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Anger May Aggravate Anxiety Disorder

Update Date: Dec 05, 2012 06:22 AM EST

A new study suggests that for a lot of people with anxiety disorders, anger is more than an emotion, and in fact something that worsens their symptoms.

Researcher Sonya Deschênes, a Concordia graduate student, compiled and analyzed several previous studies before concluding that anger and anxiety were linked, and that this link was poorly understood, Medical Xpress reported.

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

GAD is characterized by excessive and uncontrollable worry about everyday things. People who suffer from this disorder usually anticipate disaster, and worry excessively about things like health, money and relationships.

For this study, the researchers studied how specific components of anger contribute to GAD.

More than 380 participants were assessed and studied by the researchers for GAD symptoms and for their tendency to respond to anger-inducing scenarios. They did so by analyzing the response of the participants to sentences such as, "I strike out at whatever infuriates me" and "I boil inside, but I don't show it."

Of the participants, 131 seemed to exhibit GAD symptoms, higher levels of anger. Researchers could associate various dimensions of anger with the disorder. Also, it was found that hostility and internalized anger contributed to the severity of their symptoms, the report said.

Especially, internalized anger expression is a stronger predictor of GAD than other forms of anger, the study revealed. However, the researcher says that further studies need to be conducted before it is understood completely as to why anger and anxiety tend to co-occur.

A possible explanation for the findings given by the researchers 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' other argument is that anger could get in the way of the treatment for anxiety.

"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," she 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 study was recently published in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

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