When experiencing anger, you can usually justify the emotion by taking a look at the source of what is making you so riled up. But if you find yourself fuming more often than usual with no clear cause, you may be experiencing some signs your anger is really anxiety manifesting itself. Anxiety isn't always just a pounding heartbeat, racing thoughts, or the need to crawl into your bed. Sometimes it can appear in more subtle ways, and anger is one of them.
"[Anger] is rooted in fear, and fear is just another word for anxiety," says therapist Kayce Hodos, LPC over email. "When we feel threatened, we react with our natural stress response — fight or flight. Those of us who end up fighting often get angry when things don’t go our way. To figure out how to manage your anger, you need to be able to name your fear and learn to take control of what’s lying beneath: anxiety."
Not all anger is anxiety, but if you take the time to step back, you might find that in many situations, your displeasure is actually rooted in feeling anxious. If you're still not sure, watch out for these nine signs that your anger is really anxiety manifesting itself.
1You've Just Experienced A Major Change In Your Life
Have you had a significant life shift recently? A job loss? A breakup? "If so, it’s very common to react with anger. "These kinds of experiences of loss also leave us with a sense of powerlessness," says Hodos. "It can feel like our world is ending, and whether you’re crying or getting mad (or both), the emotion that started it all is anxiety."
2You're Not Sleeping Well
"Difficulty sleeping can be rooted in a few different causes, but often, it’s due to not being able to stop worrying," says Hodos. In turn, this sleep deprivation can lead you to feel more angry, irritable, or hostile, according to Psychology Today.
3Things Feel Out Of Your Control
"Whether it’s workplace drama, money issues, strained relationships with family, or problems getting along with a partner, none of us enjoys not having control," says Hodos. "Some of us, however, have a harder time accepting it than others. Think about what it is you are angry about, now ask yourself how much of the problem you control. If the answer is little to none of it, then control issues may be the source of your rage."
4You Feel Embarrassed
Your anger is protecting you from feeling ashamed. "Shame or embarrassment can make us think anxious thoughts — like maybe we aren't good enough or there is something wrong with us — but shame is normal," says psychotherapist Sarah B. Rodgers, MA, LMFT, RDT over email. "We all make mistakes or feel stupid at times. Don't take it out on other people. Learn to accept you're human, too, and forgive yourself and move on."
5You've Been Hurt
Ever yelled at someone and then felt guilty about it afterward? It was probably because you felt hurt and then lashed out. "It's easier to yell at someone than say to them calmly that they hurt your feelings," says Rodgers. "It's admitting you're vulnerable, which can feel very uncomfortable and really ratchet up our anxiety.
6You Have Been Self-Medicating
Many people to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their anxiety, but substances like alcohol can magnify anger. "If you find that your alcohol or drug use has been increasing steadily, then you may be attempting to find relief via substances," says Hodos. "Beneath the anger and booze probably lies some anxiety and that sense of your world spinning out of control."
Nothing is more anxiety provoking than being stuck in sadness. "Being sad can feel like a bottomless pit, like there's no foreseeable way out, and like you might feel this way forever," says Rodgers. "Of course that would make you feel anxious. It's scary to feel sad and not know when or how it will get better. But to lash out at others —trying to avoid how you really feel by being angry — just won't get you to where you want to go."
8You Feel Threatened
When we feel attacked by another person or the circumstances surrounding us, our natural response is to defend ourselves. "Sometimes it may look like frustration and shutting down, and for others, it looks like yelling or throwing things," says Hodos. "If you can take a deep breath and reflect on what triggers these intense emotions, you will likely find that you are perceiving some part of your life as threatening."
Feeling afraid can make you feel meek, and getting bristly with those around you can be a defense mechanism. "If you are already prone to feeling scared or unsafe, there are plenty of triggers in life to amplify your anxiety," says Rodgers. "Some people cope with this by trying to 'prove' that they aren't fragile and frightened and so they choose loud and angry. Compensating for feeling small won't work. The only way to deal with your fears is to confront them and work through them. That's what makes you really tough."