anger out on the ones I loved — the ones I trusted the most.

I recall in my teens being quite cruel to my parents. I would say extremely mean things to them, accuse them of being bad parents and blame, blame, blame. I didn’t want to take responsibility for my anger. Then, once I had a marriage and children, I would get easily frustrated and angry and my family would question why. I knew deep down it was the abuse, and the anxiety I felt from my abuse years, but didn’t want to face those years again. I wanted to bury these times, as I discussed in my memoir, “A Ladder In The Dark.

Eventually, I bought my first book about anger to try to understand my angry outbursts, but it didn’t correlate my anger to my abuse. As my anxiety turned to depression, I became much more active about looking for a solution. I found books and studies that confirmed what I thought; the abuse that happened so long ago could lead to anxiety and self-doubt, which can manifest as anger. I was still angry about what happened to me. So, I learned — through much trial and error — better ways to handle the anger I had:

1. Remember anger is controlled by you.

The first big lesson I had to deal with is that the only person who could make me angry was me. Anger is a choice I was making. I could choose to let things make me angry or not. No one person or event can make me angry. Only I could make that choice. Once I realized I was the true cause of being angry, then I could learn how to stop or at least control it.

2. Learn to stop speaking and reacting without thought.

Yes, the is the old count to ten rule. Anger is simply the discharge of immediate discomfort and stress. It usually comes out quickly and as blame. In a few minutes, you then find the anger is embarrassing and your anxiety and self-doubt come into play. If you learn to wait before reacting, then you give yourself a chance to cool down and express why you feel this way to others in the correct fashion.

3. Leave the situation.

Prior to allowing the anger to make you react, walk away from the situation. The longer you stay and the longer you are in the mix of the things that made you angry, the more likely you are to react. Leave and take a walk. Get away and wait until you feel the anger subside.

4. Exercise.

That’s right, work off the anger. It is a proven way to let it go and a perfect time to get some exercise. The endorphins released during exercise help to bring positive thoughts to the brain. Walk, run, lift, anything. Just exercise and you’ll notice the thing you were angry about will start to take a backseat to what you are doing.

5. Think of issues that made you angry as needing solutions.

Learn to stop, and think through the solutions to the original topic that made you angry. For me, I watched the news or read the paper and got so angry. Of course, I had little to no control over the situations I was reading about. So I cut the cord. I stopped watching things that would only feed my anger. I also stopped being around people who brought me down. Then, I would write down solutions to solving the issue I was angry about. Eventually, with that writing, in my mind I solved my anger.

6. Read positive affirmations.

Stop when the anger comes in and look up positive affirmations. You can stop your mind from anger and reverse it. Reading the positive aspects of life help that rewiring. It’s a battle when you’re angry. It doesn’t seem natural to want to read about positive things. But you can stop the anger in its tracks.

7. Allow forgiveness.

When I talk about forgiveness, I mean you. Yes, forgive the others who made you angry, but forgive yourself. Don’t let the anger drag you down further, where you don’t want to go. It is important to ask forgiveness from others and mostly from yourself. You know you’re not a bad person, but your mind will tell you different.

One word of caution to all the items above. None of it is easy and if you are physically violent with your anger, I suggest getting mental health support quickly. If you are physically hurting others, that can be dangerous. If you are physically hurting yourself, go get professional help. I did and there’s nothing embarrassing about it. The anger is a natural extension of the anxiety and damaged self-esteem from the abuse I took. I had to learn that lesson and it was a hard one to accept. The anger was in me and not the fault of others.

I don’t win every day. After all, this is an anger habit I have been doing for over 30 years. I work on it daily. Some days better than others. I also explain what is going on in me to my loved ones when I don’t feel anger. What else can I do? I only hope they understand. Most of the time I am a good person and not angry. One day, maybe I will find better ways, as above, to express my anger. But I am always a work in progress.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo via Marjan_Apostolovic

Originally published: September 5, 2017
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