“I feel like I’m losing my temper constantly – at my partner and my kids. I feel so out of control.”
“I can’t believe I blew up like I did and said those things. I’m horrified at my own behavior.”
We hear statements like this all the time in these COVID filled days and with the stresses that go along with it. It’s not easy to have such intense feelings. It’s even harder when we see the damage our explosive feelings create.
You just yelled at your partner or called your child stupid. Maybe you broke a picture when you pounded the wall or slammed your bedroom door. Is this really happening in our homes, our safe place, and with the people we love the most?
The Coronavirus pandemic has changed so much. It’s taken away our ability to go out and do the things we love. We’re no longer free to hug the people most important to us. Our jobs, our kids’ school, and our health all feel as though they’re under threat. And it’s not going away anytime soon. I can feel my chest tightening as I talk about this, can you?
Anger is a normal and healthy emotion, just like sadness or joy. It usually alerts us to a threat or violation of our boundaries (an external source like kids jumping all over you) or occurs when we can’t quite get what we want or need (an internal source such as worry you won’t be able to pay the bills). Often anger coincides with feelings of fear, pain, or shame.
According to Charles Spielberger, a psychologist specializing in anger, anger is “an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury or rage.” As a healthy response, anger can be used to keep us safe or activate change. If we lose control and verbally or physically hurt those around us, anger is unhealthy.
COVID affects us in both internal and external ways. Some examples are:
- we wonder if we’ll catch the virus and what it would look like
- we spend a lot more time together
- parents work from home (and help kids with school)
- kids and teens miss school like it used to be and miss their friends
- our job or business may be at risk
- we can’t go to movies or restaurants without staying away from everyone
It makes sense that we feel afraid and sensitive, constantly under threat from an unseeable ‘enemy’. It makes sense that we feel angry at or frustrated by all the stressors in our lives and not knowing when it will all end.
What can we do to make sure our anger and frustration doesn’t turn into unhealthy fury?
- Be gentle with yourself: You’re stressed out. You may get irritable and grumpy from time to time, or all the time! Allow yourself to admit it and to say it out loud that things feel heavy and hard these days. And that as a result you won’t always be your best self with your kids or partner or coworkers. You’re normal if you feel tired and on edge, so have a bit of self-compassion.
- Calm your body: Taking a deep breath or two frequently is the best way to calm your body down. Maybe you like to walk in nature? Or listen to music? Or workout strenuously until you’re spent. Whatever it is, find something that relaxes you, even for 10 minutes. Give your body a break and improve your chance of noticing ahead of time when you’re getting irritated and emotional.
- Notice what your triggers are: Each of us is bothered by different things. Get to know your triggers. Do you feel a rush of anger when the kids aren’t listening? Or someone ahead of you is driving slowly? When we’re aware of what makes us angry and times when we’re likely to yell, explode or lash out, we can work to catch them before those negative behaviors happen.
- Take a break: When you get triggered, take a break and change something. Step away. Go to another room if the kids are fighting with your partner. Put the finances away for a while and go outside for a breath of fresh air. Give yourself time to get back to a calmer way of looking at things.
- Communicate with others around you: We don’t often use our words to let people know how we are feeling. Instead, our bodies react and tell the story. When we say, “I’m feeling angry right now” or, “I can feel my blood starting to boil” we give people around us a signal that we need them to listen and understand us. With practice, it is possible to develop awareness of our feelings, take a breath to calm our bodies down, and then say where we’re at. We can communicate our feelings instead of being controlled by them.
In these pandemic times, know that it’s normal to have big emotions, especially anger. Try implementing a few things to take that emotion down a notch or two – like breathing or taking space – which can help you manage your emotions instead of them having control over you. And if it all feels too big to deal with on your own, reach out for help. It’s ok to ask for support or a helping hand.