It's been more than two years since we first began to feel the growing anxiety that the Covid-19 pandemic brought with it and now, as we see almost all restrictions recede in the rear-view mirror, can we finally let that anxiety, that stress melt away as well? Counselling Psychologist Niamh Delmar spoke to Cormac Ó hEadhra on Drivetime about post-pandemic anger, or panger, as it’s been dubbed:
"It’s a new term because we’re looking at a kind of a post-pandemic issue – can we even say post at this stage? We’re looking at the fallout, you know, because for many people it’s still not over – we’ve been living under constant threat. It’s a prolonged crisis and it wears down our coping mechanisms and we just can’t regulate our emotions as well."
The edginess, the anxiety, the stress many people have been feeling for the duration of the pandemic – and beyond, possibly – is something that, like the pandemic itself, is new to many of us and something that Niamh says is concerning:
"We can tolerate things for a certain amount of time, we know there’s going to be an ending, there’s some sort of finish. But with this it’s uncertain, it still is. There’s different variants. There’s monkeypox, there’s other things coming in, so it’s prolonged and with prolonged stress then we have that stress hormone cortisol that gets released and that causes problems."
Cormac wanted to know how this prolonged stress manifests itself in people and if it’s the same for everyone – no, was the answer to the latter question – and to the former, Niamh had this to say:
"For many people, whatever was there before will be exacerbated by this pandemic and this threat that we’re all under. And also, as well as that, the lockdowns and restrictions and everything that came with that. But for other people they will be more easily, you know, alerted and more easily catapulted into that fight or flight."
But this post-pandemic anger, this panger is temporary, isn’t it? Or could it be permanent?
"It could be permanent, absolutely. Unless a person is aware that they’re actually, you know, getting a bit frustrated, and they’re getting a bit agitated and really over-reacting to situations, as we see on social media, we see on flights, we see on sports grounds, we see on the road, we see in the shops, unless they become aware and be really honest with themselves that, 'Ok I’m definitely after changing a bit here and I’m very easily aggravated,' well, they could be in trouble."
There’s a spectrum of anger, Niamh says, and a difference between wanting to kick in a door after something has enraged you and, for instance, stalking someone. But what’s the best way to deal with panger and it’s stress-induced impulses?
"The healthy releases would be some sports, wind-down things, reading, whatever is appropriate to each person and whatever they feel soothes them and relaxes them and unwinds them. Like, you’ll see a lot of people swimming in the sea now because for them that’s their way to unwind and then other people will go to more unhealthy strategies since the pandemic to unwind. So, finding those things, how to emotionally regulate yourself and be aware of what’s happening, say, today."
Emotional regulation is key, but it’s personal for everyone, so there’s no one-for-all solution. And some people’s coping mechanisms might, as Niamh says, be less than healthy, like the person who has a drink to ease their panger and finds they’re escalating their drinking because it’s not doing such a great job easing their panger and a dependency could forming. Unwinding in a healthy way is the message Niamh says psychologists want to get across. Awareness is key as well:
"It’s great when people have the awareness that they're turning into Basil Fawlty at work, or wherever, you know, and then they can kind of address those behaviours, but when they’re not aware of it, it can damage other people. Not nice for the kids at home, not nice for the partner, not nice for the colleagues, you know?"
Then the person feels guilty and possibly becomes alienated. And awareness of their behaviour would allow that person to address their pangry behaviour.
But, ultimately, is post-pandemic anger – is panger, if you will – a real thing? Are people coming in to see Niamh and showing signs of panger?
"A lot of people are coming in with fallout and it may be anxiety and depression, but a lot of people are coming in highly stressed and one of the, you know, kind of features of that is anger, agitation, aggression. You know, they have a very short fuse, things that mightn’t have bothered them before, it’ll just trigger them instantly now."
Be aware of your behaviour and try to avoid situations that might trigger panger, is the advice, along with staying away from social media, the reservoir of pangry people. If you want to hear Cormac’s full discussion with Niamh Delmar, you can find it here.