The connection between anger and anxiety and recognising the right emotion
The other day I noticed that I was feeling anxious about an upcoming project. I knew I needed to prepare for it, but every time I thought about it, I felt a knot in my stomach and tension in my jaw and hands. I recognized the familiar feelings of anxiety and resistance, and figured I was just nervous about launching the project in a few days. But as I sat with these feelings more, it occurred to me that it wasn’t just nerves, I was angry! Angry about the pressure and responsibility I was taking on (more than I was ok with or had agreed to), angry with my colleague who was heading the project, angry with all the changes that have happened over the last few months leading up to this project (many of which I was not consulted on), and angry with myself for not taking better care to speak up and to set boundaries. As I sat noticing all the things I was angry about, a huge wave of relief moved through me. I went from fighting the anger and stuffing it down, to actually acknowledging how I was feeling and what was really going on. It was powerful. And it opened up a new, more honest way of relating to this project. Now I can separate out my anger (and deal with that) from how I show up for this project. The feelings of anxiety and resistance, feelings of being trapped and wanting to break free, are familiar ones. When we are feeling this way, it is often the result of anger that has been suppressed, words that haven’t been spoken, or actions that haven’t been taken. It requires a great deal of energy to lock these feelings inside, and creates real tension in our mind and body. It can lead to feeling stuck, frustrated, or hopeless. And it can be easy to blame ourselves for some perceived shortcoming or anxiety “issue”.
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What You'll Do
- If instead, we can take some time to listen to ourselves and feel what is really going on, to ask ourselves what we may be angry about, then we can release the struggle and anxiety and focus on what actually needs our attention. In my case, this includes speaking with my colleague and getting clear on what I will and won’t take on in the future.
- Anger can be a tricky emotion, especially for women. We are taught to be pleasing, to not make a fuss, to not be aggressive, and so on. So, often when we are angry, we swallow it or turn it in on ourselves and then try harder to be useful and accommodating. Even writing down the list above of what I felt angry about brought out feelings of guilt and shame, and fear of being judged. This is my social conditioning telling me I’m not allowed to be angry or that it is unbecoming. And yet, the truth is that I am angry and denying this was causing me to suffer.
- I share my story as an example of a phenomenon that so many of us experience. I encourage you to explore your own relationship with anger and anxiety. When you are feeling tense, anxious, or resistant, don’t just take that at face value. Stop and ask the deeper questions. Feel what else is there. And give yourself permission to feel the feelings that you may have told yourself you aren’t supposed to have. And then enjoy the freedom this brings.
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