There are so, so many legitimate things to feel angry about right now. Cancer. Your changed life. Now the coronavirus pandemic. The basic, reliable structures of your life have collapsed, compounding your pain. It feels so overwhelming.
Your rage is multiplied, complicated, and justified. And on top of that, you are locked up, either alone or with loved ones, as if a prisoner in your own home. It’s like you’re sitting in your personal pressure cooker, where grief, resentments, and blame build to the explosive point.
It’s something none of us have really dealt with before. It’s a hard time for all of us.
We want relief from that constant niggling agitation we might feel. Our minds acknowledge that life is way out of whack, but that doesn’t always translate into compassion for ourselves and each other. To cope, it seems easiest to disconnect our awareness from our bodies. We sometimes end up self-destructing with food and alcohol and maybe even lashing out at those whom we love. I find myself eating a lot more chocolate and popcorn these days, and I have been less patient with my son.
Even though our ways of dealing with stress can be quick fixes to ease our discomfort, they are ineffective ways of coping. While we might feel some sense of relief, these knee-jerk reactions usually make us feel worse in the end.
We can’t control these difficult external events, but we can control our internal attitudes, behaviors, and choices. We get to choose if we are going to be victims of our circumstances, or if we’re going to rise up and take responsibility for ourselves and our own lives.
If we look underneath our anger, grief, and sorrow, we will probably find an incredible sense of powerlessness, as if the floor is giving way underneath us. It may not feel like it at the time, but this sensation is just an emotion—energy in motion within our bodies. While it’s scary to feel these feelings for what they are, our emotions alone do no harm. They are the result of a chemical dump from our brains into our bloodstreams. For the emotions to lift—which is where we can find relief—these sensations need to be deeply felt without our minds running interference.
So have a seat, or lie down on your bed. Tune in to your body. Where is that irritating feeling of powerlessness sitting? Can you feel the rage putting pressure someplace inside you? If so, take a moment to feel it. Allow it to be what it is without any thoughts or words. Give it your whole, undivided attention without judgment. That’s all it wants, anyway.
Your emotions, if felt fully and deeply, will lift after ninety seconds. If it lasts longer than ninety seconds, you’re probably engaging your mind and thinking about what’s bothering you. That’s not helping you right now. Let the thoughts go, and if you can’t, write them down and shred them. Then try the process again.
Another strategy you can use is to breathe deeply while mindfully observing your anger, grief, and powerlessness. Just look at it. Don’t judge it or act on it. Instead, have compassion for whatever it is you’re feeling. It’s a human response to an inhumane situation; there is no logical reason to feel ashamed or guilty about your feelings.
By loving yourself enough to experience the energy moving inside your body, without thinking about what makes you upset, you can allow it to harmlessly shift around until it evaporates.
Once the emotions lift, you can begin reorganizing your reality, away from the victim mentality and toward opportunities, learning, and desires. There are so many free educational and entertaining options available online. Perhaps focus on gratitude that these choices—vastly more wonderful than at any other time in history—are accessible to you right here, right now. I find these gifts extraordinary.
For example, I finally got my son to watch the movie “The Cold Blue” so he could see what his grandfather lived through during World War II. I watched a documentary about children’s show host Fred Rogers, of “Won’t you be my neighbor?” fame, and was amazed. Fred had the uncanny ability to explain difficult concepts, like “assassination,” to help children cope with national crises. Most recently, I participated in free online meditations.
These would never have happened without the lockdown and the generosity of others. With gratitude, I find my attention shifts and so does my internal awareness. It’s a lovely, empowering gift to myself and relieves the stress of living in lockdown.