Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on December 5, 2012
Researchers from Concordia University discovered anger can exacerbate symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a condition that affects millions of individuals.
Sonya Deschênes investigated the subject after conducting a literature review for her Ph.D. research. In her review of published studies she realized that anger and anxiety were linked, yet poorly understood.
“This was surprising to me because irritability, which is part of the anger family, is a diagnostic feature of Generalized Anxiety Disorder,” she explains.
GAD is a serious affliction characterized by excessive and uncontrollable worry about everyday things.
It often interferes with a person’s ability to function normally. Individuals suffering from GAD typically anticipate disaster, and are overly concerned about everyday issues, such as health, money, and relationships.
Deschênes and her colleagues reviewed how specific components of anger — hostility, physical and verbal aggression, anger expression and anger control — contribute to GAD.
To do this, the team assessed more than 380 participants for GAD symptoms and their tendency to respond to anger-inducing scenarios.
Researcher’s assessed individual response to statements as, “I strike out at whatever infuriates me” and “I boil inside, but I don’t show it.”
The study, which was recently published in the journal Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, found that in the 131 participants who exhibited GAD symptoms, higher levels of anger and its various dimensions were associated with worry and anxiety.
Furthermore, hostility and internalized anger contributed to the severity of their GAD symptoms.
Experts believe this suggests that anger and anxiety go hand in hand, and that heightened levels of anger are uniquely related to GAD status.
Even more, internalized anger expression — boiling inside without showing it — is a stronger predictor of GAD than other forms of anger.
Deschênes acknowledges that more research is needed to understand why anger and anxiety tend to co-occur.
Researchers believe a possible explanation for the associated between anger and anxiety link is that, “when a situation is ambiguous, such that the outcome could be good or bad, anxious individuals tend to assume the worst.
“That often results in heightened anxiety. There is also evidence of that same thought process in individuals who are easily angered. Therefore, anger and GAD may be two manifestations of the same biased thought process.”
Deschênes also argues that symptoms of anger could get in the way of the treatment for anxiety, which often employs cognitive-behavioral therapy.
“If anger and hostility are contributing to the maintenance of symptoms, and these are not targeted during treatment, these people may not be benefiting as much from that treatment,” Deschênes said.
“It’s my hope that, by furthering our understanding of the role of anger in GAD, we can improve treatment outcomes for individuals with this disorder.”