- Melissa Petro is a freelance writer based in New York where she lives with her husband and two small children.
- During the pandemic, she says she’s had to find new ways to manage her anger and negativity.
- Petro says she’s learned to take a step back, try to empathize, and lean into her “softer feelings.”
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
In 2018, a Gallup poll found that more Americans were stressed, worried, and angered compared to the previous year. Considering all we’ve dealt with in the past three years, it’s reasonable to speculate that this statistic has skyrocketed.
In the last year alone, political divisions and “panger” – an actual term coined for “pandemic anger”- have put many Americans in a constant state of fight or flight.
I’m as angry as most people – and I’d say justifiably so. But as a mom of two toddlers struggling to keep my family safe and maintain a freelance writing career without the luxury of childcare, I don’t have time to argue endlessly on Twitter or bicker with my husband over whose turn it is to walk the dogs. I know that if I blow up at my toddler, the situation will only escalate. Although we may disagree on some issues or choose to behave differently (particularly when it comes to COVID protocols), I can’t afford to make an enemy of my neighbor or lose a valued friend. And so when my anger begins to feel unhealthy and unproductive, I make a concerted effort to let it go.
Below are the steps I take to let go of my anger so that I can focus on my family and be more productive at work.
1. I feel my feelings
Anger is a natural emotion, and there can be upsides to feeling it. Justifiable anger, for example, incited Black Americans and their allies to act on their beliefs and form what may be the largest political movement in US history. But even righteous anger can overwhelm and make a person behave irrationally when they don’t regulate their emotions. Anger can even make you sick, exhausting our bodies and weakening the immune system.
That’s why, when I feel my temperature begin to rise, I’ve learned to do the opposite of the urgency my body seems to be demanding. Instead of rushing headfirst into conflict, I consciously slow down, stop, and return to my emotions. Experts say that acknowledging and experiencing our emotions may prevent them from spiraling out of control. To be sure, in my experience, simply noticing my physical response and identifying the feeling can diffuse the situation enough and allow me to refocus on my work.
2. I seek out emotional validation
Of course, noticing a frustration doesn’t always make it go away – especially in the era of the coronavirus. With so many of us working from home under lockdown and deprived of many of the usual sources of pleasure and release, experts say it’s easy to get stuck in a negative mood.
To prevent minor annoyances from adding up and compounding into major resentments, I pick up the phone and call or text a friend. Licensed psychologist Guy Winch explained on Psychology Today why seeking out people who will understand, relate, and take your side is a good coping tactic.
“When we tell someone why we are extremely angry or upset and they totally get it truly,” Winch said, “it effectively validates our feelings. As a result, we experience tremendous relief and catharsis.”
3. I log off social media
I can tell my anger is misdirected when it seemingly arises out of nowhere, or when it’s disproportionate to its trigger. My husband catches a lot of undue flak, but my favorite place to misdirect my anger is online.
Whenever I feel a strong urge to lash out on social media, I try and pause first to consider whether or not my reaction is rational. Am I really angry at my cousin’s husband’s work colleague for posting a photo of themselves enjoying a round of drinks at a bar with their friends? Or is it more that I am mad at the fact that I, too, long to return to indoor dining, but we’ve made the personal choice to stay home until we’ve gotten our vaccines?
In these moments, I remind myself that a snide or self righteous remark will only make me feel worse, and that no amount of back and forth is going to make me feel better. At some point – hopefully before I injure a relationship – I log off and turn my attention back to work, or my kids.
If the pandemic has weakened your self discipline, there are also useful apps you can use to block social media.
4. I try to empathize with whoever’s angering me
Don’t get me wrong – whatever the disagreement, I like to think that I’m right. But, according to experts on intellectual humility, it makes us feel better when we accept we could be wrong.
Intellectual humility is an ability to meet opposing views with curiosity. It means setting aside your preconceived notions and being open to learning from the experiences of others.
Even in instances when you’re certain and strong in your conviction, it’s beneficial to recognize and regard another person’s opinion. Empathy – that is, putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes – “is one of the great teaching tools in shaping anger and aggression,” said Dr. Hans Steiner, a Stanford professor who’s spent decades studying anger and aggression.
5. I feel my softer feelings
While anger is classified as one of the four primary emotions (along with joy, sadness, and fear), it is often expressed in secondary ways. For example, I felt sad and fearful when I read a third surge of covid is hitting Michigan, and then I got mad to learn that one probably cause for the uptick is the fact that residents are moving about almost on par with pre-pandemic levels, taking far more “non-essential” trips than they did at the depths of the second wave in December.
While aggression may feel safer than the softer, more vulnerable emotions like sorrow or worry, it separates us from others and makes us feel more alone. Softer emotions, on the other hand, are key in building intimacy, coming together around a problem, and preventing polarization. In other words, don’t get mad, get clear – and then carry on with your workday.