The Connection Between Depression and Anger

 Anger is a basic human emotion, so you’re bound to experience it at some point in life.

People often consider anger a “negative” emotion, but that’s not necessarily the case. Anger usually happens for a reason, after all. When you can harness it and manage it productively, it can even provide some insight into the problem that provoked it.

But what about anger that rushes up suddenly without a clear cause, or lingers long after the event that triggered it.

Maybe you:

  • frequently lash out or snap at loved ones
  • have a hard time holding on to your temper, even in response to small setbacks
  • always have a sharp or critical comeback ready

While you may not realize it, this persistent anger could actually be a sign of depression. Some people living with depression notice increased feelings of anger and irritability, directed both toward themselves and others.

Read on to learn more about the connection between anger and depression and get some guidance on reaching out for support.

Depression is a mental health condition that generally involves feelings of deep sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness.

With clinical depression, you’ll notice these mood symptoms on most days, for 2 weeks or longer.

Symptoms of depression don’t follow the same pattern for everyone, but common signs include:

  • feelings of emptiness or emotional numbness
  • less interest in your regular activities, like work, school, or time with family and friends
  • difficulty enjoying things that used to excite you or bring pleasure
  • unusual anger and irritability
  • brain fog, which might include difficulty concentrating, remembering things, or handling everyday tasks
  • changes in energy, which could involve unusual restlessness, a sense of being slowed down, or fatigue
  • sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
  • changes in your appetite and weight
  • physical symptoms, like headaches, body aches and pains, or digestive concerns, that lack a clear cause
  • thoughts of self-harm or suicide

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Anger generally happens when you face some type of injustice or feel slighted, threatened, or otherwise mistreated.

You might, for example, feel angry when:

  • you’re facing a difficult life challenge, especially one you can’t do anything about
  • someone hurts you or someone you care about
  • you feel unappreciated or misunderstood by others

Feelings of anger can lead to:

  • a rapid heartbeat
  • sudden tightness in your chest
  • weakness, trembling, or shaking
  • muscle tension, especially in your face and jaw
  • increased sweating
  • flushing and warmth throughout your body
  • an urge to shove, punch, throw, or destroy objects
  • an urge to hit, push, or hurt yourself or someone else
  • an urge to shout, especially at the person or thing that triggered your anger
  • feelings of resentment, humiliation, or guilt
  • restlessness and tension, or the sense that you can’t settle down

Anger often resolves once you’ve solved the problem, addressed the threat, or taken some time to sit with and sort through your feelings.

But a constant simmer of anger that lacks a clear cause can suggest a more complex underlying cause, such as depression.

You might try to suppress or ignore this anger, hoping it will eventually fade. But anger that stems from depression may not dissipate so easily — it’s more likely to resist your efforts to tamp it down. Eventually, this persistent anger can bubble up into outbursts.

The most recent edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)” doesn’t list anger among the nine main symptoms of depression.

That said, the manual does emphasize that many people living with major depressive disorder (MDD) notice lingering feelings of anger, irritability, and frustration.

Anger can manifest with depression in a number of ways.

Irritability

With an irritable mood, you might:

  • get impatient with others, or yourself, easily
  • feel touchy or annoyed, even over small problems
  • vent your frustrations through your behavior, by slamming doors or tossing objects aside, for example
  • find yourself making sharp, critical, or harsh remarks that lead to conflict
  • have the urge to pace, fidget, or remain in constant motion

Irritability might also show up as a pessimistic or defeated outlook.

After a mistake or setback, feelings of frustration and anger might combine with a general sense of hopelessness. Instead of exploring what you can do to salvage the situation, you might lose your temper. “What’s the point? I can’t do anything right,” or “Nothing’s going to work out how I planned.”

Hostility

In basic terms, hostility involves bitter, unkind, suspicious, or spiteful feelings. You might direct these feelings toward specific people, the world in general, or even yourself.

Some examples of hostility include:

  • cruel or sarcastic comments
  • a habit of blaming others when things go wrong
  • a tendency to respond to threats or perceived threats with enraged or aggressive outbursts
  • mean or unfriendly behavior
  • a habit of doubting others and their intentions

You can experience these intense feelings of anger and dislike without ever sharing them with others — they might remain exclusively in your thoughts.

Hostile feelings can also lead to guilt, another emotion common with depression.

Anger attacks

Some experts consider anger attacks a unique presentation of anger with depression.

According to research from 2011Trusted Source and 2019Trusted Source, anger attacks aren’t just common with depression. They can also affect your behavior toward others and quality of life.

These attacks involve sudden, intense anger that:

  • isn’t typical for you
  • is out of proportion or inappropriate for the circumstances
  • prompts feelings of guilt and regret once it fades

You’ll generally also experience some of the signs below:

  • flushing
  • increased sweating
  • tightness, pressure, or pounding in your chest
  • “pins and needles,” or numbness and tingling in your limbs and extremities
  • difficulty taking a deep breath
  • shaking, dizziness, or lightheadness
  • feelings of anxiety and fear
  • a sense of losing control
  • an urge to verbally or physically lash out at other people or objects
  • destruction of property or objects

Anger attacks can also happen with other mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders and bipolar disorder.

Experts don’t know for certain why some people experience anger with depression and others don’t. They do recognize, though, that anger happens more commonly for some people than others.

Factors that could raise your risk of experiencing anger with depression include:

Gender

While people of any gender might experience anger as a symptom of depression, evidenceTrusted Source consistently suggests that men tend to experience anger with depression more often.

Anger might characterize depression for men so often in part because of long-standing social norms around emotional expression and vulnerability.

Gender norms suggest men should present a tough, stoic exterior and avoid showing sadness, weakness, or helplessness. Instead of sharing these feelings, men living with depression might:

  • push them aside
  • try to manage them with alcohol and other substances
  • vent them through angry words or aggressive behavior

A lifelong habit of suppressing emotions can make it harder to name and work through those feelings. As a result, men might also have a harder time recognizing depression symptoms, or linking their anger to depression.

Age

Children and teenagers with depression may seem more cranky and irritable than sad.

Some degree of moodiness is pretty typical for both younger children and teenagers. Persistent grouchiness, angry outbursts, or a short temper, on the other hand, might suggest depression, especially if your child or teen also:

  • seems less interested in their regular activities
  • avoids spending time with family and friends
  • sleeps more or less than usual
  • often has aches and pains or stomach complaints

An older 2011 studyTrusted Source exploring depression and anger in older adults also linked severe depression symptoms to a greater chance of experiencing (and expressing) strong feelings or anger, irritability, and hostility.

Co-occurring conditions

You may have a higher chance of experiencing anger with depression if you have both depression and another mental health condition, including:

A history of trauma, neglect, or abuse

Abuseneglect, or rejection in childhood can increase your chances of developing depression and contribute to feelings of unresolved anger.

If you couldn’t react or express anger in childhood, you might continue to suppress it later in life, even when it happens as a natural response to humiliation or unjust circumstances. Suppressed anger, again, tends to leak out — usually as persistent irritability or verbal and physical outbursts.

Plus, internalized feelings of helplessness and worthlessness, which can stem from childhood abuse or any traumatic experience, can lead you to redirect anger toward yourself. These feelings can fuel shame, harsh self-criticism, and self-punishment — all of which often happen with depression.

Learn more about other potential causes of anger.

If you experience persistent anger along with other symptoms of depression, a good next step involves reaching out to a therapist.

Depression often won’t improve without support from a trained mental health professional. Therapy can have a lot of benefit for anger, too — though it’s certainly possible to learn to control anger on your own.

It’s always a good idea to get support for any mental health symptoms that:

  • get in the way of handling daily tasks and responsibilities
  • affect personal and professional relationships
  • lead to a decline in quality of life
  • affect sleep or physical health

Therapy offers a safe space to:

Your therapist will begin treatment by asking you questions about things, like:

  • physical and emotional symptoms, including when they began and how often you notice them
  • your daily life, including any recent changes you’ve experienced
  • your relationships with others
  • changes in your behavior
  • thoughts of hurting yourself or others

Answering these questions openly and honestly can help them get a clearer picture of what you’re dealing with, which makes it easier for them to provide the most effective treatment.

Your therapist should always offer compassion, respect, and judgment-free support. Remember, a therapist’s role is to help, not pass judgment on your feelings or behavior.

The best approach to treatment for you can depend on your symptoms and how they affect your life.

Your therapist might recommend:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Through CBT, you’ll challenge and reframe angry reactions and unwanted thought patterns that stem from depression.
  • Psychodynamic therapy. This type of therapy can help you explore the sources of anger and depression.
  • Interpersonal therapy. With interpersonal therapy, you’ll learn strategies for addressing and communicating anger and other difficult feelings affecting your relationships.
  • Antidepressant medication. These medications could help ease feelings of anger and hostility, along with symptoms of depression.
  • Complementary approaches. Meditationbreathing exercises, and relaxation techniques can all help you navigate overwhelming emotions.

Therapy and medication aren’t the only approaches that can help you cope with feelings of anger and depression.

Other helpful strategies to try:

  • Talk it out. Sharing your feelings with trusted friends or family members can help you better understand what you’re feeling, not to mention get some validation and emotional support. You can also try a depression support group to connect with people experiencing similar concerns.
  • Add exercise into your daily routine. Finding the motivation to exercise when experiencing depression can be tough, but exercise can help relieve depressionimprove your sleeping patterns, and even help calm feelings of anger and tension.
  • Aim to get the right amount of sleep. Sleep needs can vary, but 7 to 9 hours of sleep is a good general goal. Feeling well-rested can help improve your mood and motivation, along with your ability to manage tension and stress.
  • Spend time doing things you enjoy. Building time for hobbies and other enjoyable activities into your daily routine can give you something positive to anticipate and go a long way toward helping improve your mood.

Get tips on building a personal self-care checklist.

Have ever-present grouchiness, bitterness, and resentment, and a temper that always seems one thread short of snapping?

You could be experiencing depression — yes, even if you feel more annoyed and irritable than sad. But no matter what’s causing your anger, you don’t have to handle it alone, or resign yourself to “seeing red.”

A therapist can offer more insight on possible causes. They can also help you take steps toward identifying other depression symptoms and finding the most helpful treatment.

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