Managing anxiety & anger

Learning how to manage anxiety and anger spirals is an important longer-term strategy for resisting depression. Challenging unrealistic attitudes to control and using simple practical strategies can help turn these spirals around.

Anger and anxiety

Certain levels of ‘anxiety’ are necessary in order for us to function in the world. If you had no anxiety about your exams you probably wouldn’t bother with any revision at all! Anger is also important for helping us defend ourselves from attack, for example. The key is to learn how to manage your stress levels better, so that anxiety and anger are channelled constructively.

Control – the holy grail

Anxiety and anger spirals arise mainly from the kinds of depressed thinking which focus on imposing unrealistic control over life: rule-bound thinking, control freakery, catastrophising, hyper-vigilance and avoidance (see ‘Anxiety and anger’). Identifying these unhelpful thinking habits and learning a more realistic approach to control is an important foundation for addressing anxiety and anger in the longer-term.

Anxious and angry spirals work in the same way as the depression habit spiral, with anxious and angry thinking habits having an effect on your behaviour, brain chemicals and mood.
Use the strategies for challenging depressed thinking to identify whether your attempts to impose control in your life have led to any of the habits relevant to anxiety and/or anger:

  • Make a list of the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ you impose on yourself and the world.
  • Practise changing these from demands you make of yourself and the world to ‘preferences’ which may or may not be fulfilled.
  • “I have to pass this exam or my life will be ruined” becomes “I would really like to pass this exam, but if I don’t I will have to explore other options like re-sits, or re-doing the year. That won’t be great, so I’ll do what I can now to try to pass.”
  • Think about practical ways you can help yourself manage the disappointments when your preferences are not met.

Practise breathing and relaxation

Deep breathing and relaxation techniques intervene directly into the anxiety/anger spiral by countering the hyperventilation which causes light-headedness, slowing down the heart beat and giving your brain more relaxed rather than anxious/angry messages.

Learn more about deep breathing and make a daily habit of practising the techniques on the ‘Practising relaxation’ page. This helps you to manage stress on a daily basis as well as honing your skills for use when you are feeling particularly stressed.

Address your fears

One of the most important ways to address anxiety is to tackle the avoidance behaviour which contributes so much to it spiralling out of control. By doing this in small manageable steps you give yourself the opportunity to build up your ‘anxiety immunity’:

  • Make a list of your fears and grade them in order of difficulty.
  • Starting with one of the more manageable ones, challenge yourself to have a go at dealing with it constructively instead of avoiding it.
  • Ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen and plan for how you would deal with it in practical ways if it did happen.
  • Notice which depressed thinking habits are getting in your way.
  • Make sure you are properly supported. Either ask a friend or get professional support, especially as you proceed to more difficult things on your list.
  • Read ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ (see ‘Books’ page)

Learn anger management skills

Anger problems can be addressed in a similar way by making a list of the things that make you angry and grading them in order of importance. Then, starting with one of the less important ones, think about what you can control in the situation.

Usually at the very least you can choose your own attitude or response to the situation. Consider how you might let go of the need to control the aspects that you can’t control. Notice whether depressed thinking habits are getting in your way. Think about practical ways to communicate the anger effectively or else channel the adrenaline in other ways, like through exercise.

Channel strong feelings positively

Build more exercise into your life so as to use up some of the adrenalin you produce through hyper-vigilance or high anger levels. Learn about assertive communication and put it into practice in your life in general, not just when you are angry or anxious. Use the energy to go and make a difference in the world! Volunteer to help others less fortunate, get together with other students to campaign against depression-inducing practices (or anything else that bugs you)… Try out things that might give a sense of meaning to your life. See the ‘Living well’ section for more on this.

 Next: Learning self compassion

Take Action

Anxiety & anger strategies


Understand anxiety & anger
Practising relaxation
Living well