I have chronic depression and anxiety, so I am no stranger to being swept away by waves of overwhelming emotion or flattened by mood-related exhaustion. But these past few years have seen me overcome by another emotion that had not previously been at the forefront: all-consuming anger.
It was maybe midway through 2020 that I realized I had become an angry woman. Social media updates. Articles. Offhand comments. They all enraged me. So I muted my Facebook messages. I quit my part-time job. The pandemic had already forced us all to self-quarantine, but I isolated myself from the world even further.
It was around this time that my depression and anxiety flared up even more. In the past decade, I had become adept at managing these shifts in my mood. But the rage was proving more difficult to manage. Angry at the world, debilitated by increasing fatigue, drained by a combination of helplessness and hopelessness, I spent a lot of time in my HugSleep, eye-gazing with my cat.
But goddammit, I couldn’t eye-gaze with my cat forever.
Why Wouldn’t We Be Angry?
Here’s the thing. I have every reason to be angry. And you do, too. We write about many of those reasons here on the blog.
In the past few years alone, we’ve seen the rise of fascism, the fall of Roe v. Wade, and the mismanagement of a global pandemic that has highlighted and amplified already-existing systemic inequities. On a personal level, as the mother of an 8-year-old, and as someone who works within the field of sex ed, I’ve lost my shit many times over the push to reopen schools during multiple waves of COVID, the demand to unmask our children, and the attempts by conservative organizations and politicians to silence educators and make invisible those who do not fit the white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied mold.
For so long, many of us — particularly women — have been told to suppress our anger. Instead, we are conditioned to be meek. To be accommodating. To be quiet.
Is it any wonder we don’t know what to do with our anger?
Anger as a Force for Good
Hello, I’m Stephanie, and I am an angry woman. And in the past year, I’ve become better at admitting to that anger. Owning it. And because I didn’t like how it was affecting me before, I’ve also learned how to manage it, and how to use it as a force for good.
Are you angry? Good! Here are a few of the tactics I’ve used for managing and channeling my anger. Maybe they’ll be helpful for you, too.
And if you have additional tips and tricks that have worked well for you, I invite you to share them in the comments.
Set Boundaries. While I obviously don’t recommend willful ignorance, I am a proponent of setting some boundaries so that your regular sources of anger don’t overwhelm you. Earlier this year, I wrote a whole damn post about setting boundaries. That post was about overall health and wellbeing, but I’ve found it to be especially helpful for managing my anger. For example, my spouse was in the habit of sharing tweets and videos with me of idiots being idiotic in ways he knew would enrage me. He didn’t do it to be a jerk. It was more like, “Can you believe this bullshit!?” But these social media shares weren’t helpful or informative in any way, and they had such an adverse impact on my mood, I finally requested that he stop sharing them with me. Unsurprisingly, I’m much happier without them.
Engage in Joyful Movement. I always feel like a wannabe wellness influencer when I say shit like this, but I truly mean it. Strong emotions such as anger leave me depleted, but when I practice yoga, have a dance party in my kitchen, or angry-cry my way through a rowing-machine session, I tend to feel rejuvenated. I recently injured my ankle and am no longer able to go on long walks or use my rowing machine, which has been quite the setback. But my doctor has recommended swimming and I am desperate to hear which forms of joyful movement you enjoy. Also, if anyone does boxing or primal screaming or smashes stuff at one of those rage rooms, you have to tell me all about it.
Lose Yourself in a Good Book. It should not surprise you to know that books are my happy place. Why else would I be here? I’m going to assume we all have that in common. Just for funsies, here are a few books I’ve especially enjoyed lately: Emma Straub’s This Time Tomorrow (did you read Sam’s review of the book and listen to Mariquita’s interview with the author?), Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor, Dawnie Walton’s The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, and the new deluxe edition of Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer.
Find an Activity That Requires Focus. This can certainly overlap with the recommendations to engage in joyful movement or read a good book, but I’ve also found my bliss via breath and body scan meditation, putting together puzzles, and learning the ukulele and embroidery. Look at this beauty!
Use Your Anger to Fuel Righteous Action. I mean, this is how we enact change, right? My anger over attempted book bans and opposition to inclusive and comprehensive sex ed, for example, has recently led me to join my district’s curriculum committee, send letters to the state Board of Education and my district superintendent, raise hell with the curriculum director and health education supervisor, and write strongly worded pieces (forthcoming at Rewire News Group) that are sure to make me lots of friends in town. 😉 But it feels good to channel my anger into productive action. And I’m nowhere near done.
Look at Things from a Different Angle. At times, I’ve found that my anger is not productive. For example, I find it impossible to have a conversation about a contentious topic without getting so emotional, I become incoherent. I’ve been working on it. I try to find empathy for others. To seek out common ground. To look for new ways to connect with people. I really like what Mariame Kaba, author of We Do This ‘Til We Free Us, said during our July book club call.
“I don’t believe that judgment and curiosity can co-exist,” she said.
So instead of judging those toward whom I feel anger, I’ve been trying to instead get curious about why they feel the way they feel.
Because I may be an angry woman, but we will only effect positive change if we prioritize each other’s basic humanity.