The Connection Between Depression and Anger

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Anger can be a common emotion among people experiencing depression. You may feel angry at the world, angry about events from your past, or even angry at yourself. This anger can be intense and difficult to control, to the point that it worsens your depression and affects your personal and professional relationships.

What Is Depression?

Depression is more than just passing sadness. It is a diagnosable mental health disorder that involves feelings of low mood combined with other symptoms such as trouble concentrating or trouble sleeping. A diagnosis of major depressive disorder is made by a mental health professional according to the criteria laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

What Is Anger?

Anger is not a diagnosable mental health condition. Rather, it is an unpleasant emotion that may be experienced by those with various mental health disorders as well as the non-clinical population. While it is natural to feel angry from time to time, feeling uncontrollable or maladaptive anger, particularly when you also have depression, can be a sign of a deeper underlying problem.

Anger and Depression

Anger is a common emotion that can be destructive when it isn't responded to in an adaptive manner. In the case of depression, anger can take several different forms. Below are some examples of the types of anger you might experience while depressed.

Irritability

Irritability is a feature of depression itself, so it's not surprising that this form of anger is connected to depression. If you have depression, it may show up as snapping at others over trivial things or being unable to handle small disappointments without reacting in a negative way.

Hostility

Going a step beyond irritability, a person with depression who expresses their anger outward may become hostile toward others. This means responding not only with an irritable mood, but also being outwardly angry and attacking those around you.

Anger Attacks

Rapid and intense onset of anger (also sometimes called an "anger attack") can also be a feature of depression. These rapid onset attacks may come in response to trivial matters (e.g., seem to appear out of the blue).

Causes of Anger in Depression

What are the causes of anger related to depression? There is some evidence to suggest that serotonergic dysfunction may be partly to blame. In other words, the balance of neurochemicals in your brain may be off-kilter, leading to irritability, depression, and anger. For this reason, medications used to treat depression may also help to relieve your symptoms of anger.

Anger Turned Inward

Anger turned inward may be common in those who are depressed. This act of turning anger inward may also worsen the severity of depression, according to a 2013 study conducted in the UK .

Inwardly turned anger in depression may reflect an overly critical negative inner voice that makes it hard for you to move past feelings of shame. It may also lead to feelings of low self-worth.

When you listen to your inner critic, you may feel even more depressed and find it hard to do things that will help to alleviate your depression (e.g., doing things that you once enjoyed; spending time with other people or going out and being social).

Instead, staying angry at yourself only prolongs your feelings of depression, makes you feel more sorry for yourself, and focuses your thoughts on the negative. This leads you to feel more powerless and negative over time.

In this way, anger turned inward at yourself serves to prolong depression and worsen the severity of your symptoms.

Anger Turned Outward

Not only do those who are depressed turn their anger inward, but they may also turn it outward and lash out at those around them.

When you are depressed, you are more likely to feel irritable, which can lead to snapping at other people over trivial events. Your depression may amplify your negative emotions in the moment, making it hard to control them, even though you likely feel badly about it after the fact.

You may find that this is a vicious cycle that you have trouble escaping from. Eventually, it may lead to problems in your personal and professional life. For example, if you are unable to deal with stress in the workplace, you might lash out in anger at coworkers, managers, or even customers.

And, if you struggle to control your anger around friends and family, you may find that this leads to strained relationships and the loss of people in your life.

Treatment for Angry Depression

Treatment for depression that is combined with anger is similar to treatments that exist for depression alone. In short, medication and therapy are both empirically validated treatments for depression that may also, at the same time, help to alleviate feelings of anger, hostility, and irritability.

Therapy

One specific type of therapy that may be helpful for angry depression is Emotionally Focused Therapy developed by psychologist Les Greenberg. In this type of therapy, anger is viewed as being of two types: adaptive vs. non-adaptive.

Adaptive anger helps to motivate you toward taking assertive action. Imagine a situation in which you have gained weight due to unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise. Adaptive anger would involve being angry at yourself for letting the situation get out of hand, but also feeling inspired and motivated to make a plan to eat healthy food and join a gym. In this way, adaptive anger is controlled and directed.

On the other hand, maladaptive anger does nothing to motivate you to take action. In the above example of having gained weight, instead of feeling motivated to eat healthy and join a gym, your anger would lead to a downward spiral of self-pity and feeling stuck.

One way to manage anger related to depression is to develop a sense of compassion for yourself. It's better to be kind to yourself than to direct your anger inwards. Since this can be hard to do, it might be helpful to think about yourself in terms of how you would treat a friend.

What would you say to a friend struggling with the same issue? When you have a kinder view toward yourself, you will be less likely to direct your anger inward. For this reason, self-compassion may be particularly helpful if you mostly engage in inwardly directed anger.

You might feel as though you are a victim of poor circumstances (e.g., not being able to afford healthy food, not having time to go to the gym). You might become withdrawn and sulk instead of reaching out for help from others.

You likely also engage in self-criticism rather than self-compassion. You might be critical of yourself for having gained weight. You might view yourself as helpless to change the situation. In essence, maladaptive anger involves giving away your power so that you feel helpless.

This type of unhelpful anger is thought to be rooted in a critical inner voice that sometimes arises due to traumatic experiences.

While adaptive anger helps you to move toward taking action and relief from your problem, maladaptive anger causes you to remain in a state of suffering and pain. Maladaptive anger is also more likely to lead to or worsen anxiety and depression.

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Moving From Maladaptive Anger to Adaptive Emotions

Emotionally focused therapy involves transforming your maladaptive emotions by addressing their root cause. One way to do this is by verbalizing your critical inner voice. For example, in the case of gaining weight, the critical inner voice might sound something like this.

"Look at how much weight you've gained. You have no self-control and you'll never be able to lose it now. You might as well accept that it's hopeless and you'll be overweight forever. Nothing you try ever works and you just don't have any willpower."

Thus, the idea is to put the critical inner voice into words as though they are being spoken by someone outside of your head. This involves expressing feelings behind thoughts and making sure to use "you" statements so it sounds as though the critical inner voice is coming from someone else. This allows you to separate yourself from those thoughts and see them as coming from outside of yourself.

Once you are able to step outside of your thoughts and view them as an external critical voice, the next step is to develop insights into where that critical voice might have developed. This is the process of transforming the maladaptive emotion.

The next step involves responding to the critical inner voice and answering back against the criticisms. In this way, you are essentially "taking your own side."

For example, in the case of the critical inner voice that talks about your weight gain, you might respond to that voice in the following ways.

"I know that I've gained weight, but it's not the end of the world. I do have self-control, but I've been through a really hard time in the past year. It's not impossible for me to lose weight, I just need to put some healthy habits into place.

I don't need to accept this situation and it's certainly not hopeless. I've tried some things that haven't worked, but that doesn't mean I am out of ideas. Willpower is less important than me being clear on my goals. I know that I can do it if I try."

Emotionally focused therapy has been shown to help relieve depression, improve self-esteem, and reduce distress in interpersonal relationships. For this reason, this type of therapy may also help you to relieve anger related to depression, particularly since anger is a maladaptive emotion.

Medication

Medication is a treatment option for depression that could be helpful in also reducing feelings of anger or irritability. While medication is not a direct treatment for anger, alleviating symptoms of depression may have an indirect effect on feelings of anger.

Anger Management Techniques

Anger management techniques may also be helpful on their own for the management of anger that is related to depression. You could attend anger management classes, read an anger management self-help book, find an anger management support group,

Coping With Angry Depression

How can you cope with angry depression on your own? There are a number of things you can do to manage anger related to depression. Below are some ideas to get you started.

Develop Self Compassion

Manage Triggers

Are you aware of people, places, or situations that trigger your anger related to depression? If so, it may be helpful to expand on that awareness and prepare yourself for those stressful situations. While eventually, you will want to learn to manage your anger, learning to identify and manage triggers can be an effective way to cope in the meantime.

Stand Up to Your Inner Critic

As discussed in the section on emotionally focused therapy, being able to stand up to your inner critic will help to alleviate your depression and possibly also reduce your anger. This requires you to acknowledge your anger and emotions, rather than avoiding your feelings.

This is best done with the help of a therapist; however, you can also engage in this process by writing about your feelings in a journal, identifying your critical inner voice, writing responses to your critical inner voice

Accept Your Anger

It may also help you to cope if you are able to accept that anger is part of your depression, but that you have tools to help you feel better. Fighting against your anger, just like fighting against anxiety, will tend to only make it worse.

Express Your Anger

Along the same lines as accepting your anger, is learning to express your anger in healthy ways. This goes back to the idea of adaptive and maladaptive emotions. Anger that is expressed in a healthy way may help you to move out of a place of being stuck toward taking action. This in turn may help you to feel less depressed, which will create an upward cycle of positive emotions.

Expressing your anger in healthy ways means acknowledging your anger and releasing it, without letting it become explosive. This would be the opposite of the anger attacks that were discussed previously. When you are able to express your anger outwards, you will find that your depression may lessen.

Alleviate Anger Before it Worsens

Do you find that your anger gets out of control because you keep it bottled inside? If so, you may benefit from learning healthy ways to express your anger before it gets out of control. This might includes ideas such as learning to be more assertive or learning to express your emotions. Both of these activities will help to reduce the chance that your anger builds to the point that you must explode.

Practice Breathing Exercises

Just as with anxiety, anger will fuel itself if you let it. For this reason, it may be helpful to learn breathing exercises to help you calm yourself down in the moment when you become angry. One such exercise that you may wish to try is called 4-7-8 breathing developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. This breathing technique is based on the yoga technique known as pranayama, which helps yogis to control their breathing.

Breathing helps to bring your body into a state of relaxation and to increase the oxygen flow in your body. This helps to get control of the fight or flight reaction that you might experience when your anger is triggered.

To practice 4-7-8 breathing, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Put the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth and keep it in place throughout the breathing exercise. Then, go through the following steps, which counts as one cycle of breath.

  • Open your mouth and make a whoosh sound while exhaling completely out through your lips.
  • Then, close your mouth and do a silent inhale through your nose to the count of four.
  • Next, hold your breath for seven seconds.
  • Finally, exhale through your mouth for the count of eight seconds while making a whooshing sound.

Then, repeat this cycle for each set of breaths. Where does the number "4" come in? The ideal number of times to repeat this process is at least four times. Although you can gradually work your way up to doing eight breaths. Remember to hold your breath for the full seven seconds, as that is most critical to creating relaxation in your body.

Mindfulness Meditation or Yoga

If you enjoy deep breathing, you might also enjoy practicing mindfulness meditation or yoga to help you manage your anger related to depression. Given that depression means you are probably lacking motivation, this might not be the right fit until your depression is being treated (either through medication or therapy).

However, if you're feeling motivated enough to try, the act of doing yoga itself may help to reduce your stress and improve your mood. Overall, we know that exercise releases endorphin which leads to reductions in depression.

If you are interested in trying out mindfulness meditation, then you will want to find a meditation that focuses on anger, depression, or the combination of both feelings and emotions. Good meditations will lead you into a deep state of relaxation, help you to release your emotions, and then bring you back to present awareness.

Develop a Support System

If you are struggling with depression and anger, you will also want to develop a strong support system. While this might be problematic if you are living with depression, having at least one person you can rely on for support will be helpful.

If there is nobody in your personal life that you feel provides you support adequate for your needs, you might benefit from joining a support group specifically for depression and/or anger. In one of these groups, you will find others struggling through the same challenges as you.

And, unlike a friend or family member, you aren't likely to be given advice or told that what you are feeling isn't that bad. Instead, you're likely to find yourself spending time with people who completely understand your situation.

In addition, if you join a group with a facilitator, you may find that you are offered helpful strategies to better manage your depression and anger. Having a support group who understands what you are going through will be important, especially if you find yourself relapsing after treatment.

A Word From Verywell

If you are struggling with anger and depression that is impairing your daily functioning, it is important to see a mental health professional for advice. If you have not already seen a professional about your situation, you may be offered a diagnosis as well as treatment options that might include therapy and/or medication. The first step to receiving help is talking to your family doctor.

In addition, it's important to know that you are not alone in your feelings. Many people struggle with anger and irritability related to their depression. This is not a personal failing on your part, and it's not something that is necessarily within your control. However, there are coping strategies that you can use to escape a bad mood, manage your anger, and feel better.

There's no need to feel ashamed about reaching out for help, asking friends or family for support, or joining a support group. In fact, asking for help or making yourself a priority might be what it takes for you to improve your relationships and feel better about your daily life. Treat yourself with the same kindness and respect that you would treat a friend if they came to you for advice. You deserve your own self-compassion.

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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. van Eck M, Berkhof H, Nicolson N, Sulon J. The effects of perceived stress, traits, mood states, and stressful daily events on salivary cortisol. Psychosom Med. 1996 Sep-Oct;58(5):447-58.

  2. Firestone L. The Role of Anger in Depression.

Additional Reading
  • Firestone L. The Role of Anger in Depression.

  • Painuly N, Sharan P, Mattoo SK. Relationship of anger and anger attacks with depression: a brief review. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2005;255(4):215-222.