Secret signs of Anxiety part 12: Anger and Irritability 

We often think of the anxious as nervous, delicate or forgetful. But anxiety is one of the primary causes of anger and irritability in people.

They just can’t be late or else! Not returning their calls elicits an angry text! Rather than talk about their day they’d rather be grumpy and not talk! Signs of unreasonable moodiness? Or something simpler?

Anxiety wallops people who are normally not used to feeling anxious and restricted, this is incredibly frustrating.

Anxiety overtakes peoples who normally pride themselves on being strong, being ready and being able. It makes them vulnerable. 

Anxiety also creates a charge in our bodies that we carry like a live current. It makes us feel wound tight as we hold in the charge. In this state little things can set us off.

Furthermore, especially for, but not exclusively for men, anxiety can mask itself as anger because it’s more acceptable to be angry than nervous. 

Another issue can be holding back our anger so much because we are so afraid of it that we stockpile it until it comes out sideways at someone!

This article will look at some of the ways in which anxiety can cause or be caused by anger and irritability!

Getting on my nerves:

Anxiety is literally our “fight or flight” response being switched on for long periods without clear and present danger in our environment. This means that we are literally on the edge of our senses and tolerance. We say “He/she is on edge” or “edgy”for a reason.

Every anxious person is a worrier and is concerned about “what if”, “what might happen” or “how would it look if”.

Repetitive anxious scenes and thoughts going through someone’s mind is like them being subjecting to repetitive scary pictures or videos. 

Anxious/preoccupied thoughts cause us to feel anxious emotionally and to experience anxiety in our bodies. Tense muscles, vulnerability and techy-ness. 

To test this for one second I would invite the reader to let themselves think for 5 seconds on a scary thought or worse case scenario.. notice how your body responds. 

This is what it is like for someone who is anxious all the time and they can’t stop it.

This along with stress in our environment creates a body that’s tense, jittery, taut and full of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones).

Normally when our fight or flight system is activated by a dangerous situation, we discharge the charge by running, screaming, fighting, kicking or someway using that energy.

However, when we are anxious this builds up and has no outlet.

Add to this picture a friend, partner, family member or a stranger making a perfectly reasonable request, move or comment and they can accidentally meet someone’s anxiety anger.

The term getting on my nerves is very apt here! The anxious person is already full of nerves and some poor unsuspecting soul “gets on” those nerves just be being in the vicinity.

Generally, this causes the anxious person to ruminate on what someone has done or to take it out on them. Without going into too much more detail here it’s clear that this can have consequences in relationships!

This phenomenon is gender neutral and can even affect parents. An anxious mum can be snappy and insistent: “Don’t dare leave my sight or get run over because I’d die from my nerves”. 

A fretful dad might bark at the kids for being late, but inside they have been worried sick.

Not seeming weak:

Another side to this same coin can be that for some people being vulnerable can be unacceptable.

As a tough guy/gal, as a boss, as a professional or even just as a member of “my family” it can feel unbelievably uncomfortable to feel weak. 

Our reaction to vulnerability can be so strong that for fear of appearing weak, wrong or caught we would rather be bullish. 

The people who are the most bullish tend to feel they have the most to lose by being wrong or by being weak.

This boils down to our upbringing and even our culture/society. This also needs to be considered in the light of the amount energy it takes to not show anxiety or fear.

This takes a further toll on the body which means someone will be agitated and low on empathy, sympathy and energy. 

This feeling that bad things are going to happen essentially denotes fear. But this edgy fear means alertness, high energy burn and fatigue. 

Anyone in this state would be more susceptible to annoyance. So is it any wonder that when we are anxious, we are much quicker to anger than our normal selves? 

Many reading this might connect how their loved ones get angry as a defence and wonder if it is because they are anxious.

Deflection like this is more common that we could realize.

Others will see that they are naturally more eruptive because they are worried. 

If you are already on high alert a blip on the radar seems not threatening. If calm and in peace time it might seem insignificant or manageable. 

Fear of our own Anger:

A subtle mechanism here can be a fear of our own anger. Many people who are anxious and get angry/irritable with others feel bad about this.

This can lead to believes that we are an angry person. This can cause a lot of self-dislike, even avoiding seeing people in the believe that we will hurt them.

Our own anger can indeed be the thing we are afraid off. If we believe that we shouldn’t ever express anger, then guess what? The anger doesn’t just disappear.

It hangs around pent up as lower back pain, tension, rolling   frustrations until we can’t hold it in anymore.  

when it blows: Others feel it, but so do we! Not only is it exhausting to store up all that anger but letting it out is hard on us as well.

This leads to more frightful relationship with Anger!

Stop taking it out on others:

Working as a therapist I see many people who take their anxiety out on others, often close others because they are not fully in tune with their own fears and worries. 

This unconsciousness makes anxious people more prone to anger and also more likely to feel they are losing control and feel bad about themselves. 

This in my opinion, is at the core of much of human suffering and violence. Not knowing our own bias’s and not knowing our fears mean we feel entitled to act violently or aggressively.

Anger, can be an  assertion of self-defense or personal rights. But it can also be a protection of hurt feelings or a defense against feeling exposed. 

Although not always appropriate in public, knowing our personal hurts and vulnerabilities is not a weakness. In reality knowing how we are feeling and acting with awareness is emotional intelligence can be our greatest strength. 

Get help:

Anxiety causes more than panic…

… It cause low mood, anger, relationship problems, addiction,isolation, obsessiveness, arguments and toxic forms of gender norms. 

If someone reading this identifies with anger and irritability caused by anxiety, then therapy is a great place to come for personal change and improving relationships.

I am a psychotherapist working in private practice in Dublin 11 near Glasnevin Cemetery, 10-15 minutes from the city centre, 5 minutes from Phibsboro and close to Finglas, Santry, Cabra, Drumcondra. Call/text 087 063 0948 for appointments.

Anxiety Ireland has a network of counselors across Ireland. Feel free to message me or the Facebook page for more information.

If curious about anxiety please feel free to visit our website,take our anxiety quiz or get anxiety help..

Again, I am always happy to answer messages to our page or I am happy to take calls/text to see how I can help:

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Team Anxiety Ireland

Anxiety is a merry-go-round, going nowhere fast, it’s ok to step off.

Our other articles on thought distortions include: Filtering, Catastrophizing, Polarized thinking, All or nothing thinking, Mindreading, Shoulds, Emotional Reasoning, Global labeling and of course the Fallacys: Being Right, Control Fallacies, Fallacy of Fairness, Heaven’s Reward Fallacy and Fallacy of Change. (Find blogs about these in our photos on facebook/website).