Let's be real, there is a lot to be angry about right now. Drastic changes in our lives came unwanted and unexpectedly. The way our lives have been disrupted feels unfair, which causes frustration. In my house, we are often saying, "nothing comes easy these days." Even simple tasks like going to the grocery store has become stressful and feels borderline creepy. Nothing seems to work the same, and everything is different. The "new normal" is hard and far from ideal.
All of the modifications we are having to make due to the pandemic are causing a myriad of emotions. We are grieving many losses that have come with the changes and uncertainties. The Stages of Grief are affecting our day to day lives. The 6 Stages of Grief are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance and Finding Meaning. These stages can overlap and they come in random order and intensity. I will be writing more about grief soon, but with so much anger currently at the forefront, I feel compelled to write about it. As opinions about how to deal with the pandemic vary and real life consequences are happening, tempers are flaring and we are collectively in the Anger stage of grief.
So let's look at anger. There are always underlying feelings beneath anger; it is a secondary emotion. Most of the time, the primary feelings are either fear, hurt or disappointment, but they are not the only possible initiators. The primary feelings quickly trigger an anger response. For example, small business owners feel fear about shutting down and become angry because they are losing business, which brings more concerns, fear and anger. Someone else may be disappointed about a cancelled or postponed graduation, wedding or vacation. They may feel sad at times, but also angry because they were excited and looking forward to the event.
Identifying and coping with the underlying/primary emotions that precipitate the anger is an effective way to begin to manage it. Keeping these feelings bottled up creates resentment and anger and can eventually contribute to mental or physical illnesses. Question what your underlying emotions are when you are angry about something. When you see or hear news about people behaving in ways you disagree with, do you become angry? What is behind that? Fears that the virus will spread? Fears about the economy or your own financial well-being? Feeling more than one emotion at once is common during times of stress. Being able to identify what you are primarily feeling, and having compassion for yourself for those feelings, will help you get a better handle on it than if you just explode in anger.
In our quarantined homes, it is understandable if tensions are rising. Lockdown in general and constant togetherness can feel restrictive and frustrating. There will likely be times when you get angry. If you want to scream at someone, take a minute. You can do it. Walk away, breathe deeply until you feel more calm. Ask yourself what is making you so angry. Are you afraid of something? Hurt? Disappointed? Sad? Something else? Return and discuss, only when you are calm, and talk about the underlying feelings that you are feeling and why. For example, instead of getting into a heated argument with your teen daughter, you can take a time out and think about what is fueling your anger. When you are calm you can explain why you disagree by rationally and say something like, "I am uncomfortable about letting you go to a party this weekend. I am afraid you will contract the virus and pass it along to your grandparents or someone else."
You can also ask yourself how the other person might be feeling. In the case of the teen, she could be feeling lonely and needing connection with friends. Or she may be worried her friendships will change if she doesn't go to the party. Showing empathy for how she is feeling eases tensions, because she will feel understood. Validating her while still standing your ground might sound something like this, "I understand that you miss your friends and you want to be with them, but now is not the right time for that. I'm sorry. I know all this is hard for you."
"It's Not What You Look At, It's What You See" - Robert Frost We view our world from our own unique lense. Our frame of reference is based on personal experience and life circumstances. Life events shape our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. No one sees things the same way you do, because no two brains are alike and, more importantly, no one else has lived your life. During this time, you may notice that you are thinking about the past more often than you were pre-quarantine life. You may feel like you are going back in time to some degree. Old habits and ways of thinking can re-emerge or memories or regrets may be on your mind. Old wounds may be opened again. You may even be having dreams about people or places that you haven't thought about in years. This is perfectly normal. Grief is highly individualized, beause it brings your past into the present. It means you are needing to heal. Be kind to yourself during this process and try not to be self critical. This is hard stuff. Exploring your thoughts and emotions by journaling, talking to a trusted friend or counselor can help you tremendously.
Blaming is often part of our desire to release anger. We feel the need to hold someone or something accountable for the angst that we are feeling. It is the government's fault, China, an opposing political party, etc. It feels good to blame. Until it doesn't. It is actually quite self destructive and is unpleasant for anyone nearby. It can also fuel more anger and spending time and energy this way is not productive or good for your mental health. Over time, a cycle of anger and blame can damage relationships and lead to violence, substance abuse, disordered eating, anxiety and depression just to name a few problems.
Everyone gets angry at times, but allowing it to fester and get stronger will have lasting results. The negative energy you're using can be put to better use by doing something you enjoy or talking about a more pleasant subject. Stay on top of it and take a break from thinking about things that make you upset. If letting go of your anger is a common struggle for you, get professional help.
There is no easy fix to deal with anger, but a conscious and continuous effort to stay ahead of it will make a big difference.
Here are some suggestions :
1. Focus on yourself and your own behavior and attitude. Only you can do this and you have the power to do it whenever you want. Whatever you look for you will find. If you want to be angry, there are plenty of opportunities and reasons. But you don't have to fall into that trap, even under these trying times. It is really up to you how you will think and act.
2. There are two things a person should never be angry at, what they can help, and what they cannot. - Plato
Set your own boundaries for what is good for you and what is not. Put your effort into what you CAN control, not what is out of your hands. Anger often makes someone feel out of control. No one can control what someone says or does, so any effort to change another person is just wasted time. You also can't control a lot of decisions that are being made for you right now. Feeling powerless while dealing with common freedoms being taken away is breeding resentment and anger. Although very frustrating, it doesn't have to consume you. Be pro-active to fight against the things that annoy you. For example, if you don't like what a politician is doing or saying, campaign or vote for someone whose views are similar to yours. If the news is stressing you out, limit when and how much you will watch it. Share your feelings when conflicts arise in the home without blaming anyone for "making" you feel a certain way.
Decide how you will spend your time and energy. Making healthy choices that bring joy will motivate you to continue. If you are pro-active, you are less likely to fly off the handle and you can more calmly deal with any challenge. Basically, take some of your power back by controlling your habits and how you react to whatever is bothering you.
3. Read the Room. If you are around someone who is angry or tense, don't poke the bear. Remember that it is never ok for someone to be disrespectful or mean. It is best to resist fighting back; you will actually feel better if you don't engage and make tensions worse and possibly even endanger yourself. The person who is angry is struggling, likely needs some space and, more importantly, compassion. In a calm moment, tell them what you are noticing and ask them what they need from you. If you are feeling angry, take a break. Go to another room or take a walk. Later, when you are calm, tell your "quartantine-mates" what you need from them. You're "all in this together," but only if you are expressing and are respectful of each other's needs. This could be a good time to set some household agreements/rules about how to treat each other going forward. If age appropriate, kids can participate in this discussion too!
4. This one is hard. Now more than ever. Have empathy for people with opinions that are different than yours. During stressful times, people often act on fear. For example, some feel safer staying at home and some feel safer by going out and supporting the economy. Both of these choices are driven by fear. How you respond and behave depends on how you look at the issues. No one is right. No one is wrong. There are just different ways of looking at how to proceed during this complicated time. No one today has ever gone through anything like what we are having to deal with right now; we are acting instinctively. We will make mistakes because we don't know what to do. Have compassion that even the most vocal or rude people are usually afraid of consequences that have the potential to negatively impact their life. Also, let's face it, some people have better social abilities and manners than others. Strive to find compassion and patience for anyone who is hurting, regardless of how they express themselves. Again, stay in your lane and act in alignment with your own personal values. Allowing yourself to continually get upset about what someone else is doing or how they think is not going to serve you in a healthy way.
5. There are ALWAYS things to be grateful for & hopeful about, no matter how tough things get. Training yourself to look for good things in your life helps you become more positive and optimistic. Practice this with your family at dinnertime or bedtime if you have small children. It is a good example for them, and knowing it is a common topic will help you all look from the perspective of gratitude every day.
6. Remind yourself that this time in your life is temporary. Tough times build strength and resiliency. You will get through this challenge. How you manage it is up to you.
*If you are finding that you or someone you know is having a hard time managing anger, or if you are currently living with someone whose anger feels frightening or threatening to you, please seek help. You can confidentially contact me and I will help you. Everyone deserves to feel safe.