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Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler in Anger Management. Columbia

Opinion It's OK to feel anger in this crisis, but there are healthy ways to manage it

Psychotherapist Peter Devers of Knock Counselling Centre says anger is one of the tricker emotions to navigate.

THIS DAY A year ago, then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressed the nation, imposing a further national lockdown, as Covid-19 cases continued to rise. The news hasn’t been much better since that day.

Over the past 12 months, we have had to adjust to extraordinary changes in our lives that have affected our health, the economy, schools, employment, social and recreational activities, church services and relationships.

We have experienced full lockdown, sniffed a sense of freedom last summer and at Christmas and, like a prisoner who has broken their parole, ended up back in lockdown.

With the exception of providers of essential services, most of us are spending much more time at home with our families than normal. Whilst this can bring a sense of connectedness and solidarity within the family unit, negative fallout can be caused by our inability to manage difficult emotions such as anger, worry, anxiety, intimacy, fear, loss, grief and uncertainty.

Acknowledging the impact

In June of last year, Gardai reported a 25% increase in domestic violence compared to the same time the previous year. The risk factors include unemployment, poverty, social isolation, gender inequality and lack of conflict resolution skills. How we manage our emotions will ultimately determine how we get through these difficult times.

Feelings of worry, anxiety, frustration, insecurity, fear, grief and uncertainty, along with spending too much time together are potentially huge anger triggers and can adversely affect relationships.

If we react to them, the chances are that our loved ones or ourselves will end up being hurt. If I personally feel anxious or worried about something, I know that my own tolerance levels with the kids or my partner will be reduced. So it is important to first check in with ourselves and acknowledge how we are feeling. Acknowledging how we feel, first and foremost is crucial.

In reality, Covid-19 changes could last a very long time. In some instances, life may never be the same again and families may be feeling anticipatory grief.

Our primitive brain tells us that something bad is happening and it may get worse. Having no definitive end to it all means that we will be bracing ourselves for any potential threats to our wellbeing.

Whilst social distancing may bring hope that things will get better, being forced to stay at home is likely to bring anger, frustration, grief and loss of personal freedom.

Respond, don’t react

On a macro level, the government is responding by making decisions that will be unpopular amongst many during this emergency. On a micro level, this is what each family unit will have to do. Respond, not react to these difficult circumstances.

To survive this crisis, we have to ask ourselves how we are feeling and what we are thinking. Are we catastrophising? Are we thinking rationally? Once we have examined all the evidence available, we will probably have a more realistic view of things.

So, how can our relationships survive in such trying circumstances? Here are twelve tips and tactics to help us cope in relationships with others and ourselves during these difficult and uncertain times.

1. Stop, think and look at the bigger picture

Before reacting to your kids or your loved ones, take a breath. Stop means removing yourself if possible from the situation that’s making you angry. Think about the consequences of what you say or do. If we do this, there is less likelihood that the situation will escalate. Look at the bigger picture means, try and see it from the other’s perspective, even if we don’t agree with them, we can at least agree to disagree. The time we most want to express our anger is the time we should do NOTHING. Anger by appointment only is the approach we want to foster.

2. Don’t take things personally

Taking things personally usually means we are tapping into some negative core belief we already have in and about ourselves, which was probably placed there by someone else in the past. Don’t hold yourself, hostage, to negative core beliefs.

3. Journaling

Research studies have shown that journaling can lower our stress levels and improve our well-being, which can reduce the risk of us dumping our baggage on to the ones we love.

4. Exercise

Exercise is a proven strategy that can help overcome depression and enhance wellbeing. Get out for a walk, run, cycle if possible. If you can’t get out, move around at home. Try yoga with the help of YouTube. Remember, movement is medicine!

5. Stay connected

Encourage positive social interaction for yourself and your loved ones. Create a support network; one, two, or more trusted people that you can check in with. Identify someone who is grounded and won’t collide with you if you are going off on one. Be creative; part of your support network could be an app, church, meditation, online therapy, etc.

6. Don’t forget to praise your loved ones

Praise your children and your partner if you have one, for their resilience in surviving through this extraordinary time.

7. It’s OK to have a different opinion

Lots of arguments at home are about proving the other person wrong. Once we stop playing these mind games, life will be easier for us all. We can agree to disagree!

8. Family support

Start with the mantra, “we are a family, we all support each other”. The kids may cringe, but it’s important that we model behaviour that includes support, kindliness, compassion and solidarity during these difficult times.

9. Imagine your ‘Best Self’ and bring it to your relationships

Marc Brackett PhD., founding director of Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence suggests taking a “meta-moment”. Simply put, a meta-moment is a pause to help us regulate our emotions and quickly give us a chance to ask ourselves questions such as “what would my best self do right now? Our children learn from all the wonderful things that we bring to them. Monkey see monkey do. Unfortunately, they also learn from our behaviour when we act inappropriately, so let’s make sure that our positive input heavily outweighs the times when our words or actions let us down.

10. Have realistic expectations

If I expect my 12-year-old son to bring me a full Irish breakfast every morning during my self-isolation, I’m going to be disappointed. Expectations are often resentment waiting to happen, so make sure they are realistic.

11. Adopt an attitude of kindliness and compassion

Towards ourselves, family and others. Take time to stop and ask your partner, “how are you today?” Take time to listen to the answer. Let the significant people in your life know that you care about them. Many in these situations will develop rigid coping mechanisms, so a kind word or a caring gesture will help us get through the day in a healthier way. Altruism and random acts of kindness are also on the rise, individuals and communities are reaching out to the vulnerable. Being part of this movement can only bring positive outcomes. Try it for a week and everybody will win!

12. Let go of what we can’t control

Grief expert David Kessler once said that “like it or not, change happens and, like most things in life, doesn’t really happen/to us/ – it just happens.” If we can let go of what we can’t control, there will be a good chance that our anxiety, fear and frustration will reduce. We are ultimately responsible for ourselves and our actions, and that will be enough to deal with in these difficult and challenging times.

Peter Devers M.Sc. is a Psychotherapist, Supervisor and Trainer at Knock Counselling Centre, Co. Mayo. Peter is hosting “Temper Your Anger”, an online anger management programme starting on 13 April, 6:30-8:30 pm. Knock Counselling Centre can be reached on Facebook, by calling 0929375032 or email


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