Feeling Anxious And Angry? Here Are 3 Things You Can Do To Calm Down

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Feeling Anxious And Angry? Here Are 3 Things You Can Do To Calm Down
Self

Often times anxiety and anger are experienced together!

Taken on their own, anxiety and anger are both uncomfortable, energizing emotions. Yet when you 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.

That's why it's important that you do something to take control of your reaction.

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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.

Reacting versus responding.

When your anxiety and anger reach loud enough levels, you 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 your body is readying for protective action rather than thoughtful analysis.

The need to solve problems takes over. 

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 your threat response (otherwise referred to as your “fight-or-flight” response), and can lead to impulsive aggression that will further complicate the situation.

On the other hand, higher cortical brain areas are engaged when you pause to think and choose your response, instead of reacting impulsively. Being able to respond allows you to behave in ways that are more in-line with your values and intentions.

When you’re feeling anxious and angry, it’s important that you recognize the potential problem you may be creating if you react instead of respond, and instead practice pausing, noticing, and taking control.

Once you do this, you can calm your nervous system just enough so you can more effectively choose how to respond.

Here are 3 things you can do to calm yourself down the next time you're feeling anxious and angry.

1. Pause and notice what's 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 your physiological threat response, and it’s doing what it’s supposed to do — make you uncomfortable enough to take notice, interrupt your inertia, and prod you to take protective action.

The simple act of taking notice helps activate your brain’s thinking centers.

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2. Use a calming strategy.

Fortunately, it's possible to calm anxiety and anger even when your physiological threat response is activated. Two of the easiest strategies to implement at the moment you need to calm down quickly are drawing your attention to the here and now, and breathing.

Grounding helps draw your attention to the concrete present 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 yourself, this technique interrupts the vicious cycle of thoughts that escalates and maintains your distress.

The other effective thing you can do when you need to calm your nervous systems and your physiological threat response is calm your breathing.

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'll be able to tell when the calming strategy you've chosen to use is beginning to work.

3. Look for the anxiety.

Unlike anger, which is often a front-and-center emotion, anxiety can be trickier to see and understand.

But looking for the anxiety when you're 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, you 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 you begin searching for the source of the anxiety, you activate your thinking skills, which helps you know you're 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 you don’t have to feel so out of control. Simply remembering you can take control can help yourself is a key part of being able to do so.

When you take notice of your feelings and remember to calm yourself by shifting your focus, you give yourself the control you need to move away from reactivity and respond.

This is how you can channel anxiety and anger into healthy problem-solving that helps you feel stronger and more confident.

RELATED: 4 Powerful Strategies To Stop Anxiety In Its Tracks, Fast

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Dr. Alicia Clark is a psychologist specializing in anxiety and relationships. For more help managing anxiety, check out her book, Hack Your Anxiety, and register for a free mini e-course by signing up for book bonuses here.

This article was originally published at Alicia Clark Psy D. Reprinted with permission from the author.