The Connection Between Depression and Anger

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Anger can be a common emotion among people experiencing major 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.

Depression vs. Anger

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 and/or sleeping, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, flat affect, feelings of hopelessness and self-doubt, and more.

Mental health professionals diagnose major depressive disorders according to criteria laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

In contrast, anger on its own is not a diagnosable mental health condition. Rather, it is an unpleasant but common emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. Feeling angry when something upsets you is natural. However, feeling uncontrollable, maladaptive, or otherwise inappropriate anger can signal an underlying problem, particularly when you also have symptoms of depression.

Research indicates that depression in men sometimes manifests itself in explosive, uncontrollable anger, among other symptoms. In contrast, this kind of rage is less frequently reported by women with depression.

Anger can be part of depression's diagnostic picture, but not always. Healthy expression of natural anger is not a problem. It becomes unhealthy when it interferes with daily life and relationships, but it doesn't always point to depression.

Depression
  • Diagnosable mood disorder

  • Involves cluster of emotions that may include anger

  • Much more than ordinary emotion (sadness)

Anger
  • Not a diagnosable condition

  • Sometimes, but not always, indicative of underlying depression

  • Natural, common emotion that's problematic only when repressed, uncontrollable, dangerous, or otherwise maladaptive

Types of Anger in Depression

Anger can take several different forms when it's part of major depressive disorder. Below are some examples of the types of anger you might experience while depressed.

Irritability

Irritability is a feature of depression itself. If you have depression, anger may show up as snapping at others over trivial things or being unable to handle small disappointments without reacting negatively.

Hostility

Going a step beyond irritability, a person with depression who expresses anger outwardly may become hostile toward others.

Anger Attacks

Rapid, intense onset of anger (also sometimes called an anger attack) can also be a feature of depression. These rapid-onset attacks are often inappropriately triggered by trivial matters and can take others by surprise.

The Link Between Anger and Depression

Some evidence suggests that serotonergic dysfunction may be partly to blame for both maladaptive anger and major depression. In other words, the neurochemicals in your brain may be out of balance. For this reason, medications used to treat depression may also help relieve symptoms of anger.

Anger Turned Inward

Sigmund Freud believed that depression results from anger repressed and directed toward oneself, rather than being expressed externally. Indeed, anger turned inward is common in those who are depressed. This act of turning anger inward can worsen the severity of depression, setting up a vicious cycle. Listening to your inner critic can worsen depression, making it difficult to do things that could help alleviate symptoms (e.g., doing activities you once enjoyed, spending time with other people, exercising, etc.). This leads you to feel more powerless and negative over time.

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

Anger Turned Outward

Those who are depressed sometimes turn their anger outward instead and lash out at those around them.

Depression can amplify negative emotions that can be hard to control, and afterward, you might feel bad about how you expressed yourself—setting up a situation that feeds on itself and that is difficult to escape.

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 at coworkers, managers, or even customers. If you struggle to control your anger around friends and family, this can strain relationships.

Treatment for Angry Depression

Treatment for depression that includes anger is similar to treatments for depression alone. In short, medication and therapy are both empirically validated treatments for depression that can help alleviate feelings of anger, hostility, and irritability.

Therapy

One specific type of therapy that might be helpful for angry depression is emotionally focused therapy. Developed by psychologist Les Greenberg, this type of therapy categorizes anger as either adaptive or non-adaptive.

  • Adaptive anger helps motivate assertive (rather than aggressive) action. Imagine you have gained weight because of unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise. You might feel adaptive anger at yourself for letting the situation get out of hand, but you also might feel motivated to make and follow a healthy eating and fitness plan. In this way, adaptive anger is controlled and directed positively.
  • Maladaptive anger in this example would instead lead to a downward spiral of self-pity and hopeless inaction. In essence, maladaptive anger involves giving away your power, making you feel helpless. This type of unhelpful anger is thought to be rooted in traumatic experiences.

One way to manage anger-related to depression is to develop a sense of compassion for yourself instead of directing your anger inwards. Treat yourself as you would a friend. What would you say to someone struggling with the same issue? With a kinder view toward yourself, you'll be less likely to direct your anger inward. For this reason, self-compassion can be particularly helpful if your rage is directed inward.

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Moving From Maladaptive Anger to Adaptive Emotions

Emotionally focused therapy transforms your maladaptive emotions by addressing their root cause. One way 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. You just don't have any willpower."

The idea is to give the critical inner voice some words, as though someone else is speaking them. This involves expressing feelings behind thoughts and using "you" statements, allowing you to separate yourself from those thoughts.

Once you step outside 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 have self-control, but I've been through a really hard time. It's not impossible for me to lose weight, I just need to adopt some healthy habits.

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 being clear on my goals. I know I can do it if I try."

Emotionally focused therapy has been shown to help relieve depression, raise self-esteem, and reduce distress in interpersonal relationships.

Medication

Medication can help you reduce feelings of anger and irritability. Although it's not a direct treatment for anger, addressing your depression symptoms can have an indirect effect on feelings of anger.

Anger Management Techniques

Anger management techniques can help you manage depression-related anger. You might attend anger management classes, read an anger management self-help book, or find a support group,

Coping With Angry Depression

You can do a few things on your own to manage anger-related depression. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Develop self-compassion, as mentioned earlier
  • Manage triggers
  • Stand up to your inner critic
  • Respond to your inner critic in a journal
  • Accept, rather than fight, your anger
  • Express your anger in healthy ways
  • Alleviate anger before it deepens by being more assertive or venting your emotions appropriately
  • Exercise to release endorphins, your brain's feel-good chemicals

Practice Breathing Exercises

Another helpful approach is to learn mindful breathing, which can help calm you in an angry moment. One such approach is 4-7-8 breathing developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. It's based on pranayama yoga, which helps yogis to control their breathing.

Breathing helps bring your body into a state of relaxation and increases oxygen flow in your body. This helps you get control of the fight-or-flight reaction 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 these steps. Each counts as one cycle.

  • 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 work your way up to eight. Remember to hold your breath for the full seven seconds; this helps foster relaxation.

Learn Mindfulness Meditation or Yoga

If you enjoy deep breathing, try mindfulness meditation or yoga. This might not be the right fit until you begin treatment through medication or therapy and gain some motivation.

However, if you're feeling motivated enough to try, the act of doing yoga itself can help reduce stress and improve your mood. Find a meditation that focuses on anger, depression, or a combination of both. Good meditations will lead you into a deep state of relaxation, help you release your emotions, and bring you back to present awareness.

Develop a Support System

Turning to someone you can rely on for support can be helpful. If there is nobody in your personal life to fill this role, try joining a support group specifically for depression and/or anger. There, you'll find others struggling with the same challenges. And, unlike with 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'll spend time with people who completely understand your situation.

In addition, if you join a group with a facilitator, you might discover helpful strategies to better manage your depression and anger. A support group that understands what you are going through is important, especially if you begin relapsing after treatment.

A Word From Verywell

If you are struggling with anger and depression that is impairing your daily functioning, see a mental health professional for advice, diagnosis, and treatment. Options will likely include therapy and/or medication. Start with your family doctor, who can treat you or direct you to a specialist.

Remember that you're not alone in your feelings. Many people struggle with anger and irritability related to depression. This is not a personal failing on your part, and it might not be within your control. However, you can learn some coping strategies that can help you escape a bad mood, manage your anger, and feel better.

Lastly, don't feel ashamed about reaching out for help. In fact, making yourself a priority in this way might be exactly what it takes to improve your relationships and feel better about your daily life. Treat yourself with the same kindness and respect you would show a friend who came to you for advice. You deserve your own self-compassion.

4 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. National Institute of Mental Health. Chronic Illness & Mental Health.
  1. Martin LA, Neighbors HW, Griffith DM. The experience of symptoms of depression in men vs. women: Analysis of the National Comorbidity Survey replicationJAMA Psychiatry. 2013;70(10):1100. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.1985

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."