Anger is defined as a strong feeling that people get when something unfair, painful, or bad happens. It is often considered a secondary emotion because we typically experience anger as a way to protect ourselves from other vulnerable feelings. We usually feel something else first like fear, hurt, rejection, frustration, or sadness. Anger emerges as a way to assert control over the situation or mask the other feelings. At this time it is easy to assume that we all could be dealing with some degree of anger due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Understanding Your Anger
Everyone experiences anger. It is a common emotion often associated with the grieving process. Anger is a perfectly reasonable, rational reaction to the pandemic. We are all grieving in different ways. Although anger is an entirely natural part of the grieving process, it can be expressed in ways that aren’t appropriate.
Being angry is a way of saying, “This is not ok, I am not ok.” That is an entirely valid response to the coronavirus pandemic. It is never okay to lash out at the person in front of you at the grocery store or the people you are quarantining with. The challenge is to find ways to acknowledge your anger without directing that anger in a way that’s inappropriate.
In an effort to understand our anger we begin with questions like, “Why me? Why us? Why did this have to happen?” When there is no good answer, this can lead to more intense feelings of anger and can become overwhelming. And this is the point at which we can choose what to do with it. We can either fuel the anger through destructive or unhelpful behaviors or we can choose to shift it into a positive momentum.
Strategies for Diffusing Anger
If you’re currently stuck in anger mode, here are some ways to help diffuse and then redirect your energy into something good:
1. Acknowledge the Anger
One of the best places to start is to allow yourself to simply acknowledge that you are angry; that this emotion is okay and a normal response to an experience that is completely new and unprecedented for the entire world. Don’t deny the anger, acknowledge that it is there and it is a legitimate reaction to the stressful events happening in the world.
2. Assess Your Emotions
The next step is to assess your level and understanding of what’s truly triggering you. What are the primary emotions that you might be covering up with anger? Is it sadness, fear, hurt, and/or frustration? See if you can determine where the anger is coming from and address the primary issue. This feeling of anger might range from mild irritation to full-on rage. So, determine where it’s directed or coming from (towards yourself, at another person, existentially, the overall coronavirus situation, etc.). Allow your anger to be instructive and guide you towards a path of release.
3. Achieve Calmness
Finding ways to shift your energy into a state of calmness through calming behaviors is key. Some of the best-known practices around moving our minds and bodies into a state of ease and calm are through mindfulness, meditation, journaling, physical exercise, breathing exercises, and visualization.
4. Accept Your Anger
Accepting that you feel this way and more importantly—forgiving yourself for feeling angry—is important as well. We must also accept the resolve that there’s nothing we could have done to avoid or change what caused this. Forgiving yourself might mean looking at things from a different angle and challenging yourself to shift your perspective, to look for things that are going right. Choosing forgiveness gives you back the power and control over your emotions. Remember, you are doing the best that you can with a difficult situation and it’s okay to be kind to yourself (and others).
5. Activate Coping Strategies
It’s important to activate coping strategies that will help you deal with the daily ups and downs of the pandemic, preventing anger from building. When you begin to feel your emotions rising up, engage the following strategies to shift your thoughts and disengage from the anger. This will open up a pathway to positively engage with your feelings:
- When you encounter people who are not compliant with social distancing measures, shift your focus away from anger by visualizing a calming situation, person, or place.
- Shut off the TV if you are upset by the news and leave the room. By changing your environment you can change your perspective.
- If you are angry about what is happening to the world as a result of coronavirus, challenge yourself to focus on the small things you can do that will make a difference for others in your community.
- If you are experiencing an existential crisis along with anger, create a phrase or affirmation you can say to help you reconnect to purpose and meaning. For example “I know it’s hard to understand how to navigate the uncertainty that the pandemic has brought to the world. It will not last forever and I will begin to look for new ways to find meaning and purpose in my world.”