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September 21, 2020

Four tips for managing anger

Managing fear and uncertainty is an important and widely discussed topic that has generated much interest since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But what about anger? We cannot have a conversation about overcoming anxiety, depression and stress without talking about anger. Anger goes hand-in-hand with all of these feelings, either as a mask for, or the underlying cause of, other unpleasant emotions.

Anger has been widespread during the pandemic, but often overlooked. In fact, a recent study by JMR Public Health and Surveillance that analyzed the contents of 20 million tweets about COVID-19 showed that a growing number were anger-related.

Situations that can lead to anger

Although COVID-19 unifies us by its dramatic changes, it can also generate division. There are many unknowns about this novel virus that can lead to rapidly changing and confusing information. This can cause debate on different interpretations that can lead to anger and rifts in even close relationships.

Additionally, anger during these challenging times can be related to grief and loss. It is normal to be disappointed or angry about the cancellation of events, loss of income, disruptions in routines, inability to connect with others and much more. It is also natural to want to displace the anger and cast blame on others for our losses or stressors. For example, many people have reported feeling guilty about being more irritable and short-tempered around their children or loved ones. It is important to recognize that anger is one of the stages in the grief process and it is inevitable that we feel this emotion whenever there is loss.

What can we do about anger?

We need to be aware of our anger and learn to validate it. The goal is NOT to get rid of anger entirely, because this would be unrealistic.

Before anger escalates, consider these strategies for managing anger:

1. Notice your anger

Try to notice the build up of everyday frustrations. You can do this by introducing multiple check points throughout the day where you ask yourself, “how am I doing in this moment?”

2. Identify why you are angry

If you notice yourself feeling frustrated or angry, reflect on why you may be feeling this way.

3. Allow yourself to be angry and know that it will pass

Allow yourself to express your frustrations in healthy ways including journaling, talking to someone, physical activity, or spending time on your favourite hobbies.

4. Look for alternative interpretations

Sometimes we may feel ‘stuck’ with our anger. If this happens, ask yourself, “is there another way to look at this situation”? It can also helpful to recognize what we CAN and CANNOT control. The key here is to be flexible with our thinking.

Anger is a normal emotion that everyone experiences, and an essential part of our mental wellbeing.

Dr. Karen Zhang is a Clinical, Health, and Rehabilitation Psychologist and Regional Psychosocial Oncology Lead at the Juravinski Cancer Centre.