Do you find yourself wondering, “Why do I feel angry all the time?” It’s understandable, especially as we continue to cope with the pandemic. For many of us, anger is the emotion that we’re most likely to suppress or deny or just plain dislike. But experts promise that once we learn to accept it, it can help light our path forward.
Listen to your body.
We’re so used to self-censoring this “taboo” feeling, it can be difficult to identify when it rears its head, observes psychologist Deborah Cox, PhD, co-author of The Anger Advantage ($33.97, Amazon). Since emotions, particularly anger, often begin as physical feelings — from a headache to a tightening in your chest — she suggests locating where this uneasiness first arises.
“Place your hand over that body part and breathe, asking yourself, If I could speak honestly about what I’m feeling, what would I say? So many of us are dealing with this complex emotion – when you begin to own it, you reclaim part of yourself.”
You should feel angry.
It’s possible to be angry at unfair events, like the pandemic itself. “When the object of our anger is invisible, we often first experience it as helplessness,” says therapist Andrea Brandt, PhD, author of Mindful Anger ($21.99, Amazon). Everything from feeling confined to grappling with the unknown can spark anger — even having to wash your hands more often might make you resentful.
“I’ve never been so angry about having to be this vigilant,” admits Brandt. And that’s okay. “Sit with your feelings so you can begin to pick up on the signals anger is trying to send you.”
It goes deeper.
Fear is often at the root of anger, reveals Brandt, who says there are three main triggers: fear of not being seen, fear of not being enough and fear of not being respected. She advises, if your partner said something to make you feel ignored, for example, you might respond, “It made me feel invisible when…”
As for anger on a larger scale, stemming from fear of the future, try repeating “calming statements,” such as This too shall pass. This helps ground you in the moment.
Tell your story
Consider jotting down your emotions using your nondominant hand, says Brandt. “This slows you down, ensuring you get to the core of your feelings as truthfully as possible.” You might simply write, I’m sad or I’m hurt. Then switch back to your dominant hand. “Let it fly, telling your ‘anger story’ — what was going on at the time? How did you feel in your body?” Such questions help you glean valuable lessons, such as if it was a one-off incident or if you’ve actually been angry for a while.
“It’s like cleaning out a sewer — all the emotions that hide anger will be cleared out.”
Growl it out.
A physical release of anger is vital because it’s one of the most “bodily” emotions, asserts Cox, who says just hitting a pillow with a plastic bat for 30 seconds is helpful.
“As you’re doing this, talk about what’s making you angry to activate both sides of your brain — when we speak about it, we learn about it.” While words are ideal, anything goes, from cursing to growling. “Just making noises gives you the release you need.”
Let it lead you forward.
Anger is so powerful because it’s a call to change, promises anger management expert Julie Catalano, author of The Anger Management Workbook for Women ($9.99, Amazon) . If you’re dealing with a relationship issue, you might think, I wish I had said X, but maybe I will in the future. And if your anger is more about communal grief, talking about it is just as important: While hiding from anger triggers despair, shining a light on it sparks action. Says Cox, “In anger, we can find kernels of hope.”
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This story originally appeared in our print magazine.