Coping with Anxiety-Driven Anger

Coping with Anxiety-Driven Anger
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When you have anxiety-driven anger, you don’t just need anger management strategies. You need ways to cope with your anxiety.

If we were to just focus on the anger issues and build coping skills around that, it would probably help, but it wouldn’t get at the root cause of what’s going on. You need to be able to deal with the underlying anxiety that’s causing the anger outbursts. So, we need a two-prong approach, and figure out the answer to these two questions:

What can I do before I explode?
What can I do after I explode?

What Can I Do Before I Explode?

Prevention is key! When you have an outburst due to your anxiety-driven anger, it’s a clear sign that you can’t cope anymore. You’ve reached the top of your window of tolerance, and we need to figure out ways to calm down before you reach that point again.

You need to identify what emotions you’re feeling and empathize with them. There’s no such thing as a bad emotion! Emotions let us know when something feels off, or icky, or uncomfortable. They can tell us that we don’t like what’s going on. Even if they get us in trouble sometimes, they’re important.

One way to get clear about how you’re feeling is to complete a body clues activity.

Draw a quick outline, and grab some markers. Think about the last time you felt angry, and color in where you noticed that in your body. Did your hands tense? Did your face get hot? Did your breathing speed up?

Next, think about the last time you felt anxious, and color that in. Where did you notice that feeling in your body? Did your heart pound? Did your stomach feel sick? Did particular muscles tense up?

Often, anxiety and anger can overlap in how they’re physically experienced, so building in this understanding helps you know what you’re really dealing with in the moment, which may help you tailor your relaxation plan.

Calming Down From Anxiety-Driven Anger

The best way to keep yourself from having an outburst is to calm down enough to think clearly. Everyone is going to have a favorite relaxation strategy, so the more you can practice and add to your toolkit, the better. Find breathing exercises you enjoy that help you slow down your breath and release the overwhelm. Notice where your body holds tension when you’re feeling anxious and/or angry, and help those muscles soften and relax with a progressive muscle relaxation or with some yoga stretches. Practice mindfulness skills like meditation regularly, so that your baseline is a little more calm throughout the day.

If we’re really overwhelmed by our anxiety-driven anger, there’s no way we can actually think clearly. We need to have calm brains and bodies. So after you have a fight/flight/freeze outburst, take the time to relax before you jump into problem-solving.

Problem-Solving Strategies For Anxiety-Driven Anger

Part one of problem-solving means figuring out what led to your outburst in the first place. What were you really upset about? What set you off? And, can you answer these questions without assigning blame to someone else? Situations and events may prompt our reactions, but we get to decide how we feel and how we react. We’re in charge of ourselves.

Part two, once you recognize what set you off, see if there’s anything you can do to fix the situation and move forward. Do you need to make amends? Do you need to suggest a compromise? What do you have to do, no matter what, and where is there room for some flexibility?

Part three, how do you keep this from happening next time? Again, we’re only really in charge of ourselves, so what can you take ownership of in this situation? What can you do to prevent this next time?

Anxiety Counseling In St. Louis:

Anxiety-driven anger can be so complex. That’s why it’s so important to learn about how to deal before, during, and after outbursts. With a robust coping skills toolkit and the problem-solving skills explored above, you’re already well on your way to managing your overwhelming emotions.

If you need more help, consider working with a counselor who can help you explore what’s underneath your outbursts.

And, consider checking out When Anxiety Makes You Angry, a self-help book for teens with anxiety-driven anger.

It’s filled with practical strategies for identifying, treating, and moving forward from your anxiety-driven anger.

There’s a way forward, and it takes work – but I know you can do it.

Kelsey Torgerson Dunn is the author of When Anxiety Makes You Angry: CBT Anger Management Skills for Teens With Anxiety-Driven Anger.

Compassionate Counseling St. Louis treats kids, teens, and college students with anxiety and anger management issues. You can book a free consultation on our website to learn more.

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