Anger and Anxiety - get to grips with the issues

Are you an angry cat or a scaredy-cat?  Anger and anxiety are high on the list of problems that bring people to seek help through counselling. At first sight they seem like two different problems but in fact they are closely related.  Expecting anger from other people will make you anxious and on the other hand anxiety is often the real reason that people get angry – anger is often a response to a supposed threat.

Fight and flight

Anger and anxiety are the two sides of our bodies’ “fight or flight” response. When you perceive a threat to your safety, freedom or wellbeing, either consciously or unconsciously, your body starts to prepare itself to either run away or stand and fight. Adrenaline pumps into your bloodstream, your pulse rate goes up, chemicals flood into your muscles to prepare them for action. Fluid in your body is concentrated where you need it most, so you start to get a dry mouth. You might feel an urge to run out of the room, to hide until the danger is past (“flight”). Or you may feel the urge to start shouting at people or smashing things (“fight”). Our ancestors were able to follow through with the kind of physical activity that the body had prepared itself for. But today many of us are caught in situations, especially at work, where we feel  anxiety or anger but have to cope with its physical effects while sat at our desks in front of a computer screen.

Blocked goals

Anger can also occur in response to a blocked goal – when there is something you want to achieve but there seems to be no way to achieve it. This breeds frustration, which then turns to anger against anyone who stands in the way of what we want to achieve.

Beliefs and perceptions

Anger can be on our own behalf but also on behalf of other people. Arguably it is selfish to be angry for ourselves but compasionate to feel anger on behalf of others.

It’s really important to understand that both anger and anxiety are a response to beliefs and perceptions that we have about the situations we find ourselves in. It’s not what people say or do that makes us angry or afraid but what we believe about their words and actions. For example, someone may point out a mistake in something you have written. If you think they are being deliberately picky in order to humiliate you, you may fly off the handle. Fear of criticism might then kick in so that in the future, you avoid people who might be critical, situations where you might be corrected or even people who look like the person who pointed out your mistake! But if you believe the person is trying to be helpful you might feel grateful and thank them. It’s always important to dispute your perceptions – to ask yourself, “Is there another way of looking at this?”

Suggestions for coping with anger

Suggestions for coping with fear or anxiety

Tiger and cat images are copyright both accessed from www.flickr.com under a creative commons licence.