Coping with Anger During COVID19
By Aspasia Hotzoglou, P.h.D.
Covid-19 has changed our lives in ways we could not have imagined a few months ago. Tasks that once seemed easy like traveling, getting groceries, or taking a walk are now more difficult and can lead to irritation. While it is normal and expected to notice changes in your emotional functioning during this time, it is important to think about how you are coping with these changes. Perhaps you are feeling angry more often than you used to and in situations where you did not feel angry in the past. The following are tips on how to cope if you are noticing frequent anger:
Follow the Beginning of the Anger Trail
Think back to your most recent experience of anger. Can you remember what might have triggered you? What were you thinking at the time? If the thought was something like “I cannot take this,” “This is the worst thing that could happen” or “People should not behave in that way”, then pause and reexamine those thoughts. How we think affects how we feel. It makes sense that negative thoughts about our ability to cope and catastrophic thoughts about situations would lead us to feel frustrated or angry. An alternative way to think might be, “I do not like this but I can cope with this situation,” and “Things are difficult right now and I know they could be worse.” If you notice thoughts with the word “should” in them you are probably identifying what are your own personal beliefs about how things “should be.” Remember that not everyone shares your personal beliefs. Thinking “Shoulds” will not change someone else’s behavior. It only leaves you feeling annoyed. Letting go of your personal “should” thoughts can help you accept that others think and behave differently than you do. It can also help you be more flexible when something does not turn out as you initially hoped it would.
Notice Signs that Might Signal Anger
Common signs of anger are clenching our fists, tensing our shoulders or jaw, rapid heartbeat, and a rise in body temperature. If you notice any of these signs it might be time to take a break from what you are doing and use distracting activities such as listening to music or playing a game on your phone for a few minutes. Anger, like every other emotion, is temporary. Giving it time to pass can prevent you from saying or doing something that you will regret later. Ways to help you calm down include taking a walk, turning to deep breathing, or taking some “alone time” if you are quarantining with others.
Weigh the Pros and Cons of Feeling Angry
Look at all the consequences of anger. Anger can feel empowering and even good to express in the short-term but then inevitably you experience other negative consequences. Ask yourself what are the short-term and long-term consequences of frequent anger. You might be able to get someone’s attention or have someone stop a behavior that is annoying to you (short-term consequence), but at what cost? Anger can cost you your personal relationships, your health, and even your job (long-term consequences). Next time you are feeling angry ask yourself “Is it really worth it? What can happen if I let this go?” Think of what you have to gain by letting go of things that annoy you. A more pleasant day, improved concentration, happier relationships, avoiding consequences of anger are some examples of what can be gained by letting go of your anger.
Ask Yourself What is Within Your Control
Asking yourself what your options are can be a helpful way to reduce your anger. It is common to feel angry about things that are out of our control, for example waiting on a long line to get into a grocery store or feeling angry that others are not social distancing. Consider returning to the grocery store at a different time, for example during the early morning when it is likely less busy. Try a different route when you are outside walking that may make it easier to stay away from others. Be thoughtful about your expectations of situations and ask yourself if your expectations are realistic. It would be great if everyone wore a mask in public as they are being told to do, but is it likely that everyone you see will be following the rules in the way that you are? Remind yourself that you can only control your own choices and behavior.
Be One Step Ahead of Your Anger
Exercise, good sleep, eating well, and staying connected to family and friends are ways that you can reduce your vulnerability to anger. Try to stay on top of your physical health and social habits so that you are better able to cope with anger should it arise. If you notice that you are feeling angry ask yourself if you are feeling restless, tired, hungry or lonely. If you answer “Yes” to any of those then respond to that need first and see if it helps to reduce your experience of anger (i.e. take a nap, eat a snack, call a friend).
Aspasia Hotzoglou, Ph.D., is a a Licensed Psychologist at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy. She is trained in cognitive behavioral therapies, specializing in working with individuals suffering from anxiety and mood disorders, trauma, and anger related issues. Dr. Hotzoglou completed her intensive training in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) in January 2018 and is proficient in the treatment of individual with borderline personality disorder and emotion regulation issues. Dr. Hotzoglou has been trained in intellectual assessments, and has worked with families on developmental issues along the lifespan. Dr. Hotzoglou earned her Bachelor’s degree from Hunter College and completed her doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Hofstra University. She also completed her APA accredited internship at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center where she was trained in the use of prolonged exposure therapy (PE).