I’ve often said that COVID-19 took the last f*ck I had to give. And it’s true: things that would have sent me cringing and brooding are no more than everyday interactions now. I have shouted across a Target: “Masks don’t work when your nose hangs out!” I have held up my hand in a grocery store. “I’m sorry,” I said loudly, “what part of six feet do you fail to understand?” I have commented loudly, purposely, “People who don’t wear masks fuel the pandemic.” I have flipped my middle finger at people behind me in the drive-thru line, impatient when I’d paused to sanitize my hands. In other words, at times, I have not been managing anger well.
You might have anger issues, too. Your triggers might be different than the maskless masses that enrage me. Maybe it’s your messy house, or your spouse, or your kids’ wrangling. Maybe it’s virtual schooling. But whatever it is, we can find our inner zen again. Managing anger is hard, but it’s doable. I did some research and I’m (slowly) learning to calm my rage-y feelings. You can do it, too.
We can do it together.
Managing Anger Means Recognizing Anger
You know how I say COVID-19 took my last f*ck? It did. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. When I stopped caring about other people’s opinions, I not only gave myself permission to ask that others respect my social distance, I granted myself the right to be downright mean about it. I am not polite. I am not kind. I am a grade-A bitch.
Managing anger means noticing and naming it in the moment, and when I see people moving into my space or not wearing a mask, I feel angry. I am personally offended. I can name it now. I don’t excuse it or hide it or justify it. I feel angry. And I also recognize that it’s okay to be angry. Anger is a feeling. We can control how we act. We can’t control how we feel.
In other words, I can name my feeling. But that feeling doesn’t give me a right to act out.
Then Yes: Take Deep Breaths
Everyone tells you to take deep breaths. It sounds stupid and cliched. But as Healthline points out, anger kicks your breathing into overdrive: it comes faster and more shallow. So when you take those deep breaths, you’re really doing two things. You’re fixing that breathing, and when you do that, you send your body the message to calm down. Managing anger means calming yourself.
At the same time, those deep breaths force you to relax. I tend to tense, especially my jaw, so I make an effort to relax. As I relax, I do something else anger management experts recommend, pretty much universally: I pause. As the Mayo Clinic says, “Think before you speak.” No, don’t think of some really good snark. Think of the right thing to say.
Making A Plan Also Helps When Managing Anger
The American Physicians Association recommends handling and facing the problem of managing anger. Think about what makes you really mad. Pause. Make a list if you need. I know I’m enraged by people who don’t take the pandemic seriously. So I have a plan: I avoid them whenever possible. I keep my public outings to places which maintain mask and distancing safety. The pharmacy is safe. So are some other places. But I avoid the zoo at peak hours. I do not visit hiking trails where I am likely to encounter maskless people who may not socially distance.
By avoiding these people, I avoid my anger. And on the occasions that I do run into people threatening to violate my space or not wearing masks, I have armed myself with words: Eliza, this is not about you. Not close? Not your problem. Close? Move. Impossible? Say: Please move back. I maintain a six foot distance like the CDC recommends.”
Find Your Happy Place: Escape
Recently, I received an absolutely enraging text message while I was in the (parked) car. Luckily, I have a solution to that. I always sing along to the radio, and if I have kids in the car, managing my anger means soft singing. But if I’m alone, I crank it up to eleven and sing David Bowie: I start with “Under Pressure,” then move into “Modern Love” and finally “Ashes to Ashes.” Bowie stops me from rage-crying, and when I’m done, even if I only fit in one song, I can tackle the world again.
Find that escape for managing anger. Maybe your happy place lies in music, like mine. Maybe you can delve into a book. Maybe you can take a walk, or zone out to the TV. Regardless, the Mayo Clinic recommends taking a time-out when we’re angry. And it really does help.
Escape also forces you to do something else people recommend for managing anger. You have to walk away to do it. You remove yourself from the situation that’s making you angry, and this also prevents you from doing something you might regret.
Managing Anger May Also Mean Practicing Empathy
I haven’t quite made it there yet. I did with that text message (eventually). But the maskless? I try to tell myself they believe false information. But I can’t reach it yet. The only thing I can come up with: they have been worn down by isolation and can’t bear to take the virus seriously anymore.
But managing anger means shoving yourself into someone else’s shoes. You have to try to look at the world from their perspective. And it’s so hard. I’m stubborn. In seventh grade, my teacher wrote that I did not “respect the opinions of others.” Empathy for people who enrage me? Not a strong point.
Unfortunately, managing anger means trying to empathize, to put yourself in someone else’s place. I have a hard time making it there sometimes. But I promise I’m working on it. I practice with little things: my kid screaming about going to bed, or my dog barking endlessly. He’s sad he has to go to sleep. She wants attention.
Until then, please be patient. Please know I’m trying. But please, stay away when you hear “Under Pressure” blaring from my car radio.