Can Fear Lead To Anger? How To Cope With Challenging Emotions

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated April 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Psychological researchers have looked at links between fear and anger for years. While these two emotions are intertwined with one another, there is a depth to their connection that can further explain why anger often follows fear and vice versa. 

One of the links between these two emotions is that they often feel unpleasant and are a response to difficult situations. In addition, people who evoke fear or anger in others may be viewed negatively. It can be helpful to look at their psychological roots to understand these connections in further detail and know how to cope with painful emotions. 

Is my anger related to fear?

Exploring the relationship between fear and anger

The American Psychological Association defines fear and anger as follows:

  • Anger: Anger is an emotion characterized by tension and hostility that stems from frustration (real or imagined), injury by another, or perceived injustice.

  • Fear: Fear is an emotion aroused by detecting an imminent threat, involving an immediate alarm reaction that incites the fight-or-flight physiological response. 

When comparing these definitions, one may note that they are distinct emotional reactions to a situation without a clear connection. However, studies show that anger is often a secondary emotion to emotions like fear, which may occur first. 

Ax's studies on psychophysiology of emotions

The relationship between fear and anger has been the subject of several studies over the years, including a study conducted by psychophysiologist Dr. Albert F. Ax. 

One of the first studies on fear and anger was developed in 1953 by research scientist Albert F. Ax Ph.D., founder of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and founding editor of Psychophysiology. This study was the first successful demonstration of the differential patterns of physiological responses between anger and fear. 

How was the study conducted? 

In the experiment, Ax and his group measured different parameters, including blood pressure and volume, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and muscle tension, of participants subjected to an experimental design that stimulated the anger and fear response. Participants were told the experiment was a study of hypertension versus a lack of the condition, which explained why they had electrodes attached to their chests. They were also connected to a cardiac monitoring device with one small monitor with wires attached to their finger. 

Despite being told the study would look at blood pressure parameters, participants were observed for their reactions to a non-painful but noticeable shock to their fingers. The participants were told it was an accident when the shock occurred. During the experiment, an operator would enter the room to criticize the nurse and berate the participant for being late. Researchers recorded emotional responses to the "accidental shock" and rude operator behavior twice during the session. Comments ranged from begging for the wires to be removed, threatening to punch the operator, and rationalizing the events by stating the wires were too small to be dangerous. 

What were the results of the study? 

When comparing the results, the researchers reported that the physiological response to anger and fear increased blood pressure, muscle tension, breathing rate, and heart rate in the same ways but with distinct markers. With anger, participants showed a greater increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension, whereas the respiratory rate was greater in fear than in anger. 

In conclusion, Ax compared the physiological response patterns to the hormones epinephrine, one of the fight-or-flight hormones, and norepinephrine, a hormone that mobilizes the brain for action. He stated that the physiological response to anger mimicked being injected with both epinephrine and norepinephrine, while the fear response was like being injected with epinephrine alone. The publication also noted the differences in the participants' anger and fear responses, revealing that people often cover their fear response with anger as a form of defense or control. 

Common themes connecting fear and anger

The most common themes that connect fear and anger are control, purpose, conflict, and regret. 


Fear and anger are often rooted in a desire for control. Individuals who experience fear may feel as though they have lost control of a particular situation, circumstance, or individual. This loss of control may have a threat behind it or create unease and uncertainty. Inversely, behaviors motivated by anger can be a way of regaining control. While a fearful individual may hesitate to fight back against the cause of their unease, an angry person may use their displeasure and antagonism to neutralize the source. 


Fear and anger have unique purposes. While fear often occurs to avoid situations that could bring about unwanted outcomes, anger often serves as the motivating force to retaliate against a situation or person. Some people view fear as a manifestation of "weakness," while anger is often perceived as "strength."

Depending on the setting and circumstances, these outlooks may be accurate. However, certain scenarios exist where fear is appropriate, or anger may be a healthy response to learning that a situation is unhealthy. 


Like control and purpose, conflict may be an underlying factor for fear and anger. Verbal arguments and physical confrontations are common forms of conflict, and threats are often made from anger or fear. Someone on the receiving end of these behaviors can also feel afraid or angry. The most frequent responses in conflict are fight, flight, or freeze.

Both fear and anger can cause someone to fight back, flee a situation, or freeze. These responses occur for both emotions because fear and anger originate in the same part of the brain responsible for the fight-flight-freeze response, the amygdala.

Getty/Sarah Waiswa

How do fear and anger work together? 

Fear and anger may not be problematic on their own. However, how one chooses to behave in response to these emotions may be unhealthy. Defensiveness, yelling, or throwing items are a few examples of unhealthy behaviors. In addition, fear may prompt behaviors that appear to be motivated by anger. For example, someone may fear losing their best friend after making a mistake. Instead of expressing fear, they may call their best friend an unkind name or try to end the relationship themselves, attempting to enact control over the situation. 

A fired employee may fear how they will pay rent after losing a job. This fear is natural, and anger may follow as they feel their bosses wronged them. However, if said employee decides to assault their boss or destroy property because of their anger, they may experience legal issues on top of their financial issues. Conversely, if the fired employee decides to seek work elsewhere and use the setback as an opportunity, the anger may subside without engendering a host of additional complications. 

How to cope with fear and anger 

Below are a few examples of coping with fear and anger when they arise to avoid unhealthy behavioral responses.  

Coping with fear

Fear is an emotion, often meant as self-preservation to defend oneself from imminent danger and threat. However, there can be instances where fear works against people and prevents them from taking necessary action. When this occurs, anger may follow. Instead of waiting for fear to transform into other emotions, it may be beneficial to "rewire" your thinking by engaging in positive self-talk. 

Thoughts and self-talk can have immediate impacts on beliefs and actions. Therefore, an individual who constantly says, "I can't do this," or "I'm terrible at this," may eventually begin to believe these statements, regardless of how misguided they are. Negative self-beliefs can lead to not taking positive risks or partaking in activities one enjoys. It may also lead to seeking validation outside of yourself. 

To start using positive self-talk, consider repeating affirmations like, "I am strong. I am brilliant. I am capable." Initially, these phrases may feel awkward, uncomfortable, or pointless. However, they can have a positive long-term impact. Self-confidence may relieve fear and build resilience against future events that may elicit this emotion.


Anger can be an inherently intense emotion that generates strong action urges. In addition, other emotions, prior events, and relationships can impact the degrees of anger people experience. 

While anger is a natural, human emotion, the words or actions that follow anger can be devastating under certain circumstances. To work through anger, take a moment to observe and absorb the event before you speak or act. Some people jump to saying or doing whatever initially comes to mind when angry. Walking away from certain situations and distancing yourself from the source of your anger can be helpful ways of giving yourself space to calm down and not engage in conduct that you might regret later. When you feel anger bubbling up, breathe in, consider why you feel angry, and take a step back before you respond. 

Is my anger related to fear?

How to find professional support for anger and fear 

If you think your responses to anger and fear are not serving you, you might benefit from talking to a licensed therapist. In addition, if you experience social fears about reaching out to a provider, options like online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may be beneficial. 

Online therapy may eliminate social barriers brought on by being in an in-person session. Additionally, studies have found that internet-based therapy for anger management is effective and crucial for those living in rural areas where mental health services are not easily available.

You can partake in therapy sessions from your home via video chat, phone call, or live chat through an online platform. If you do not have a scheduled session and are seeking advice on a certain day, you may have the option to reach out to your therapist for guidance via messaging. 


Anger and fear are complex emotions that can cause complex responses. If you want to better control your behaviors motivated by fear or anger, consider contacting a licensed counselor for further guidance.
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