Feeling Anxious And Angry? Here Are 3 Things You Can Do To Calm Down Right Now
Taken on their own, anxiety and anger are both uncomfortable, energizing emotions. Yet when we feel anxious and angry at the same time, chances are things are headed not only in an uncomfortable direction, but a potentially destructive one too – unless we do something to take control of our reaction.
Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.
The relationship between anxiety and anger is a close one. Not only can these emotions fuel and escalate each other, but they often are experienced alongside each other. I sometimes refer to anxiety as a “volume control” of anger and other painful emotions; the higher the volume of the painful emotion, the higher the anxiety.
When our anxiety and anger reach loud enough levels, we tend to react instead of respond. A “reaction” is largely emotional and protective in nature, whereas a “response” requires thought and is more intentional.
As anxiety and anger escalate, it becomes more difficult to think clearly and problem-solve because our body is readying for protective action rather than thoughtful analysis. What can be especially challenging about this is that it’s often a need to problem solve that causes us to experience anxiety and anger in the first place.
At its most extreme, this is the “fight” part of our threat response (otherwise referred to as our “fight-or-flight” response) and can lead to impulsive aggression that will only further complicates the situation.
On the other hand, higher cortical brain areas are engaged when we pause to think and choose our response instead of reacting impulsively. Being able to respond allows us to behave in ways that are more in line with our values and intentions.
When we are feeling anxious and angry it’s important that we recognize the potential problem we may be creating if we react instead of respond, and instead practice pausing, noticing, and taking control. Once we do this, we can calm our nervous system just enough so we can more effectively choose how to respond.
The next time you feel anxious and angry simultaneously, try these 3 things to calm down so you can shift your thoughts back to solving the challenge you face.
1. Pause and notice what is happening in your body
Do you have a racing heart? Are your palms sweaty? Do you feel a pit in your stomach? Are your shoulders tight? Does your face feel hot?
When you feel anxious and angry enough that your body is responding it can be miserable and nearly impossible to ignore. It’s our physiological threat response, and it’s doing what it’s supposed to do – making us uncomfortable enough to take notice, interrupt our inertia, and prod us to take protective action. The simple act of taking notice helps activate our brain’s thinking centers.
2. Use a calming strategy
Fortunately, it is possible to calm anxiety and anger even when our physiological threat response is activated. Two of the easiest strategies to implement in the moment we need to calm down quickly are drawing our attention to the here and now and breathing.
Grounding helps draw your attention to the concrete here and now rather than the distracting thoughts in your head that so often reference the past or the future. It’s about focusing on what’s right in front of you, like how the floor looks or the shadows the light creates, what sounds you hear, and what scents you smell or taste.
In bringing awareness to the most concrete things in front of and outside of ourselves, this technique powerfully interrupts the vicious cycle of thoughts that escalate and maintain our distress.
The other most effective things we can do when we need to calm our nervous systems and our physiological threat response is to calm our breath. Controlled breathing has been shown to activate the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system which can help turn off the threat response.
Because you took the time to notice what is happening in your body first, you will be able to tell when the calming strategy you have chosen to use is beginning to work.
3. Look for the anxiety
Unlike anger that is often a front-and-center emotion, anxiety can be trickier to see and understand. But looking for the anxiety when you are feeling anxious and angry can help you better understand your overall reaction, and ultimately point you in the direction of the problem asking to be solved.
Anger is often the result of pain fueled by the fear that if it continues we won’t be able to handle it. It’s this fear of not being able to handle what may come that is so often the anxiety piece.
When we can begin searching for the source of the anxiety, we activate our thinking skills which helps us know we are moving out of reactivity and into responsiveness.
Feeling anxious and angry at the same time can be overwhelming, extremely uncomfortable, and risk dangerous reactivity. But we don’t have to feel so out of control. Simply remembering we can take control can help ourselves is a key part of being able to do so.
When we take notice of our feelings and remember to calm ourselves by shifting our focus, we give ourselves the control we need to move away from reactivity, and respond. This is how we can channel anxiety and anger into healthy problem-solving that helps us feel stronger, and more confident.
Looking for more help managing anger and the anxiety that so often fuels it? Check out my book, Hack Your Anxiety, full of strategies to maintain balance and keep anxiety working for you.
Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash