Ever since the beginning of the stay at home order from the governor, I have found myself becoming much more easily annoyed by other people when I leave the house. What was once a routine trip to the grocery store, has now turned into me baring witness to arguments leading to potential physical aggression between strangers. Unlike others, I have decided to keep my inside voice to myself. That is until I felt inspired to write this blog.

In case you were wondering, the arrows on the grocery store floor indicate the direction for the flow of foot traffic. I’m assuming everyone arrived at the store after driving here in a car, a car that requires the operator have a rudimentary understanding of reading signs, but apparently many people forget this skill once they start their shopping. Also, does that lady really need to touch every bag of salad by taking them out of the refrigerator only to put them back while simultaneously blocking everyone else from the salad section while she flips through her coupons? Plus, if you are traveling in a car all by yourself, is it really necessary that you consistently wear your face mask? That makes no sense to me.

And these are just some of the thoughts I have throughout my grocery store trips! I can’t be the only one here who finds themselves uncharacteristically frustrated with other people, right? The more I talk to people during session and outside of work, I have found that the feelings of depression and anxiety are steadily increasing. Personally, after many weeks of struggling to find my footing, I’ve finally started to find myself beginning to develop a rough outline of a morning routine. In full self-disclosure, I’ve even found that I am annoyed with myself for taking so long to be able to settle into a routine. This self judgement also come on the heels of self-comparison from seeing other people on social media posting their work outs, beautiful photos from their trail running, and artistically made meals. I wish I had the motivation to use my time baking and cooking like many others have shown in their posts. I can’t be the only one here whose energy level has dropped to a sloth like pace once the garage door closed a few weeks ago.
The other week, I came across an article on my phone that talked about a collective level of agitation with others. It resonated with me, and inspired me to share what I learned with you. Before I jump into the nuts and bolts of the reasons for such levels of frustration during this pandemic, I want to take you on a brief trip to your Psychology 101 class. There was once a dude named Abraham Maslow. He developed a nifty pyramid of needs that people attempt to obtain through their lifespan. This pyramid is entitled a “Hierarchy of Needs.”

It has 5 levels; listed starting from the base to the top:
1) Physiological Needs – This incorporates the need for people to obtain food, water, shelter, sleep, clothing, etc.
2) Safety Needs – Personal safety, security, employment, health property
3) Love and Belonging – Friendships, family, intimacy, sense of connection
4) Esteem – Respect, self-esteem, status, recognition
5) Self-Actualization – The desire to become the best possible version of yourself, achieving one’s full potential

If we are currently living in the lower two levels of this pyramid, searching for our physiological needs and trying to achieve a level of safety and security, then we are actually living in a state of an elevated nervous system. We are living in an extended experience of the Fight, Flight, or Freeze response. I don’t know about you, but I am counting the number of rolls of toilet paper that I have on a daily basis. How can I advance to Self-Actualization if I am still trying to ration the amount of Doritos I have left? This would also account for the selling out of basic needs items in the store. People are trying to obtain a sense of security in their lives by buying more than the necessary amount of needed items.

Additionally, this lends credence to how I am feeling annoyed with people. My nervous system is in a constant state of arousal, thus continuously triggering the need pump out adrenaline and cortisol. This is allowing me to feel the Fight sensation and become more agitated with others. If you are like me, then you might be able to relate. Now that there is a rational understanding of how the current pandemic is triggering the Fight experience and leading us to become frustrated with people, I want to offer you a few ways to help reduce your frustration.

1) You don’t have to judge yourself. While you see people posting wonderful things that they are doing on their social media platforms, put your own experience into context. If you are living in the lower 2 levels of the Hierarchy of Needs, there is little chance of being able to work out like a professional athlete, bake like your competing on The Great British Baking Show, or refinish your bathrooms. Remember, social comparison is the thief of joy.

2) Apply the understanding that your experience of annoyance is also being shared by others. We are all in a similar situation, feeling a lot of the similar feelings associated with being victimized by the pandemic. This doesn’t immediately take your frustrations away, but if practiced regularly, it will begin to deflate the intensity and duration of your frustration.

3) Try to apply a mindfulness regimen to your day. If you don’t have time to add something new to your day, then find something that you do on a regular basis but do it mindfully. This means to focus all of your thoughts and attention on that activity. Place your entire focus onto the activity and keep redirecting any thoughts that stray back to the task at hand. Showering, brushing your teeth, exercising, etc. The mind can wander during mundane tasks. Bring your focus back as much as possible during these times. The more you practice this exercise, the easier you will be able to redirect any thoughts that lead to unhelpful emotions.

4) Exercise. Get the body moving. Work off some of the adrenaline and cortisol that is being stored. This can also improve sleep patterns, if done on a regular basis.

5) Food affects mood. Be mindful of what you are putting into your body. It is easy to grab some chips or an extra cookie, but is it helpful? I’m not saying that you don’t deserve a reward every now and again, especially during times that are stressful like these. Just be aware of how many cookies you are eating and try to add a carrot into your diet when possible.

6) Refer to my previous blog about the grief process that occurs during times in life when it feels like choice has been removed from you.

7) Seek out feel good news stories to help break the negative addictive cycle of stressful news. An example would be John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” on YouTube.

8) Journal your thoughts, worries, concerns, fears, etc. Journaling helps with the processing of what is going on internally.

9) Find a place where you can vent your frustrations. The more we hold our thoughts and feelings in, the more they seem to sneak out when it isn’t helpful and/or productive. Call The Center for Trauma, Stress, and Anxiety to make a telehealth appointment at (443) 567-7037.