When Anger And Anxiety Meet
December 5, 2012

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Sufferers Find That Anger Only Makes Their Anxiety Worse

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A Concordia University led study reveals that for millions of individuals around the globe suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), anger is more than just a powerful emotion. Anger is an agent that exacerbates their illness.

Sonya Deschenes investigated the correlation between GAD and anger after conducting a literature review for her PhD research. She noticed that while some of the studies showed that anger and anxiety were linked, this relationship is poorly understood.

"This was surprising to me because irritability, which is part of the anger family, is a diagnostic feature of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)," she explained in a  recent press statement.

Together with colleagues from both Concordia and Ryerson University, Deschenes looked into how specific components of anger contribute to GAD. The team looked at hostility, physical and verbal aggression, anger expression and anger control, assessing more than 380 participants for GAD symptoms. The researchers examined the participants' tendency to respond to anger-inducing scenarios, by testing responses to such statements as, "I strike out at whatever infuriates me" and "I boil inside, but I don't show it."

The researchers found that 131 participants exhibited GAD symptoms. In those subjects, higher levels of anger and its various dimensions were associated with worry and anxiety. Moreover, the hostility and internalized anger increased the severity of the GAD symptoms. Not only do anger and anxiety go hand in hand, the study suggests that that heightened levels of anger are uniquely related to GAD status. Internalized anger expression is a stronger predictor of GAD than other forms of anger, the team found.

More research is needed to understand the co-occurrence of anger and anxiety. Deschenes intends to focus her doctoral research in this direction.

"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," explains Deschenes.

Symptoms of anger could get in the way of the treatment for anxiety, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, Deschenes argues.

"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 says. "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."

The results of this study were recently published in the journal Cognitive Behavior Therapy.