When Depression Comes Out as Anger: Causes and Solutions


Interview with Dr. Colleen Cira

Dr. Colleen Cira is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who specializes in Women and Trauma, and has worked with hundreds of people struggling with mental health issues for over twenty years.

Talking Points from Dr. Cira
On Anger & Depression:

Why do people suffering from depression often get angry?

  • Being depressed zaps our energy and makes everything seem harder, including thinking and feeling. Essentially, someone who is depressed has very limited emotional bandwidth.
  • If you’re low on energy and patience, everything is going to seem like a chore, including interacting with people. Every last bit of energy you do have is going inward, just trying to put one foot in front of another, so that’s a lot less energy you have to be kind, thoughtful, or empathic.

What can they do to manage/prevent it (if possible)?

  • Feel your feelings! If you’re angry, allow that to bubble to the surface! Feeling overwhelmed and want to cry? Let those tears fall. Fighting emotions is kind of like getting caught in quicksand. The harder you fight to get out, the deeper you sink.  Acknowledge how you’re feeling and actually deal with it—talk about it with a trusted and supportive family member or friend. Listen to music that will help you emote. Journal about it. The only way to get to the other side of emotions is to go THROUGH them. Trying to go around or push them down may work in the moment, but the emotion will usually come back in a big way or leak out in some sideways, unhelpful way.
  • The first thing anyone must do in order to better communicate their thoughts and feelings is get aware of them! If we have no idea what’s going on in our heads and hearts, it’s impossible to share that with anyone. So get in the habit of checking in with yourself. Decide on a behavioral marker (every time I eat, every time I get a drink of water, etc.) and then make it a point to check in with yourself. Ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now?” or “What am I thinking about?” If you have an extra minute, jot down what you discover and your hypotheses about what caused those thoughts and feelings in the first place.
  • Once you know how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking, you’ll be in a better position to figure out what you want and need. And once you know what you want and need, then you can start to practice expressing those wants and needs.
  • Whenever you’re giving tough feedback, the sandwich technique is an effective way to kindly deliver difficult news. The gist of this technique is to say something positive, then offer the constructive criticism/angry feelings and end with something positive.  This is a way to preserve the relationship while still honoring your angry feelings.
  • Another technique to try would be “I” statements. Instead of accusing someone of making you feel a certain way, you can use this formula: “I feel (whatever emotion) when you did (whatever the trigger for the anger was) and it makes me (the consequence of the behavior and anger).” For instance, I feel angry when you don’t take out the garbage after we’ve talked about it several times, and it makes me feel like you don’t respect me.
  • If you know you need to express your anger more and you’re willing to try these techniques but get in the moment and find it too difficult, ask yourself if you’re willing to drink poison for the person who has angered you. Are you willing to drink poison for that taxi driver who totally ignored the route that you requested? The barista who was rude? Your partner? Your family member? Because when we swallow our anger, instead of expressing it in a healthy and appropriate way, we are sacrificing ourselves—our well-being, our mental health, our needs—for someone else.
  • Expressing our anger is difficult and you won’t be very good at first! Sometimes you’ll lose your temper and sometimes you won’t say anything at all. Don’t beat yourself up!  Keep trying, keep practicing, keep experimenting. It gets easier over time. And you’re worth it. 

 

Why do we sometimes experience negative emotions when a positive change happens?

    • Change, even good change, is stressful!  Humans are creatures of habit and our brains like familiarity often even more than comfort.  So even if our current reality causes us discomfort and this change in our life makes some of that better, it’s still going to take some time to adjust to because it’s NEW.  
    • We may have to learn new things, meet new people or challenge ourselves in unexpected ways.  All of this is growth, but growth promoting experiences are often difficult because it takes us out of our comfort zone.

Available for Interviews: Dr. Colleen Cira

Dr. Colleen D. Cira, Psy.D. received both her Masters and Doctorate from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology and has been practicing in the field since 2001. Dr. Cira is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and the Founder and Executive Director of Cira Center for Behavioral Health, PC a boutique group practice with locations in Chicago and Oak Park that specializes in Women’s Issues/Health and Trauma. Dr. Cira is a trauma and anxiety expert, clinical supervisor, writer, speaker, consultant, activist, wife, and Mommy to two little ones.


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