When to get help for controlling anger, stress, and anxiety related to  the pandemic.

Updated January 2024

A global pandemic is a highly unusual and stressful event, a trauma that we’ve all lived through. It’s the first time we’ve experienced such a seismic event since a century ago. Here in the US, more than 1.1 million people died. It’s not something that we can easily shrug off. Many people are still experiencing aftershocks that they didn’t expect: Anxiety. Anger. Worry. Financial hardship. Grief for the loss we all experienced, not just in loss of life, but also in life interrupted. We all lost a “normal” year of life activities – proms, graduations, birthdays, holidays, weddings, concerts, sports, and more. It’s a collective Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and as with any trauma, every person recovers at different rates.

As we emerge from some of the worst of the pandemic and see light at the end of the tunnel, there is hope and happiness. But there is also something else. Angry incidents are so prevalent that observers have coined a new term for pandemic anger: “pangry,” As the nation reopens, we’re seeing some pretty extreme incidents of anger manifested in shocking and tragic events that play out across the headlines:

  • A retail cashier of Georgia was shot and killed after asking a customer to comply with the store’s masking rules.
  • A New Jersey woman unhappy with her pedicure bit and punched customers and workers.
  • A Southwest Airlines flight attendant lost two teeth after a passenger physically assaulted her. There are so many angry confrontations on planes that the FAA has threatened a $35,000 fine.
  • A survey of over 4,000 McDonald’s employees found “that 44% of respondents said they had been verbally or physically assaulted after confronting customers who weren’t wearing masks.”

Digging beneath the headlines, we often find the perpetrators described as everyday people, just like your neighbor or just like you and me. What made these people snap? They’ve just had it. Some are fed up with too many restrictions. Others are fed up with a rush to normalcy that they see as unsafe or reckless. The outward manifestations of anger may be masking something else: 15 months of pent-up anxiety, depression, frustration, and loss.

It’s OK to be angry sometimes. It’s what we do with it that can be the problem.

It’s normal to feel anger from time to time. Anger is a human emotion. It’s also part of our “fight or flight response” when we perceive a threat. Anger can occur when we feel frustrated, violated, powerless, or feel we have been done an injustice. It’s not wrong to feel anger, but it’s what we do with it and how we express it that can lead to problems.

Anger operates on two levels: the mental/emotional level and the physical response. Often the physical reaction – an increase in adrenaline – can dictate the way we respond. That is why the “count to ten” and “take a deep breath” advice makes such good sense. If we can calm down and master our physical response, it can be easier to deal with our angry feelings more rationally.

Most of us can learn better anger management by paying attention to what makes us angry and how we respond. We can often interrupt anger patterns and respond more productively by learning relaxation techniques, deepening our problem-solving skills, learning to communicate more effectively and developing ways to channel anger more positively.

It can also help to take care of our health. Feeling stressed, overtired or hungry can make it more likely we might overreact. Alcohol and drug consumption can also contribute to inappropriate reactions.

Sometimes, anger management or stress management counseling or coaching can help. Here are some signs you may benefit from professional help:

  • Angry behaviors have caused harm to yourself or others
  • Increased feelings of anger
  • Inability to control expressions of anger
  • Finding it difficult to deescalate
  • Preoccupation with injustices or slights
  • Inability to let go of anger
  • Anger-related depression or guilt.

Members of ESI EAP have access to a variety of services that can help with anger and stress management

  • One-to-one professional coaching for Anger Management and Stress Management
  • Telephonic counseling from clinical professionals 24/7/365 for anxiety, depression, mental health issues, and more
  • Online self-help resources and video courses
  • Family counseling
  • Financial coaching and help for debt
  • Online Workplace & Intimate Partner Violence Resource Centers

Managers have access to specialized Trauma Response Services, with trained counselors and other certified personnel ready to respond to the needs of your organization should any of your personnel experience a traumatic situation at work. Counselors include grief and trauma specialists as well as team members certified in basic and advanced critical incident stress management. Responses include on-scene deployment, telephonic counseling and private counseling as well as group debriefings.

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