Angry anxiety is totally “a thing.”
It’s funny, but no one ever talks about it this way. In fact, it took me about three years to realize that my constant nit-picking and the constant feeling of general pissed-offedness was more than just being a really angry person. There’s a type of anger that’s just a manifestation of anxiety.
What Does Anxiety Feel Like?
It seems totally weird. Normally, people see anxiety, and they think fear or introversion. The typical presentation of anxiety comes with thought bunnies and stomach butterflies. When people think about anxiety, they think that it manifests the way GeekMom Dakster’s anxiety does.
People see the term anxiety and imagine paralyzing fear. They imagine stomach aches. They imagine constant, unending racing thoughts. They think about how heart rate increases as their brains become wholly focused on that one thing that’s leading to their panic attack.
This can happen. Sometimes, the brain hamsters start up. They run on that brain wheel in a never ending race going nowhere. I know that it’s Syssiphean, but I can’t stop them. They run and run and run. There’s just nothing to stop them. It’s kind of like the old Journey song, “The wheel in the sky keeps on turnin’. Don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow.”
This is when I know my anxiety is there because this is what we’ve been taught anxiety looks like.
What Does Anger Anxiety Feel Like?
Anger anxiety feels like PMS ramped up on steroids.
More often than not, my anxiety feels like an angry monster inside me. I’m angry. I’m angry at the world for being unfair. I’m angry at my life situation. I’m angry that I’m 39, with advanced degrees, and no one seems to see my value other than me.
It’s yelling irrationally at my kid when they lose something. It’s walking away from everyone in my life because if I talk to them, I’m going to snap.
It’s yelling at my husband for not starting the washing machine or not carrying the laundry upstairs.
It’s the irrational angry cousin to the fear most often associated with anxiety.
How Angry Anxiety Turns Me Hulk
In reality, my anger is a gigantic monster in the bottom of my stomach sitting there. It’s the squatter taking up my energy but not paying rent. I can feel it physically. There’s this rock in my stomach. It’s not some kind of “oooh! nervous! tickling!” butterfly. It’s this big round ball of leaden nausea. You can’t throw up because that lead is at the bottom of your stomach. But you feel it. Weighing you down.
Making you angrier just because it won’t go away.
The recent Hulk run has done a wonderful job portraying Jennifer Walters’ recovery from the Civil War II monstrosity as someone with PTSD. It should. I mean, dude, she was in a coma and her cousin who turned her Hulk died. She looks different, acts different, is different.
The same can be said for anger anxiety.
Angry anxiety turns me into someone who just really wants to destroy things. This can be pixels in a video game or, well, relationships. I don’t want to “talk it out.” I don’t want share my feelings. I don’t want to “have a good cry.” Just like Jen, I probably could use one. However, the crying doesn’t make the anxiety feel better.
The anger. That boiling feeling under my skin. That’s what motivates me.
Why Does Your Body Respond with Anger?
Research indicates that anger and anxiety comes from similar “fight or flight” responses.
This totally makes sense when you think about it. For some people, anxiety prompts them to run because of the flight response. When something triggers an anxiety disorder, those people have panic attacks where they can’t move, feel paralyzed, and try to remove themselves from the situation.
Think of someone with social anxiety who never goes out. This person is the one whose flight response outweighs their fight response.
In other cases, however, the same chemicals that cause the flight response can lead to a fight response.
What distinguishes between the two? Research indicates that people’s perceived sense of mastery over the situation. If a person feels that they are unable to gain control over the situation, they will flee. If they think they can master whatever is causing the anxiety, they will fight, which manifests as anger.
What Do We Know About Angry Anxiety?
As of 2012, not much research had apparently been done in relation to anger and anxiety. One of the best parts about teaching at a college is access to the library. This means I get to read up all the real research instead of just, well, Wikipedia types of articles.
One study showed that trait anger, internalized anger expression, and hostility were positively correlated to generalized anxiety disorder. Trait anger basically means being someone who’s chronically pissed off and explodes pretty easily. Internalized anger expression means bottling up your pissed-offedness. Hostility is the cognitive dimension of anger.1
What we know is that these three things are correlated to generalized anxiety disorder.
Thinking about the recent Hulk run, she’s a perfect example.
Jennifer doesn’t want to talk to anyone. She’s pissed off constantly. She’s angry that she’s different. She’s angry that Bruce is dead. She’s angry at the world in so many ways.
Even when Hellcat shows up to talk to her, Jennifer just waves her friend off. Her inner monologues, however, continually remind us that she is angry at everything all the time.
Why shouldn’t she be? After all, her entire identity changed.
Why Do I Hulk Out?
The more research I did, the more I recognized myself as the perfect profile for angry anxiety.
More recent research notes that “intolerance for uncertainty” is strongly linked to anxiety manifesting as anger. People who believe that uncertainty has negative personal effects are more likely to internalize their anger and bottle up their emotions. People who believe that uncertainty spoils everything are more likely to externalize their anger.2
Perfectionists seem to be more likely to exhibit anxiety as anger because needing to be perfect, to live up to expectations, to be the best makes them internalize their anger. The uncertainty around work or around health or around things only related to ourselves lead us to bottle up our emotions.
If we’re looking at a larger societal uncertainty, then those fears may be more outward. If we look around at our world today, the number of uncertainties continues to multiply. For people who view uncertainty as something that spoils everything, the current world situation – economic or political or social – can lead to these externalized expressions of angry anxiety.
For Jen, both are involved. She Hulks out privately because she’s living an uncertain life. She looks around, and everything is different about her. She wants to be her old self but can’t be. Her private Hulking outs are her internalized anger manifesting.
Simultaneously, the entire first half of the series has her looking to try to save people who are underprivileged. When she Hulks out for the first time, it is to protect them from a monster.
Angry anxiety is this monster inside me that I try to control. Sometimes, I’m good at it. Sometimes I’m not. What I’ve been loving more than anything else about the recent Hulk run is identifying with Jen’s anger. She’s angry all the time. She’s angry that her world changed. She’s angry that she’s not herself. She’s angry that other people are doing bad stuff.
However, she’s channeling that anger. She taps into it to be more productive. She taps into the monster within to save people. She uses that anger as a call to action.
So, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to use my angry anxiety to spur me to action. I’m going to be the Hulk.
1Deschênes, Sonya S., et al. “The Role of Anger in Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, vol. 41, no. 3, Sept. 2012, pp. 261-271. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/16506073.2012.666564.
2Fracalanza, Katie, et al. “Intolerance of Uncertainty Mediates the Relation between Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms and Anger.” Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, vol. 43, no. 2, June 2014, pp. 122-132. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/16506073.2014.888754.