Podcast: Anxiety and Anger: A One-Two Punch
Do you struggle with anger? Did you know that some of our most hot-headed moments are actually rooted in anxiety? In today’s podcast, Jackie openly shares her own fuse-blowing moment when her husband’s keys were (gasp!) missing from the hook, and now she must face being late for therapy and perhaps even lie dying on the side of the road. How did she handle this catastrophic situation her mind so graciously forewarned her about?
Does this sound familiar? Join us as we discuss anxiety-driven anger and explore ways to minimize and possibly even prevent it.
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About The Not Crazy Podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Jackie Zimmerman has been in the patient advocacy game for over a decade and has established herself as an authority on chronic illness, patient-centric healthcare, and patient community building. She lives with multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, and depression.
Computer Generated Transcript for “Marriage- Depression” Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Not Crazy, a Psych Central podcast. And here are your hosts, Jackie Zimmerman and Gabe Howard.
Jackie: Hey, everyone, and welcome to this week’s Not Crazy. I’d like to introduce my co-host, Gabe, who lives with bipolar disorder, and is really, really wonderful.
Gabe: I would like to introduce my co-host, Jackie, who lives with major depression.
Jackie: And is not wonderful. Whatever. That’s actually a really great segue, Gabe, because as you may know, a couple weeks ago we talked about bipolar anger and I was pretty angry that I didn’t get a chance to share some of my experiences, not with bipolar anger, but with anger that is rooted in anxiety. And so I thought that that would make a good episode too, to continue the anger talk, I guess, but to redirect it towards anxiety.
Gabe: If you haven’t listened to that episode, you should definitely go and check it out and you don’t have to have bipolar disorder to learn anything from it, because one of the things that it talks about is how anger is on a spectrum from irritability to rage and everything in between. I mean, we really kind of delve deep. So it’s a little asterisk there that we might reference the episode. But, you know, we might not we don’t know what we’re doing.
Jackie: We’re winging it every episode; we’re just winging it.
Gabe: But Jackie, you made a good point when the show wrapped up. Jackie and I were talking and Jackie said, you know, do you think we made the point that people without bipolar disorder can be irrationally angry? And I said, well, I don’t know that we ever discussed it. And then Jackie explained:
Jackie: Oh, but we can, and by we, I mean people who live with anxiety and experience, these little like blips, I guess, of completely irrational moments of anger. And the number one reason why I really wanted to talk about this was because I didn’t know this was anxiety until I had a very clear conversation with my therapist. Shout to Kristen, as usual, we know I love her. Because I would have these moments where I would get so angry so fast. And I knew that it was irrational. I knew it didn’t make sense. I knew that I was completely overreacting. But I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t figure out what it was and I couldn’t figure out why. Whatever it was, it was making me so angry. And as it turns out, that was my anxiety.
Gabe: Anxiety is this far reaching kind of emotion. On one hand, anxiety is kind of good. I mean, it’s the hairs on the back of your neck that stick up. It’s a warning system and sometimes it’s good to be nervous. Before I go on to a stage to give a speech, I always have, you know, the butterflies in my stomach. You know, I’m just a little bit nervous. And I kind of like that because it shows me that I understand the gravity of what I’m about to do. I’m taking the situation seriously, which makes me more prepared. But an anxiety disorder, of course, is when that anxiety is too much and that anxiety has to manifest itself in something, whether it’s an anxiety attack or just in Jackie’s case, what we’re now calling blip rage.
Jackie: Blip rage? I like it. Yeah, it is not a fun thing to experience. And mostly because I know that when this happens, it’s almost always directed at my husband. My lovely husband, Adam, who does not deserve any of this blip rage. But he’s on the receiving end most of the time because it’s something, sorry, Adam, something that he’s done that is not a big deal, but it has triggered this little bit of anxiety that turns into anger. And so then I’m like just raging at him. And I know it’s wrong. And then I feel bad while I’m doing it. But you can’t stop. You know, it’s like when you’re eating like a jar of Pringles and you just can’t stop eating the whole thing. Or is that
Gabe: Are you literally going to say once you pop, you can’t stop?
Jackie: It’s so appropriate.
Gabe: Pringles, ladies and gentlemen, sponsoring Not Crazy since never. Since never.
Gabe: Straight up, never.
Jackie: Anxiety. Once you pop the anxiety thing, it’s just like full steam ahead.
Gabe: So I think that people listening are like what you just said, that your husband did something wrong. So it’s your response to it that’s unrealistic. I think we’ve kind of followed along in that. But just to kind of ground this for us. Can you give us an example of something that your husband did wrong and your disproportionate angered to said situation?
Jackie: I have so many examples, but something happened a couple of weeks ago, and well, now that I know that this is anxiety, I’m able to like talk myself down sometimes where I’m like, this is just anxiety. You’re not actually angry. But when I left the house, I will tell this story. But when I left, I went through what I was deep thinking. Right. Like where the panic was coming from. And then I was able to explain that to Adam later.
Gabe: Ok. But what did Adam do?
Jackie: I’m getting there. OK. So this is what happened. I was leaving for therapy. Actually, this is like the greatest part of all of this. I was leaving for therapy. Adam was parked behind me. I leave chronically early for everything because I hate being late because it makes me anxious. So I’m like leaving early. We’re good to go. I know he’s parked behind me, but that’s fine because his keys are on the hook and I’ll just move his car until his keys are not on the hook anymore. And now I start to panic because I’m gonna be late. I hate being late. You’re unreliable when you’re late. People judge you when you’re late. So I’m like, Adam, where are your keys? And he goes, Oh, they’re in my pants pocket in your office. I go into my office. There’s no fucking pants in my office. So there’s no fucking keys in my office. So now it went from zero to furious in literally four seconds. From couldn’t find the keys to couldn’t find the keys to now I’m ready to murder somebody. So.
Gabe: I can hear you getting angry as you retell
Jackie: Oh, my God, I’m reliving it.
Gabe: the story.
Jackie: I’m getting, I’m getting just so anxious.
Gabe: Yeah, I mean, listening to your voice, you started off with, let me explain this thing that happened between me and my beloved. And then all of a sudden, the F word came out. And you were just like
Jackie: I know.
Gabe: There’s no keys! Where are my keys? So we all agree that not being able to find your keys in the grand scheme of things is not that big of a deal. And also, you live in like a twelve hundred square foot house. So there’s just a finite place that they could be.
Jackie: Right. Right. I know this. So Adam gets out of bed. He walks four steps in a different direction and picks up his keys and goes. Here they are. Well, I’m already furious at this point. Right? Because I’m going to be late. I get the keys. I am honestly approximately probably a total of 40 seconds later than I had anticipated being. But this is the 40 seconds that’s gonna make the difference in my day. I was not even a block away from the house and I immediately felt guilty and like a dickhead. So I was like, all right, just what happened? What just happened, self? Because that one was like kind of a doozy.
Gabe: Hang on, hang on, Jackie. Let me back you up for a moment. When you started doing this self-talk, this sort of chain analysis of what was going on in your mind and what was happening and why you lost your shit on Adam, had the anger subsided? Were you now back to normal? I’m trying to avoid using the phrase. Had you calmed down?
Jackie: So I was in the car driving, and now this is just anxiety, right, like heart rate faster. Everything is just more intense. I’m not mad anymore. Now I just have lingering like heart palpitations. I’m still anxious, like heightened anxiety, but the anger part is slipping away. And that’s when I start to feel like I was a jerk in that moment where I can feel it slipping away.
Gabe: The anger has started to subside, so your rational brain is starting to take over, and that’s when you sort of realize that you got angry at Adam for essentially either doing nothing wrong depending on how you look at it, or doing something just minor. A minor household infraction, you lost your shit over. So guilt is probably the next feeling that is about to like form in your brain.
Jackie: Yes, I almost immediately called him and apologized. I went to therapy and on the drive there, it’s about 20 minutes away. I was thinking about what was actually the anxiety process. Right. What was I so anxious about? What was it that I was worried would happen? As you may know, if you live with anxiety, a lot of anxiety is rooted in fear. Whether we know it or not, most anger is also rooted in fear. So it’s not terribly surprising when they present in similar ways. And so I was trying to think about what was I afraid of. And then I wanted to be able to explain this to Adam later, because we’ve gotten past the point of identifying this anger as anxiety. He knows it’s anxiety now, but it doesn’t make it any better. It doesn’t make it any easier to understand. And it damn sure doesn’t make me feel any less guilty after it happens.
Gabe: What do you do with that guilt? So now your anger has calmed down, your rational brain has taken over. You are now back to the Jackie Zimmerman that we all know and love. But you’ve got this thing in your past that happened. So what do you do?
Jackie: I went to how can I explain this to Adam? How can I help him understand irrational anxiety, anger? Not to be like, well, now you get it, so it doesn’t matter if it happens, it doesn’t count anymore. But to me, it felt like if I could get him to understand when he sees this happening, he might not take it personally. Basically, it might just be like this is a behavior that you have that we work through. And I can help calm you down in these moments as opposed to being like, figure it out. The keys are on the hook kind of thing.
Gabe: One, I’m going to say, as your friend who is always on your side in any fight that you get into with your spouse. Yeah, yeah, he should help you manage your emotions and learn to be a better spouse for an irrationally angry and anxious person. I got your back. And then I’m going to say, really? You think Adam has to help stop you from being an anxious, irrational, angry person? Like Adam has any culpability here? Why are you involving him in this?
Jackie: Here’s why. And no, I don’t think that’s his responsibility. But Adam asks regularly in these moments, how can I help you? What can I do to make this better? And these are the moments where I’m like, well, you could put your fucking keys on the hook. That would have made it better.
Gabe: But that’s not helpful.
Jackie: No, it’s not. Right. So I’m thinking, what can I do to make this helpful? And this is what I realized. And I got home and I told Adam this. I know in that moment it looked like we couldn’t find your keys. And I left 40 seconds later than I anticipated and I lost my shit. But this is actually what was happening. I’m good. I’m leaving on time. Everything’s gonna be great. And then it’s oh, shit, I’m not leaving on time. So then I’m gonna be in a different traffic pattern and then this traffic pattern is gonna have an accident. And now I’m gonna get in an accident because I’m 10 minutes later than I was supposed to be. And so now I’m gonna be on the side of the road dying because you didn’t put your fucking keys on the hook. I put my keys on the hook. I shouldn’t be dying on the side of the road. This completely irrational thought pattern. It took me a minute to realize it, but that’s really what happened. I was worried because I left four seconds later, I’d be in a different spot on the freeway than I was supposed to be. That was gonna be the problem spot and something terrible was gonna happen because I didn’t leave when I thought I was supposed to leave.
Gabe: You became a victim of catastrophic thinking. It’s where you played out the worst possible scenario in your own mind and then responded to it as if it actually happened. One of the things that helped me really early on with catastrophic thinking is it can go the other way, right? You can decide that, oh my God, Adam saved your life. If you would have left on time, you would have got run over by a bus. But because you left 40 seconds later, you were in a different traffic pattern. You were on the freeway at a completely different time. So now that bus, when it changed lanes, your car wasn’t there. You are alive today because Adam didn’t put his keys on the hook. That is just as likely as a scenario as the one that our brains give us. Except that the ones that our brains give us are almost universally negative. But you know what? They both are false, not reality, didn’t happen. Untrue. Completely and entirely made up.
Jackie: No, that’s totally right. It is catastrophic to the worst possible degree. Right? Literally 40 seconds difference. And I’m dead on the side of the road in this scenario, too. Also, like I couldn’t reach my phone. Like, I went really into it really far and I came home and I explain this to Adam and he looked at me like, first of all, you are fucking crazy. Like, literally, how did you get there from my keys are not on the hook. And I was like, this is what anxiety does to me. Right? I get anxious about what’s supposed to happen. And then when it’s not happening, I go immediately into a deep, dark hole.
Gabe: One of the things that we love about our spouses, of course, is that they ask us follow up questions and that they try to understand and I sincerely hope that all of our listeners have someone in their life to help them manage anxiety, mental illness, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, whatever. I know that many people don’t, but if you get somebody that wants to help you, you have to take responsibility to train them. You become their sensei and they are your mental illness ninja.
Jackie: Yeah, something like that.
Gabe: Listen. It was much cooler in my head, Jackie. But go with it. Adam was nice enough to ask and I know you made the joke. You wanted to say, put your fucking keys on the hook, but you didn’t because you want Adam to be able to help. So you’ve tried to explain it to him. You have explained it to him because the answer makes you look fucking crazy. That’s a really weird thing to think. But what advice did you give Adam to help you? Because I know that you didn’t just say, Oh, Adam, I’m going through this crazy anxiety. I’m catastrophizing everything. And I’m just, I’m just nuts. So just tell me to calm down and I immediately will. That cannot be what you did. What did you actually do? What worked?
Jackie: Two things in this scenario. One, I did not say that at all. I kind of wish that I had, though, just to see the look on his face. In this scenario, I found the words to explain exactly what was happening. Right? Because I’ve said to him multiple times, Oh, it’s my anxiety. You can tell that I’m anxious. I’m mad right now, but it’s just anxiety. But I really broke it down into like, it’s not just anxiety. It’s me, literally catastrophizing and dying on the side of the road. That’s why I got upset. So I think if you can dig deep down and really picture what your anxiety is telling you and you can verbalize that to somebody. I do think it helps because, one, it puts your crazy in front of somebody else, which feels vulnerable, but also, I think, teaches them why it’s so bad. It really shows them what’s happening in your head and helps them hopefully understand at least a little bit.
Gabe: And it’s honest.
Gabe: There is a freedom in telling somebody what happened and being aware that it makes you sound ridiculous or insane or crazy or nuts or whatever word we want to use. But you’re admitting that you were wrong. Right. You were admitting that what you did was wrong. I’d like to think that you’re apologizing for it. I don’t want to put words in your mouth there. Jackie.
Jackie: I did apologize numerous times.
Gabe: We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Jackie: And we’re back talking about anger caused by anxiety.
Gabe: Everything that we’ve talked about up until now was sort of making amends after the fact, explaining what happened after the fact. Did you get to a conversation where you’re like, look, the next time this happens? It would be helpful if you could try to do X? Like, are you working together to try to prevent this from happening in the future?
Jackie: A little bit. We’re not great at it because most of the stuff that would make it better is proactive approaches, not reactive like. Put your fucking keys on the hook.
Gabe: I love how this is still Adam’s fault. Right?
Jackie: I mean.
Gabe: Why is the proactive approach not care that the keys weren’t on the hook?
Jackie: Well, because I have to be on time.
Gabe: Right, you have to be on time. But why is the proactive approach not leave two minutes earlier so that you have a built in 120 seconds to find Adam’s keys that you only need 40 seconds to find?
Jackie: Well, because what you may not realize is that in this scenario, I am already leaving at least 15 minutes earlier than I need to be leaving. But if for some reason I don’t leave the door until 10 minutes before I need to be leaving, then I’m late. Right? Again, these are not rational thoughts, Gabe. This is irrational shit. And it’s the unexpected, right? It’s not so much that Adam’s keys weren’t on the hook, but they were on the table. It’s that they weren’t on the hook. And then they weren’t where you said they were. So then it was like, well, now they could be anywhere, right? Then we just freaked out. And what if we never find them? And I’m stuck here forever and I don’t go to therapy and then I’m a disaster? This is how it goes. So.
Gabe: I’m still going to give push back, though, that it seems like your solution to this problem is not for you to make changes, but for Adam to make changes like that can’t be the take away, Jackie.
Jackie: Honestly, part of it is on him because there are times when, like we leave the house together and I’m like, we have to leave at noon. We have to. Or otherwise I know in my head I’m going to have a meltdown because we’re late, and he’ll like wait until 11:59 to put his shoes on. And then I’m already like, we’re gonna be late, right? So these are moments where I’m like, hey, you know that I get very anxious when we don’t leave on time. So if we could work together to really leave on time, that would be lovely. Right? So some of this is teamwork in that we need to make sure things are where they’re supposed to be and or we leave when we say we’re going to.
Gabe: All right. Jackie, but all of this is predicated on the idea that your spouse, your family members want to help. Not everybody has that. Some people live with their roommates and their roommates are not their mom or dad and doesn’t love them. It’s not their spouse, et cetera. And that person is like, look, I’m sorry that my keys weren’t there, but this is your problem. This is completely your problem. I’m not going to live with a crazy person that does this. What advice do you have for them? I mean, you’re lucky you live with Adam. What are the rest of us do? We all don’t live with Adam.
Jackie: I know. I’m so lucky I live with Adam. The other thing that I do, I’m not great at it, but I can do sometimes, is I have learned ways to talk myself down. Slash, self-soothe, whatever you want to call it. Sometimes it is very silly things that feel stupid to say. You feel like such an idiot when you’re trying to self-soothe. But one of the things that I learned in therapy was essentially to just tell yourself that you’re safe and you’re comfortable. Just keep repeating like in a circle that like, I’m safe, I’m comfortable, I’m happy. A lot of these affirmations, if nothing else, it distracts you from the anxiety that’s circling around your head. I still have an issue where I feel like an idiot saying these things out loud. So I don’t do that one very often. What I do is I kind of lean into the anxiety where I go, like, what’s the worst case scenario here? And then try to work myself back from it. If that makes sense.
Gabe: Yeah. What you’re describing is chain analysis. It’s where you get yourself to the worst possible scenario. And then you go back to the second worst possible scenario and then the third and you just kind of moving yourself all the way back to where you are now. And when you put all of those things, you know, in your brain, when you analyze them one at a time, you see just how many steps are between where you are now and where the worst case scenario is that makes you feel better. I took the liberty Jackie, of getting on the Internet and searching for ways to calm anxiety. And the first one right up at the top was leave early. So you’ve kind of messed that up because you’re leaving early and you’re still panicked. I understand. But I guess I just want the audience to know that leaving extra time is something that works for a lot of people. They’re not as worried about being late. If they just leave 15 minutes early for everything because they’ll either get there 15 minutes early. Which case? Hey, use your phone in the parking lot, stop and get a cup of coffee. Who cares? Or they have the 15 minutes to be late because of the aforementioned train crash on the freeway, I guess.
Jackie: Yeah. Who put that train on the freeway? I don’t know. But, you know.
Gabe: It was a terrible idea. Other examples they gave are the affirmations I’m going to be OK, this is not a major setback. This is not a big deal. Counting to 10 breathing exercises. The one, though, that I like the most and one that I use and I did not even realize that this was an anxiety technique is fidget toys. I carry a little fidget toy. I bought it off the Internet. I think it was like six bucks. Keep it in my pocket. And when I’m really, really stressed out, I pull it out of my pocket and I just start playing with it just right there, because focusing on that little fidget toy, moving it around, spinning the little gears, the buttons, the different tactile feels, even the way it kind of clinks together. It’s very soothing to me. You can also do this with pictures on your phone. You know, look at pictures of your last vacation. I know I tease you because you have you and Adam’s wedding picture as your screen saver on your phone. But, you know, I imagine that this helps reduce anxiety.
Jackie: Another thing that I do a lot when I’m just anxious is I meditate, and it really works well for me. But when I am angry because of my anxiety, I’m not going to meditate. I can’t focus. I got to be angry. Right. So for me, some of the self-talk, because it redirects the thought process. This didn’t work in the scenario I gave you with the keys on the hook. Because in my head, I was already late. I wasn’t late. But in my head, it was late. In these other scenarios, when I’m not feeling like I’m going to be late, I’m just really anxious because we’re not leaving on time. I give myself moments to really walk through it and be like, this is not so bad. You’re gonna be five minutes late. It’s gonna be fine. Right? Talking myself down. It didn’t work this time because I already felt like I was dying on the side of the road before I even left the house. But I do work really hard to internalize talking myself down to the point where like, this is fine. You know, this is fine. This is not going to be a big deal.
Gabe: Jackie, you’ve kind of hit on a chronic problem with self-soothing. Oftentimes we start it too late. We wait until the anger kicks in before we pull out the fidget spinner, before we look at the picture, before we do the affirmation, before we count to 10, before we are aware of our breathing and practice some sort of mindfulness. We have to get better at doing it too early because what would be the bummer? What would be the bummer if you’re like, okay, I can’t find Adam’s keys, I’m going to count to ten right now. You didn’t need to count to 10. So, I mean, like what? The horror. Oh, my God. You counted to 10 or you told yourself you were a good person or you looked at a picture on your phone that made you happy? No. How dare you? How dare you have an unsolicited, unwarranted moment of joy? We have to give ourselves permission to use coping mechanisms before we need to cope. Right? They can be preventative. So many people want to whip these things out after the tiger is out of the cage. That’s not what we should do them.
Jackie: I definitely agree, and I think that in some of these scenarios where like I leave early, that’s my attempt at being proactive when something comes up unexpected like keys on the hook where you can’t predict it. That’s when I think you need to know what works for you, right? Is it self-soothing via talk? Is it meditating? Is it counting? Like what is the reactive thing that is going to work for you? And just know it, have it in your back pocket. Because what really sucks is being this person and apologizing for it all the fucking time. Right? Being like I know that that was shitty. Sorry. Hey, this happened yesterday. I’m sorry again. I couldn’t figure out how to talk myself off a cliff, so I yelled at you. That’s not a fun place to be. So it’s much better to know what works for you and try to remember to use it because being a dick is not fun for anybody.
Gabe: Jackie, all I know is that for Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, any gift giving holiday that happens between Gabe and Jackie, I am giving you and Adam an extra set of keys to Adam’s car. You’re just gonna be drowning in extra keys because honestly, at this point in the show, if all of the audience is just not like, you know, I have two keys to my car, why do they only have one? I don’t think they’re paying attention.
Jackie: He didn’t know where his spare set was. I’m just putting it out there.
Gabe: Thank you, everybody, for listening to this episode of Not Crazy. Wherever you downloaded the podcast, please rate, review, and subscribe share us on social media and use your words to tell people why they should click on and listen to us. You can always e-mail us at show@PsychCentral.com. Tell us what you like. Tell us what you don’t like. Or tell Jackie where she can buy a third set of keys for Adam’s car. Remember, we always put outtakes after the credits and we will see you next week.
Jackie: See ya.
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Podcast, N. (2020). Podcast: Anxiety and Anger: A One-Two Punch. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/podcast-anxiety-and-anger-a-one-two-punch/