Teen Anxiety and Irritability: Are They Related?

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Irritability is common in adolescence, especially amongst adolescents suffering from anxiety disorders. Several studies have shown that levels of irritability amongst youth are higher when they also suffer from anxiety disorders. If you are concerned that your child’s irritability may be a sign of a greater underlying mental health disorder, speak with a mental health professional to determine the best course of treatment. 

Can Anxiety Cause Anger?

Feelings of anxiety can sometimes lead to defensive outbursts of frustration or rage. This occurs when an individual’s anxiety is triggered and occurs as a means of defending themselves against the trigger. Treatment can help adolescents develop coping skills to deal with the combination of irritability and anxiety that they may experience.

Fight or Flight Stress Response

Overstimulation or uncomfortable environments often lead to a stress response, known as a fight-or-flight response. When this occurs, the central nervous system experiences a sudden release of hormones, and the body attempts to normalize it through either a fight or a flight response. In some people who experience this level of anxiety, their fight-or-flight response is exhibited through angry outbursts or irritable defense.

 A fight-or-flight response can also create physical symptoms, which can be serious for individuals who do not seek treatment when it becomes a concern. Some individuals are put at greater risk of a heart attack, headaches and migraines, and chronic fatigue as a result of this response. Anxiety treatment can help adolescents address fight-or-flight moments before they become a more serious risk to their mental and physical health.

Anxious Attachment Anger

High levels of attachment anxiety often result in angry outbursts when attachment is tested. Attachment based therapy can help individuals who experience strong responses because of emotional connections. Some teens and adolescents experience anxious attachment anger due to early childhood trauma or unmet needs for emotional bonds in childhood. Irritability or passive-aggressive behavior are two symptoms experienced by individuals with reactive attachment disorder (RAD).   

Symptoms of Anger Related Anxiety

Some symptoms that align with feelings of anger or irritability can help indicate when anxiety may also be a contributor to your teen’s mental health struggles. These symptoms include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or other gastrointestinal problems
  • Rapid heart rate or shortness of breath

Adolescents can feel anger for plenty of reasons as their brain matures and they navigate new experiences regularly. These symptoms can help you and your child understand if anxiety could be an underlying issue.  

How to Treat Irritability and Anxiety

There are plenty of ways both teens and parents can combat symptoms of irritability and anxiety. Outpatient treatment programs are one way for teens to develop coping skills to handle their mental health throughout their daily lives. These programs are tailored to each individual’s unique mental health state and allow teens to seek treatment while still attending school. 

Here are some additional tips to help manage feelings irritability and anxiety:

  • Have patience: When your teen is feeling overwhelmed or irritable, have patience and give them the opportunity to try and calm themselves. During this time, be aware of what may have triggered the emotions to see if there is a way to reduce those triggers.
  • Practice relaxation skills: Part of reducing irritability is learning how to use relaxation to alleviate strong emotions. Breathwork therapy and yoga therapy are some methods that could help reduce irritability and anxiety.
  • Remove your teen from the triggers: In some cases, irritability may be triggered within a certain environment. If possible, help your teen remove themselves from that environment until the strong emotions are alleviated.
  • Exercise: Getting your heart rate up through exercise can activate anti-anxiety neurochemicals, including serotonin, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and endocannabinoids.
  • Seek professional help: If your teen is having trouble managing their irritability and anxiety, it may be best to seek professional health through a mental health treatment program geared towards coping with anxiety.  

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