The wave of emotions this past year most of us have gone through has ranged from anxious and scared to feelings of sadness and lost, but I would attest that the predominate emotion most of us have felt this past week are feelings of anger. We are angry for so many reasons ranging from having children not attending school, to lost social interactions, to loss of income. Many of us are angry that we isolated, we got vaccinated, we did everything we were supposed to and still we are locked out of our lives for yet again another Canadian winter. Whatever your reason for being angry, it is ok. Anger is healthy, and it is a normal evolutionary response to when we feel threatened or when we feel something is unjust. It can provide us with energy we need in a fight/flight response and motivate us to act in a beneficial way for ourselves and others.
Be mindful, however, of anger’s destructive side. If we get into a pattern of continually venting our anger it can lead to victim mentality or aggressive retaliations that end up hindering our lives more than helping them. Venting has often been thought of as a cathartic. Historically, Freud likened venting to pressure building up in a pipe; that if we don’t release the pressure the pipe will burst. While we can respect Freud and much of his work as one of the founder fathers of modern-day psychology, we also have to acknowledge that much of his theories through advancements in psychology research have been debunked. Studies dating back to the 50’s have shown that venting anger alone is more a means of practicing anger without doing anything to actually address it. Numerous studies today discuss a Neoassociation Theory that the more we talk about what makes us angry, think about it or engage in it, the angrier we will feel. Venting anger on a regular basis even leads to more irrational aggressive behaviours later on that leaves us feeling worse. Rather than merely venting our anger to loved ones, or even strangers on social media, we need to accompany this expression with actions aimed at improving our wellbeing and those around us.
- Exercise. This has been shown to provide an actionable outlet to release our pent-up fight/flight emotions that have evolved to allow us to act when we are threatened. Exercise provides a range of health benefits too many to list in this article, but when it comes to helping with our anger, keep in mind to focus on the positive outcomes while you’re exercising. Perhaps you walked a little bit farther, or you lifted a little heavier and you can rejoice in seeing your improvements. Don’t envision hitting someone as this is simply a physical representation of venting. And yes, while gyms being closed and intramural sports being cancelled can add to our anger, engaging in alternatives such as downloading the Fiton app which has multiple free at home exercise routines, many of which do not require equipment.
- Be Proactive. Acknowledging what you can and can’t control. Understand that we can’t control how everyone responds to Covid-19 regulations, and that changes within society take time. Focus on what you can control, actionable steps you can do during this time such as supporting small businesses; volunteer work; safe protests; outdoor activities, something that makes you feel you’re acting in a way that supports your values and beliefs without being harmful to others.
- Take a break. Focus on something else. Meditation works for many people as a way of acknowledging their emotions without dwelling on them. A single meditation session can reduce feelings of anger and tension and can take as little as 10 minutes. There are many free meditation apps and guided ones on YouTube. Focusing on our breathing while meditating can help us learn to control our emotions rather than our emotions controlling us.
- Talk to a professional. If you have an employee assistance program (EAP) at your work, they often come with a few free sessions where you can express your anger in a healthy way with a neutral party. Professionals will also help discuss alternative ways you can express your emotions in a healthy environment. If your workplace does not have an EAP you can visit this website to see alternatives https://www.ontario.ca/page/find-mental-health-support
- Be Kind. Always remember that emotions including anger can either help us or hinder us, and that at the end of the day being kind to each other will result in improvements to yours and others wellbeing. If your anger energizes you to become part of something that can improve the lives of yourself and others, then go forth and conquer. But if this energy is being channeled aggressively in either a verbally or physical way towards others, your own well-being will ultimately suffer.