Don't Tell Me To Calm Down
Updated: Nov 16, 2021
If you’ve ever been told to “calm down” while angry, you’ll know how ridiculous the phrase is. We asked two experts why we all seem to be so angry right now, and how to deal with this emotion.
Even with the lockdown eased, we’re still only allowed to go to work, shop for the basics and exercise. Then, it’s back home. For many who can, working from home continues. We still can’t hang out with friends or family, whether at their place, in malls, at events, or in restaurants. And we’re angry.
Two professionals, Professor Cheryl Potgieter, a research psychologist and life coach based at the Durban University of Technology and Sandton-based psychologist Lwanele Khasu, explain why we are so angry and how we can deal with that anger responsibly. Both agree that anger is a normal response in these strange times.
Lwanele says it makes sense that people are angry. “They are angry because their power has been taken from them. Decisions have been stripped of them. Working conditions have changed. There are demands from work, but children in the home are also demanding. People are spread thin and the easier emotion to get a hold of sometimes is anger.”
Cheryl explains that, while there are many reasons, uncertainty plays a major role. “We are living in a time of uncertainties – health uncertainty, job and financial uncertainty. The fear of the unknown often leads to stress, panic and anxiety, and it is projected as anger and played out in arguments. People also feel out of control, unheard, voiceless and powerless.”
Exercise caution on social media
But it is also about having more time on our hands, leaving us idle and our minds free to think about things we can normally avoid by doing other activities. This plays out at home (that irritating habit your partner has that you never noticed), as well as on social media.
“Social media has always been a place where people displaced their anger in the name of anonymity. The time available to them has inevitably made things worse,” Lwanle points out.
Cheryl says that “arguing more frequently on social media during Covid-19 could be about looking for like-minded people to hear your views… if you are feeling isolated and lonely, they will endorse your social media theatrics”. She explains that social media also gives people the false sense that they’re not talking to a “real” person, emboldening them to say things they wouldn’t say to someone face-to-face. “People post ‘in the moment’ before they have calmed down. Research has indicated that virtual fights is an anger intensifier and not pacifier.”
She says that it’s also about proximity. Unfortunately, your family might bear the brunt because you may “unconsciously know that lashing out at those close to you may not carry as much consequences as lashing out at the local pharmacist for not having what you need in stock”.
Not having enough sleep should not be overlooked. “During times of anxiety and stress, people often have sleep deprivation and that contributes to anger and arguments – so do not feel guilty about taking that afternoon nap!” says Cheryl.
Check yourself, before you blow up
Lwanele says these are signs to watch out for in yourself that will likely lead to you lashing out:
Irritability and wanting to prove yourself right all the time.
Struggling to compromise.
Difficulty reaching mutual agreements without getting angry.
Challenges with expressing emotions in a calm and healthy way.
Ignoring people or refusing to speak to them.
Isolating yourself and withdrawing from others because you believe they don’t understand you.
Outward aggression, including shouting, swearing, or being physically violent and threatening.
Substance abuse or addiction.
Cycles of bad behaviour which may affect relationships.
Increase in body temperature when angry.
Wanting to say something that will hurt the other person.
Cheryl says there are many pre blow-up signs and these may differ from person to person. “Feeling angry is acceptable and it is a regular everyday emotion. However, if you notice that you are feeling anxious, not sleeping, maybe not eating or overeating, getting into fights over little things or holding onto your anger for an unreasonable time, these may be signs that you are not coping.”
“If you feel angry now and again, and the issue gets resolved, that's okay. However, if for example, friends are saying they cannot deal with your anger outbursts and you are losing friends or people are blocking you on WhatsApp groups, these are signs that you may need assistance possibly even in the form of anger management.”
Lwanele and Cheryl suggest these tools to help you deal with anger:
Find and address the root of the anger.
Know your triggers in order to find the link between them and your emotions in order to control your space a bit better.
Identify and treat underlying mental health difficulties.
Address interpersonal difficulties and alcohol or substance use. This may mean taking responsibility for your actions and seek to make amends.
Recognise the difference between events that you can change and those that are beyond you.
Use breathing exercises to help to calm down.
Communication is important. Tell people that you are feeling upset or angry.
Take a break from social media and news to help deal with information overload and stress.
Look for ways to reframe your situation, for example, turn “being stuck at home” into “being safe in your home”.
Get regular exercise. Take a walk in the neighbourhood even if you have not exercised regularly previously.
Talking with friends and family will help – not about Covid statistics – regular conversations to “debrief” is helpful.
When all else fails, get professional help (see numbers below).
Lwanele says that tackling a problem directly may not always be the best solution as an angry confrontation may not be constructive. “Take note of what you are angry about and deal with it later. Address the person when you are calmer. Always have an end goal in mind: what do you want the confrontation to achieve? Then ask yourself if the way you are going about it will help you reach that goal. If not, rethink the approach.”
Cheryl addresses the elephant in the room. “Many women may feel angry as they are not only working from home but at home. The anger is justified. They need to have a conversation with their husbands or partners about sharing domestic labour if it is not happening. The issue of domestic violence is also very real, and we cannot assume that this is not a trigger for women’s anger. They need to be made aware of where they can get assistance although we are aware of the shortcomings in even accessing the assistance.”
Help your child deal with anger and anxiety
Cheryl explains that you should frame conversations with your children around Covid-19 in a positive manner. For example, explain that washing hands, wearing a mask and social distancing is to keep all of us healthy, their friends included. Do not say: “It is to prevent us all from dying from the virus”.
“When they go back to school explain to them how they need to behave at school to keep safe by using a positive discourse. Children are afraid if their caregivers are afraid. Avoid talking about how worried you are and how scared of the virus or death you are, as this will cause unnecessary anxiety for children.”
She concludes : “Engage them at the level that is age appropriate. Provide facts that are age supportive, listen to their concerns and talk to them. If the school has sent out a message to assist, use it. If you're not sure how best to communicate this message to your children, ask the school.”
For individual or group anger management programmes
067 617 5449
Anger management programmes, also in vernacular languages
083 411 3863
Gender-based Violence Command Centre
0800 428 428
Skype via “HELPMEGBV”
Various family services
011 975 7106
08000 55 55 5
Note: A new number, 116, will be phased in from July 2020 and will replace the 08000 number in December
021 447 1467
For people impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault and child sexual abuse.
24/7 free call: *134*7355#
0800 029 999
WhatsApp Support Line: 0600 123 456
Author: Leanne Feris