Each day I find myself becoming angrier and angrier.
We’re in a pandemic that has killed 200,000 Americans, a pandemic that the president admitted to Bob Woodward in February that he knew was deadly. Forest fires on the West Coast are blazing out of control. Allegations arose that women have been given unwanted hysterectomies while in ICE custody.
There is a lot to be hot about.
The last six months have brought a range of emotions. We have been shocked, scared, and depressed.
But now many of us are starting to fume. The pandemic has affected our lives, but also our jobs, our economy, our kids, our parents. There’s no real hope that anything will get back to “normal” soon. And outside of the pandemic, we’ve had rising protests and a looming election.
“Collectively speaking, we are an angry country,” said Ebony White, a licensed professional family counselor. “We are a divided country. We are scared. We are tired and we want change. And if we aren’t careful, soon all of us will be full of rage. And that’s not good.”
So what should we do about it?
Anger vs. rage
In the earlier stages of the pandemic, many of us were consumed with feelings of grief, despair, and powerlessness. Those emotions, explained Linda Copel, a practicing marriage and family therapist and a psychology professor at Villanova University’s M. Louise Fitzpatrick School of Nursing, are at the bottom end of the continuum of emotion; they are rooted in hopelessness and fear. We feel bad because there is nothing we can do about our situation.
Anger, believe it or not, is a step up. Anger is actually closer to peace, contentment, and joy because it fuels us to take the action we need to get us to a happier place. “Anger spurs us to make change,” Copel says. “It energizes us. Inspires us to make our voices heard and get things done.”
Change that comes from being fed up is powerful, said Heather Coletti, an adjunct professor of philosophy at Villanova University. And society has taught some groups to behave as a way to control them. Women were taught that anger was unbecoming, hysterical. Black anger, in the days of slavery, Jim Crow, and even today, can get a Black man killed.
“I’ve always seen anger as very valuable,” Coletti said. “Anger has the potential to transform and be transformative. But anger that goes unchecked is rage. And rage, Coletti said, is not good for us because it’s out of control, unpredictable, and destructive. “Once your anger becomes rage, you’ve missed the opportunity to transform, and you could spend a lifetime stewing in your own juices,” Coletti said. It can be paralyzing.
The scary part, mental health professionals say, is that a lot of us are on the brink of rage if we haven’t completely crossed over already.
How to stop anger from becoming rage
As long as you are conscious of your anger, you aren’t yet enraged, said Copel. Here are some ways to help keep from letting your disgust get the best of you.
Identify the feeling. When your feelings of discontent start to bubble, call it what it is. Don’t stuff it deep down and pretend like it’s not there. This is probably the most important step, said Carrie Rowan, the Boston-based author of Tell a New Story: 5 Simple Steps to Release Your Negative Thoughts and Bring Joy to Your Life. You can’t fix a problem you won’t admit to yourself that you have, Rowan said.
Figure out what’s (really) making you mad. This sounds easier than it is, Copel says. Sometimes we say we are angry about one thing because we don’t want to face what’s really bothering us. You may think that you’re angry because you can’t go out, but the truth is, you don’t feel your partner is paying attention to you. “This can take some time to get at,” Copel said. “Now is when you want to meditate, journal, really sit down and figure out why you aren’t happy.”
Now do something about it
Every day you wake up, you can choose to do something productive with your anger, Rowan said. Perhaps you start your day with a gratitude prayer or meditation.
If your source of anger is a relationship: Pick a time when the person hasn’t gotten on your last nerve — that’s the worst time to address an issue — and explain how you feel. Maybe you will learn something new about each other.
If you are missing your parents and friends: Stay connected. Send them cards. FaceTime. Send gifts. Know that if you are choosing not to visit them during this uncertainty you are doing your part to keep them safe. You could deepen your connection.
If the state of the state of politics has you stewing: The most important tool at your disposal is exercising your right to vote in November. Want to do more? Maybe this is the year you join or donate to a political campaign, or find a way to give back to your community.
If social justice — or the lack thereof — has you seeing red: Volunteer for organizations that welcome your voice, such as Black Lives Matter, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Philadelphia Bail Fund, or the Southern Poverty Law Center. :Here is a comprehensive list of national and Pennsylvania-based social justice organizations.
What else can help?
Remove the triggers. This has become a universal tip for wellness during the pandemic. Take a minute before you check Facebook and Twitter feeds (or, stop doomscrolling). And if you do give in, please don’t write that nasty comment on the post that set you off. That only ever brings you one step closer to rage.
Have patience. Once you’ve done something constructive about your anger, wait for the outcome. Change doesn’t happen overnight. And remember the only thing you can really change is yourself. When we are at our most angry, we have to remember we can’t control the people and the events that are outside of us, Coletti said. “The anger you feel may be just what you need to transform yourself into a worthy servant of change.” And rage has no place there.