Why am I feeling so angry right now? We may be at the 'temper flaring' phase of the pandemic

When in a distressing situation, anger usually follows emotions of shock, upset and grief

Anger is a common emotion to feel after distress. Unsplash
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I was out for a run yesterday when an oncoming jogger, who was staring off across the waters of Dubai Marina, took a wayward step and accidentally whacked an elbow into my side.

He didn't apologise and, under normal circumstances, I wouldn't care. But this time, I stopped and berated him instead.

Anger is an extremely common and natural reaction to a distressing event and usually follows the initial shock, upset and grief

I'm not a particularly angry person (my husband might argue otherwise), but in the past week or so, I seem to have a lot less chill than I once did.

And I might not be alone.

In recent days, there seems to have been a communal shift in the public's temperament towards being at the end of our collective tethers.

UAE Twitter has spontaneously imploded into petty arguments. I've watched grown men and women scold security guards for having the gall to tell them to pull their face masks up from under their chins. People have stopped smiling at strangers quite so often.

So why is everyone so angry right now?

Well we are in the midst of a global pandemic, people have lost their jobs and homes and livelihoods, and we are all getting a bit sick of living in our significant other's or flatmates' back pockets.

So, of course our sudden bouts of frustration are absolutely justified.

But if you've noticed that tempers may be at breaking point now more than previous weeks, you might not be imagining it.

We may have collectively arrived at the 'anger' phase of this pandemic

Tanya Dharamshi, clinical director and counselling psychologist at Dubai's Priory Wellbeing Centre believes our feeling of “cabin fever” could be coming to a head.

"Anger is an extremely common and natural reaction to a distressing event and usually follows the initial shock, upset and grief – it’s when we move on to looking for someone or something to apportion blame and vent our frustrations towards," she says.

Tanya Dharamshi, clinical director and psychologist at Priory Wellbeing Centre
Tanya Dharamshi, clinical director and psychologist at Priory Wellbeing Centre

Dharamshi says not knowing how long the crisis will last could be intensifying this feeling, and "playing havoc on our mental health".

"Our brain deals with changes – whether good or bad – in a similar way. It feels challenged to do something different which produces stress and a longing for old habits. The longer the current situation lasts, the more intense our emotions and reactions will become as we learn to change and adapt our lives accordingly."

But this isn't necessarily true for everyone. Dharamshi says traumatic events trigger a range of physical, mental, emotional and behavioural reactions, which all affect our ability to function with daily life. The ways in which each of us deal with these reactions will vary.

"Common reactions to trauma include feeling emotionally ‘numb’, fatigued, anxious, protective towards others and self, being in a constant state of ‘high alert’ and feeling angry, irritable and frustrated," she says.

"Anger is related to the fight, flight or freeze response and results in the release of stress hormones. It is usually our response to survival and is a self-protection mechanism. When you look underneath the anger – which is termed the secondary emotion – there is another, ‘primary’ emotion present, which could be fear, loneliness, isolation or worry, among others.

"While in the short term it helps to protect us and keep us safe, prolonged exposure to the stress hormone can bring on negative responses such as memory lapses, errors in judgment as well as weaken our immune system."

So then, how can we curb the sudden outbursts at strangers, or the searing admonishments of our husbands when they burn our toast?

One of the enduring messages that has resounded with me through this pandemic has come from New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

In March, Ardern marked day one of the country's lockdown with a Facebook Live from her home and one simple message that she continued to address throughout the crisis: be kind.

Now, I may not have lived by that day in and day out, but there's definitely something in it: an extra "thank you" to the person bagging your groceries, or a "have a great day" to your Deliveroo driver.

And when that doesn't work, Dharamshi believes its best to try one of the below:

7 things we can do to help us deal with anger

1. Count to ten 

Take yourself away from the situation and count to ten. This process helps the heart rate to slow and in turn will help your anger to subside.

2. Exercise 

Physical activity works wonders for our mental health and releases a rush of endorphins, also known as "happy chemicals". A run, a brisk walk around the block, an online yoga session – these can all help your mind and body to calm and re-focus.

3. Keep a journal

Instead of venting your anger towards others, write down how you are feeling instead. This can help us to calm down and enable us to fully process our emotions. Is there a certain time in the day when your temper is likely to flare? Does a certain conversation or discussion always end in an argument? Recognise common themes and take steps to avoid them in the future.

4. Appreciate we are all in this together

Recognise you have not been singled out and are not suffering alone. This normalises what we are experiencing and removes the element of isolation. Draw strength and support from others. Share and talk about your worries and concerns with others – this will help you to appreciate what others are going through and provide a "forum" to discuss challenges and ways and means to deal with them.

5. Make a plan 

Try to re-focus your anger and negative energy and turn it into something useful and productive. Make plans for when this is all over – consider things you’ve always wanted to do. Now is a good time to take a step back and re-assess any life changes you would like to make. Try to identify just one small task to accomplish every day. This will provide us with the feeling of value and purpose as we are able to tick off the task from our list.

6. Practice self care

It’s easy to neglect ourselves during distressing events, both mentally and physically. Now more than ever there is a need to take time out and be kind to yourself. Take a bath, read a book, go for a walk – these activities can help us to mentally ‘escape’, even if just for a short while.

7. Visualisation 

Focus on a time when you were in a healthy, enjoyable space – what did that look like? Where was it?

When you imagine it, what do you see? What does that feel like in your body? Being able to successfully turn your focus and attention away from the anger to an enjoyable space instead will help you to recognise that you can gain some control and ownership over your response to the current, unprecedented situation.