Anxiety & anger

Anxiety or anger spirals are a common feature of depression. Some kinds of depressed thinking habits, together with avoidant behaviour, can set up anxiety or anger spirals which in turn can contribute to the depression spiral.

Anxiety and anger spirals

As with low mood and depression, anxiety and anger spirals are perpetuated by unhelpful thinking habits. They can also be entrenched through what you habitually do with the anxious or angry feelings.

  1. Stressful event: Exam
  2. Anxious thinking: “I’m going to fail… My life will be ruined!” →
  3. Avoidance: “I can’t think straight. I’ll hang out with my mates and forget about it.” →
  4. Increased anxiety: “I’ll never get the revision done now – I’ve left it too late…” →
  5. Anxiety symptoms: “I feel sick, my heart’s racing. I can’t breathe, I can’t concentrate…” →

More depressed thinking habits

The following are a few examples of further unhelpful habits which contribute to angry or anxious habit spirals, and therefore to the depression habit spiral.

Rule-bound thinking

We all use a variety of ‘rules’ or principles to guide our action and streamline thought processes. But unrealistically rigid ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ set up stressful regular experiences of frustration and lack of control. This leads to angry or anxious feelings, which in turn intensify the wish for the world to operate according to clearer rules… When applied to your own behaviour, the habit of rule-bound thinking can lead to anger problems and unhelpful self-bullying.

‘Control freakery’

Rule-bound thinking is closely linked to ‘control freakery’, or the unrealistic attempt to keep rigid control over ourselves and outside events. Our attitude towards control is very commonly infected by unhelpful all-or-nothing thinking. Aiming for ‘total control’ results in things seeming out of control, dramatically raising anxiety or anger levels. True control results from a flexible, relaxed and realistic approach.

Other types of control freakery include:

  • Catatrophising (when deviations from the rules or expectations are experienced as disasters)
  • Hyper-vigilance (when sensible caution turns into over-focus on possible dangers and unrealistic risk aversion)
  • Jumping to conclusions (trying to create certainty without sufficient evidence eg when we try to predict the future)

Depressed behaviour

Depressed behaviour is when our natural ‘fight or flight’ response goes into overdrive or fuels behaviour which is not helpful for solving the problem.


Avoidance is a common response to ‘control-freakery’ types of depressed thinking. But over-dependence on the ‘flight’ response to perceived threats is a particularly risky habit. It makes the anxiety get worse, and can eventually lead to complete inertia or even agoraphobia (ie. being unable to go out).

For some people, these overly rigid expectations of self and others lead to an unhelpful ‘fight’ response instead. When anger can be harnessed towards problem-solving behaviour it is constructive. However, aimless lashing out and aggressive behaviour very rarely solves problems. Angry thoughts and feelings simply intensify in a self-reinforcing spiral, leading to despair and low mood.

Any of these sound familiar?

If you experience high levels of anxiety or anger, or if any of these habits sound familiar, it is especially important for you to learn about modifying stress levels, and managing anxiety and anger, as well as working on challenging these and other depressed thinking habits.

Next: Self bullying

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Related

Depression sociology
Challenging depressed thinking
Managing anxiety & anger