When Anxiety Shows Up As Anger, Everyone Suffers

STOP!!!! I angrily barked at my two year old, who was trying to “help” me load the dishwasher. He brought his half empty bowl of oatmeal across the room, leaving a trail of clumpy cereal and milk behind him. The rage bubbled inside me as I snatched the bowl from his hands and gave an over-dramatic sigh in his direction. I was so angry. 

The milk and oatmeal on the floor was just the latest in a long list of frustrations that had transpired that morning. The kids, who never sleep past 6 am, had been up since 5. I was barely able to pry my own sleepy eyes open and make a cup of {now cold} coffee before I was in a permanent angry funk. The kids demanded breakfast, and along with that came additional demands for specific cup colors, places at the table, and varieties of toppings for the aforementioned oatmeal. 

With each request, my rage at my little people grew. The angry scripts played on a repetitive loop in my brain::

Why are they so selfish?

This house is always such a mess…they have no respect for me or anything we own. 

Why don’t they just sleep, or at least care that I need sleep?

They always NEED something. I just need 5 minutes to do something by myself!

Why do they not care about ME at all?

If this had been an isolated incident, I could have chalked it up to a bad morning, and just carried on without too much introspection. But the reality was, anger had become my default. In between delightful moments with my children was anger, and frustration, often directed at them. 

And when I realized that my children were spending their days with a mom who was nearly always mad about something, it crushed me. Clearly, their behavior, while frustrating, was normal and age-appropriate. And yet, they were constantly being criticized for it. I started searching on the internet for stories of moms dealing with anger towards their small children and realized most of them had a common cause :: ANXIETY. 

I have struggled with anxiety throughout my adult life, and now that anxiety was manifesting as anger. And that  anxiety was brought on by deep insercurities about my capabilities as a mother.

When I looked at my house, all I saw were the sticky floors, piles of laundry, and discarded craft projects and broken crayons covering our dining table. Compared to the updated, sparkling clean kitchens on Instagram, mine looked like a dump. And my children care 0% about the appearance of our home, or their contribution to the chaos. 

When I was dragged out of bed way before the sun was also up, all I saw ahead of me were hours upon hours of tasks to complete, messes to contain, and children who couldn’t understand the importance of my to-do list. 

And the reality is, I can’t control any of it, at least not totally. No matter what sleep-hacks I try, my children are always early risers. At this stage of their development, they will continue to make messes and not care about the impression those messes make on others. In order to lessen my constant anxiety about situations out of my control, and thus reduce my anger, I have to be intentional about self-care rituals and habits. 

Sleep

When I am able to get at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night, my mood is drastically better than when I do not. I am more patient with my children, and have more grace for the behaviors that usually trigger my anger. 

Fresh Air and Natural Light

It is amazing how just a few minutes outside can calm my anxiety and give me a totally different perspective. And outdoors, the children are usually more independent in their play, which also gives me a chance to relax and enjoy watching them instead of managing them. 

Mommy Time-Outs

When I feel myself losing my sense of control, as long as the children are safe, I lock myself in my bedroom for about 10 minutes to calm down. I will read a book, play a game on my phone, or just close my eyes for those few minutes. Most of the time, this is enough to dissipate the negative emotions and I’m then able to handle the situation more calmly and rationally. 

Avoid Anxiety Triggers

I have had to limit the amount of time I spend on social media platforms that showcase perfectly curated lifestyles, decorated homes, and beautiful, smiling children. Although I know intellectually these pictures don’t tell the whole story, they just feed my insecurities. Instead, I try and mostly follow people who balance reality with their “highlight reel” on social media. 

Talk it Out

The single best thing I have done to reduce my anxiety is to see a therapist regularly. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s another thing to schedule and requires finding childcare. No, it’s not a quick fix. But the self-discovery I’ve made and coping strategies I’ve learned have been invaluable to our whole family. 

Medicate if Necessary

There should be no shame in taking medication if it is needed for a mental health condition. Medication is a tool, just like therapy. I take medication, and I am so thankful I have access to something that makes me a calmer, less anxious and angry mom. 

I still struggle every single day with anxiety. I still have episodes of feeling out of control where that anxiety comes out as anger. I do know that I am not alone, and I also know we need to start talking about it more openly. We need to support each other, and help each other find the help we need. I want my children to grow up with memories of a mom who was loving, silly, and fun, not anxious and angry all the time. They deserve a mentally healthy mom, and I want more than anything to be that for them. 

Do you struggle with anxiety manifesting as anger? What helps you manage it? 

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3 Responses to When Anxiety Shows Up As Anger, Everyone Suffers

  1. Lauren May 15, 2018 at 9:30 pm #

    Thank you for sharing!

  2. Meghan May 18, 2018 at 12:44 pm #

    Thank you for writing. My daughters are in their 20s now, but when they were small, I seemed to be angry most of the time. Later I was diagnosed with anxiety and I finally understood where most of my anger was coming from. It helps even now knowing that others feel the same way.

  3. Kim May 24, 2018 at 6:23 pm #

    My rage is my biggest issue and I never thought about it as being related to anxiety. Thank you for sharing! I’m starting therapy soon but have tried 4 different kinds of meds with poor results. If you don’t mind sharing, what med worked for you? I feel like I could have written this so maybe I should have what you’re having 😉

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