It can rise in a flash of fire, or bubble under the surface longterm, but anger is an emotion we all encounter in ourselves – and others. For the past 10 months, however, we seem to be grappling with it more frequently.
In HuffPost UK’s How Are You Feeling project, which invites readers to share their shifting experiences of the pandemic, anger is one of the most commonly cited emotions. More than 90 responses since April 2020 have included the words “anger” or “angry”, a further 76 use the word “frustrated”, while seven of you admit to feeling “pissed off”.
The government’s handling of the pandemic is the most common source of people’s fury, with frustrations at people “breaking the rules” a close second.
Some of you are so overwhelmed with frustration, you can no longer pinpoint the source. “I feel worried all the time. I also feel incredibly angry but it’s an unfocused sort of anger,” one reader told us.
Aside from the pandemic, it’s been a charged period of history, with millions of people (quite rightly) expressing their anger about racial injustice through the Black Lives Matter movement, and women protesting for their rights, from demanding more support for those facing domestic abuse in lockdown to the reversal of reproductive rights in Poland. The backdrop to all of this was an especially divisive US election, and the more recent riot on the US Capitol.
This is why we wanted to explore the topic of anger in Am I Making You Uncomfortable?, HuffPost UK’s weekly podcast on women’s health, bodies and private lives.
During the episode, we discuss why women in particular are hesitant about expressing anger, and we ask if the emotion is actually such a bad thing.
Our first guest, writer, actor and podcaster, Kelechi Okafor, who owns a pole dance fitness studio, says anger has shaped her entire career. She opened her studio, for example, because she was angry at the lack of inclusive spaces for Black women in fitness. “
“It’s because I felt angry, I thought: ‘Now I’m going to do something. So somebody else doesn’t have to feel the same anger,’” says Okafor, who believes it’s important to acknowledge anger, rather than suppress it, using fury as fuel for change.
“I believe that anger is just like water. It needs somewhere to go. If anger doesn’t move, then it calcifies. Then it festers. That’s when it becomes dangerous,” she says. “But if you can allow anger, as an energy, to move through you to create something different to whatever that traumatic experience was, we can see a positive world.”
It’s an idea supported by counselling psychologist Dr Chloe Paidoussis Mitchell, who tells HuffPost UK: “Anger is often an appropriate emotion and to feel it is a helpful thing that not only helps us survive, but helps us thrive.”
Anger can an early indicator that something is ‘off,’ she adds. “So to feel anger may be tough, but it is an important feeling that we can learn to handle to get more out of life.”
Despite this, Dr Paidoussis Mitchell says people in her clinic are often “afraid of anger – especially women”.
“Women often avoid expressing anger, because unconsciously they have been taught to fear it or to see it as unfeminine and unseemly,” she says. “Young women and girls are not allowed to experiment with their expression of anger in the same way as boys are. If they are angry, they are often labeled as mad, bitchy, nuts, psycho...”
Bottling up anger is a risky strategy, because it can contribute to poor mental health, poor physical health and is a predicator for long-term issues such as excessive drinking or gambling.
Ignoring anger diminishes our sense of internal agency, Dr Paidoussis Mitchell explains, leading to thoughts such as “I can’t change anything”, “my life is hopeless” or “I can’t cope with conflict.” It can also mean we remain in situations that don’t serve us, feeling trapped.
That’s not to say we should all let rip, all of the time. They key to using anger for good is recognising the difference between productive and destructive anger.
Productive anger is anger that centres on communicating our own needs, while destructive anger is focussed on controlling or insulting others.
“Anger is often a power struggle and so it is important to keep it productive by using the ‘I’ rather than the accusatory ‘you,’” says Dr Paidoussis Mitchell.
She sets out nine steps for engaging with anger more productively.
9 Ways To Engage With Your Own Anger
1. Accept that anger is not a bad emotion
2. Recognise what triggers your anger
3. Consider your anger’s message
4. Identify what you need and focus on communicating this clearly
5. Clarify what you would like the other to hear and understand from your experience. Do not focus on telling them what they need to change or think or do. Focus on explaining how you feel and what you hope to feel so they can stand by you without conflict
6. Practise good self-care everyday – tune in to your internal world and accept what you observe, learn from it and show yourself compassion, love and care.
7. Value yourself by trusting yourself to communicate clearly
8. Focus on actions that carry meaning for you and will help you feel that you have taken positive inspired action to help you feel happier
9. Do not judge yourself for being angry or emotional.
These steps won’t change your experience of anger overnight, or necessarily transform the world to accommodate your views, but, practised longterm, productive anger can help us “establish clearer boundaries, break unhelpful patterns in important relationships and feel like we are looking after our selves”.
Putting them into practice may mean booking a meeting with your boss to explain your needs at work. Or it might mean writing to your MP, to express how they could better support your community through the pandemic.
There is no exact framework, but Dr Paidoussis Mitchell says “expressing anger safely will prevent it from ballooning into rage”.
“This will help others understand us, and therefore help them be more empathic towards us,” she says. “Anger is empowering and is an important emotion we all need to learn to handle and process.”
Covid-19 is more than a news story – it has changed every aspect of life in the UK. We are following how Britain is experiencing this crisis, the different stages of collective emotion, reaction and resilience. You can tell us how you are feeling and find further advice and resources here.
Read More From Am I Making You Uncomfortable?
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.