Covid-19 and anger management: counsellors see increase in number of people struggling to cope

Psychologists' tips on how to tackle stress and strain

Stress caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is leading to a rise in demand for anger management counselling.

The pressure of adapting to working from home and supervising children, on top of the anxiety created by travel restrictions, were all factors in causing tempers to flare.

All these issues led to demand for anger management counselling to double in the UAE since the onset of the pandemic, experts said.

Psychologists and counsellors also listed sleep loss, work-related pressure, and fatigue as the pandemic rumbles into a 16th month.

“2020 was a difficult year for many, meaning more disturbed sleep, increased feelings of anger and rage, less social interaction – and generally feeling a bit farther away from our true selves.” said Dr Saliha Afridi, managing director of Lighthouse Arabia in Dubai.

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Anger management is belittled and seen as insignificant. This causes people to suffer in silence until the anger starts affecting both work and personal life

A quick search online shows just how many services and advice portals that specifically relate to anger and Covid-19 sprung up in recent months.

Stanford Medicine now has a section on Covid-19: Anger and Aggression, and how to cope with the causes.

The Centres for Disease Control in the US also recognises anger in its guide to managing mental health and stress pressures, while the Priory Group has online therapy courses, in addition to face-to-face counselling.

Dr Afridi said problems dealing with anger, in particular when brought on by stress, should be recognised in the same way as are other mental health issues.

“Most of us can say that we have felt anxious, stressed and struggled with managing our anger, or have felt overwhelmed at some point in the recent past,” she said.

Anger is often a response to being made to feel vulnerable, she said.

“Because most of us have difficulty with being vulnerable, our minds resort to our primitive ‘fight or flight response’ and we lash out in anger,” she said.

“Those moments when we lose control, later fill us with more shame and regret. It is a vicious cycle.”

One psychologist said the need for anger management was a "prominent issue".

“The numbers have risen over the past number of months. Many aspects of our lives are more stressful than before because of the pandemic,” said Sneha John, a psychologist with Medcare Camali Mental Health Clinic.

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2020 was a difficult year for many, meaning more disturbed sleep, increased feelings of anger and rage

“For people in the UAE, anger management is a prominent issue right now.

“There is a rise in marital problems and stress between parents and children, people are also struggling with extended periods of work with limited movement as well as travel restrictions.”

She also said people having to adapt to new systems for work tasks and grocery queues being longer than normal, a result of physical distancing, were also increasing frustration and irritability levels.

Another issue was the fact many people still attach a stigma to the need for anger management, she said.

“Anger management is sometimes belittled and seen as insignificant,” she said.

"This causes several people to suffer in silence until the anger starts affecting work and personal life, especially in terms of relationships."

A study of 130 countries, including the UAE, by the World Health Organisation, released in late 2020, revealed how Covid-19 has exacerbated mental health issues globally.

The study showed an urgent need to address mental health issues, which were increasing because of the pandemic.

More than 60 per cent of respondents said there had been a disruption to mental health services because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Almost 70 per cent said the crisis had also caused a disruption to counselling.

More than one third of people in the UAE felt their mental health had deteriorated during the pandemic, according to a survey from the University of Sharjah, Zayed University and the United Arab Emirates University, conducted in March.

The National reported last year how stay-at-home measures were heaping pressure on couples, with leading UAE divorce lawyers saying that they were "at least three times more busy" than before the Covid-19 outbreak.

How to manage anger issues

1) Make sure you get at least seven to eight hours sleep each night. You are much more likely to be more aggressive when you do not get sufficient sleep. It is better to delay difficult conversations until you are well rested.

2) Stay hydrated. You are more likely to be stressed when you are dehydrated, which can result in angry outbursts.

3) Ensure you get enough exercise. It is important to engage in physical activity to provide an outlet for intense emotions. Exercise is known to alleviate symptoms of anxiety, irritability and anger.

4) Learn communication techniques. Using clear and assertive language while explaining your feelings is better than resorting to aggressive behaviour such as blaming and shaming.

5) Take a time out. Stepping away from a heated moment is advisable rather than allowing your emotions to overwhelm you. This will allow your emotions to return to neutral before returning.

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