Are You Angry or Anxious – or Both?

Generalized anxiety linked to anger and hostility

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Excessive anxiety interferes with an individual's daily life. So does excessive anger, whether the person acts out or bottles it up. Is it possible these conditions are related?

A recent study's results show that they could be. Those who had more symptoms for anxiety also had more anger.

In addition, the anger felt by those with higher anxiety appeared to make their anxiety symptoms worse.

"Ask a therapist about anger management."

The study, led by Sonya S. Deschênes, from the Department of Psychology at Concordia University in Canada, aimed to shed light on the relationship between anger and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Deschênes and her colleagues assessed 381 undergraduate students, aged 18 to 57, for symptoms of anxiety, excessive worrying, anger and aggression using multiple different standard psychological assessment tools.

The questions about anger dealt with various aspects of the emotion, including internalizing anger (bottling it up), expressing it outwardly and an individual's ability to control his or her anger.

In general, the researchers found that the female participants were more likely to show more symptoms of anxiety whereas the male participants were more likely to show their anger or have physical aggression. Also, the older participants were, the less likely they were to have hostility.

The majority of the study participants were female and were studying psychology. A total of 131 of the participants were grouped as the generalized anxiety group based on their higher scores on the anxiety assessment while the other 250 were consider non-GAD.

An analysis of the participants' assessments showed that those in the generalized anxiety disorder group had higher levels of anger, hostility, aggression and other aspects of the emotion.

The results also showed that bottling up anger and feeling hostility played a part in worsening the participants' symptoms of generalized anxiety.

"Overall, our results suggest that heightened levels of anger are uniquely related to generalized anxiety disorder status," the authors wrote.

The study was not designed to find out why there is a link between anger and anxiety, but the authors proposed a few possibilities.

One possibility is that both conditions arise out of the same thinking processes. Another possibility is that both conditions arise from a person's difficulty coping with uncertainty or unfairness.

"When a situation is ambiguous, such that the outcome could be good or bad, anxious individuals tend to assume the worst," Deschênes said in a release about the study.

"That often results in heightened anxiety. There is also evidence of that same thought process in individuals who are easily angered," she said. "Therefore, anger and generalized anxiety disorder may be two manifestations of the same biased thought process."

Regardless, the authors point out it's important to understand the link because anger can interfere with cognitive behavioral therapy, which can be used to treat anxiety.

The study was limited by the fact that "anger" does not have a consistent definition in psychology and that the study did not take into account whether the participants were depressed or not. The study was published in the journal Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. The research was funded by the Fonds de la Recherche en Santé du Québec. No conflicts of interest were noted.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 6, 2012
Last Updated:
December 10, 2012