Is Social Disengagement Making You Angry?

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Over a year ago, I wrote a blog post titled “I Miss Me. Do You Miss Your Old Self?” Although I had found ways to adapt my work and exercise schedules based on pandemic restrictions, my emotions felt out of control. My temper was short. Every glitch in my day was overly annoying. I found myself screaming at strangers and my innocent cat, struggling to find the breath that would calm me down.

At the time, I found some solace in reading about the emotional effects of losing face-to-face contact with people, especially if your life had been full of live humans (not remote) in the past. I discovered that many of us are grieving this loss, which triggers overwhelming anger, sadness, and emotional exhaustion.

It’s better, but I’m still angry. Last month, I read an article in the New York Times that helped me better understand why and what to do about my overpowering emotions.

The article described the effects of social disengagement,1 Including a surge in traffic deaths due to an increase in aggressive driving. The author, David Leonhardt, said, “This grim trend is another way that two years of isolation and disruption have damaged life.” The frustration and anger have fueled crime, mental and physical abuse, and student misbehavior.

When we are angry, we often don’t know why. We blame our feelings on others, on the crowded space we must exist in, on grocery store clerks, and on the clueless drivers in our way.

Dr. David Spiegel, who runs Stanford Medical School’s Center on Stress and Health, says people are coping with what he calls “social disengagement”—a lack of contact with other people that in normal times provides pleasure, support, and comfort.

Additionally, an updated May 2021 report from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) shows that the pandemic has impacted the mental health of 43 percent of adults, and 62 percent of Americans feel more anxious than they did at this time last year.2 Many individuals report suffering from low emotional reserves, erratic sleep patterns, and feeling worn out by the bombardment of bad news.

Using the emotional power of hope

When we lose anything, including our old selves and life, we grieve. Even if you are surrounded by people, you might feel isolated, lethargic, emotionally exhausted, and overwhelmingly sad.

Millions of people are feeling grief around the world.

The antidote for grief is hope. Although grief, like a virus, must run its course, hope will help you balance your emotions. Hope will eventually help you stand back up, feeling more empowered to move forward.

Viktor Frankl, having lost his mother, his father, and his brother to Nazi atrocities, found that what makes life worthy of living is the faith that the human spirit will triumph. He wrote, “…living with the belief in human goodness is the ballast of the scale. Not optimism or pessimism, but hope.” 3

Now, when I feel my spirit sinking into the abyss, I breathe and deliberately shift my thoughts to focusing on what is possible. I read the comments and testimonials of people who learn from my work, knowing I am making a positive difference for them and those with whom they work. I feel both gratitude and hope. My anger softens. My faith returns.

Tips for easing your emotions and mind

Try a few of these tips to decrease the intensity of your emotions and find peace of mind.

  1. Set an alarm on your computer or phone to check on your body. When you feel your body and emotions tensing up, take a 3-minute breathing break. Inhale into your belly. Exhale slowly as you picture someone or something you are grateful for having in your life.
  2. Regularly tell yourself, “I am OK. This too shall pass.”
  3. Make time for yourself by setting boundaries. Kindly let others know how much time you have to talk and what topics you have the energy to explore when you start so you don’t have to cut them off. Learn to say, “No, I’d prefer not to,” to protect your space and time.
  4. Don’t make promises you can’t keep or ones you will resent. Negotiate expectations with yourself as well as with others.
  5. Take notes in a journal of what you did well today in feeling more hope than frustration. The brain needs evidence of successful growth to support changing your mental habits.

Remember that as you take care of yourself, you have more energy to do your good work.

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