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Ask Dr. Zoe – Help! My Anxiety Makes Me Angry

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‘Blessed at the Beach’ Asked:

I have been in counseling for postpartum depression and anxiety for about 9 months. I see myself making improvements in many areas, but I still struggle with anger when I am feeling especially anxious. I know that addressing the anxiety is the ultimate solution, but do you have any tips on at least preventing anger as a reaction? I hate it when I snap at my husband (who is wonderful) or my sweet kids.

Dr. Zoe Answered:

A big hand clap for getting treatment. And I’m glad to hear that you are improving!

My very first word of advice is to listen to This Grit and Grace Life podcast I recently recorded with Darlene and Julie. We talk all about feelings in that episode. (We embedded it below!)

Nothing is wrong with anger. It’s a healthy feeling that tells us something is wrong. Stop pushing it down. It won’t go away. It only drives it inward, which creates depression.

You say you want to prevent anger? Okay, maybe you do, but what you really need to prevent, is the unhealthy behavior of snapping at your husband and your kids. You’re barking up the wrong tree. Anger is not the problem. The behavior is.

Many people make the mistake of blaming anger for bad behavior. They are two separate things. We often accuse someone of having an anger problem. No, it’s not a problem with anger, it’s an impulse control and behavior management problem.

So, when it comes to anger, instead, let’s look at its function in the moment and what information your anger is telling you.

I can’t tell you exactly why you’re angry, but I can explore some possibilities, which might help you recognize what may be going on.

First, there is nothing more anxiety-producing than being a new mom, although it does get easier the 2nd or 5th time around. I remember how every single new baby tapped a deep seeded fear in me that I didn’t know could even exist. Your love is so fierce, you want to protect this new little life that you created, your gift from God, yet your brain makes up all the ways the world is a threat to your child. And of course, on top of that, your life turns upside down for a minute (or years).

It’s also easy to feel resentment towards your husband, whose life might have tipped, but certainly wasn’t upended like yours at least not that you can see. Add some whacko hormones into the mix and you’ve got the perfect recipe for anxiety and anger.

When you are feeling anxious, it’s usually about a lack of control. Anxiety doesn’t feel all that great, so you want to control your environment to get rid of your anxiety. Anything that disrupts your feeling of control, like your child or your spouse’s demands can be seen as a threat to your safety.

You respond to that threat with anger. Both anxiety and anger produce an adrenaline response in your body. Anger loves to hi-jack that adrenaline and use it! Anxiety makes you feel weak and out of control. Anger makes you feel powerful—so you choose anger, kicking anxiety to the curb momentarily.

Anger can actually become a coping mechanism for anxiety. It feels kind of good to feel powerful, but then you do stupid, hurtful things and the guilt rushes in and the anxiety is waiting there for its turn. A vicious cycle.

So, what should you do with all of this?

When you start to feel angry—tape your mouth shut—figuratively, of course. If you say nothing, you will not regret what you said. Take a minute to step away and ask yourself, what is my anger telling me? Try not to judge it. Just feel it. Then address what’s wrong:

1. Ask yourself if you feel empty—when you’re empty you need to recharge. If you find that you seem to feel most empty at certain times of the day or during certain activities, prepare for that. Put some self-care activities in place to combat those feelings. Enlist your hubby to help.

“If you are empty and have nothing left to give- yet still keep giving- what you are giving is not a gift” (Rachel Norman of www.amotherfarfromhome.com)

Anxiety makes you feel weak and out of control. Anger makes you feel powerful—so you choose anger, kicking anxiety to the curb momentarily.

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2. Adjust your expectations. Sometimes we have expectations that the people who love us just can’t live up to. When you are able to see and accept the people in your life for who they are and not what you wish they would be, your disappointment begins to dissolve.

When your expectations line up with reality, anxiety and anger don’t have a breeding ground and they lesson as well.

I get that all of this is easier said than done. All of these practices take time and effort (but not that much). The key is consistency with small changes. But I get that when you’re already exhausted the last thing you want to do is add more effort. So that means you have to take some time for yourself to recharge in order to have the energy to change. You may be surprised how quickly you recharge when you take the time daily to do it.

If you’re still struggling, reach out. You’ve got this. It just takes a little grit and grace!


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You’ll love this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: How to Feel Your Emotions in a Healthy Way With Dr. Zoe Shaw – 075

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Dr. Zoe is a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert who recently jumped out of a perfectly good plane just for the experience.

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