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4 Tools I Use When My Anxiety Presents as Anger

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I never thought I lived with anxiety. When I pictured an anxious person, I thought they were meek and jittery, always listing all the many things that could go wrong. I envisioned anxiety looking like excessive worry and irrational thinking. I did not think anxiety looked like anger. I assumed anger was a byproduct of hurt or an injustice. When I was diagnosed with anxiety, I still did not connect it to my bouts of anger.

When asked if I was good with people, I always confidently responded affirmatively. When my therapist asked and I said yes, he challenged me to then explain why the several situations I recently vented to him had occurred. I always had a response. One day he said, “All those people in the waiting room have issues with people, including you, and that is OK.” I began to see my outlook on the world and people’s behavior was rooted in my anxiety. When my idea of how things “should” be were not met, I felt threatened and I got angry.

For example, because I am anxious about being late and being judged for it — together with the fear of being underground, stuck and out of control — I am wound pretty tightly before I even start to make an appointment. So any minor interaction that does not go well or isn’t timely is met with aggressive, intense anger. My anxiety has spilled over, turning into a new face — an angry face — the “fight” part of “fight or flight.”

For so many years, when I was angry, I always felt justified. When people who were close to me challenged me and corrected my behavior, I felt wronged and misunderstood. I had a list of reasons why my anger was relevant and appropriate. I left people, jobs and adventures because I let my anxiety make me feel so “right” and could not let the anger go. It kept me from the possibility of growing and moving forward.

Now that I see my anxiety and anger are so intimately connected, I know how to deal with it a bit better. Here are some tools I use:

1. I plan an extra hour before any appointment.

This serves as my “just in case” hour — just in case something happens and if nothing happens, I can read a book or maximize outside time.

2. I communicate my needs.

When I go to an appointment, I will ask when I check in how long they think it may take and then I explain I struggle with anxiety and how it would help me for them to be accurate (even if they say it will be a “long” or “rather long” wait, I prefer them saying this instead of “short” and it turning out to be untrue).

3. I breathe.

I can feel an anxiety attack coming on and usually my fits of rage occur when I have not addressed the anxious feelings. Sometimes, I can breathe and ground myself before I feel the need to lash out.

4. I educate others (when I can).

How people respond to me during an anxiety attack can escalate my feelings. I have learned that when I feel good, if I talk to people about anxiety and what that looks like for me, others can be more aware of my triggers, mental illness and sometimes situations can be avoided entirely.

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Thinkstock photo via Cheremuha .

Originally published: April 14, 2023
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