Why Can’t I Stop Screaming?

Dr. Juli Fraga, psychologist and Hilary Jacobs Hendel, trauma psychotherapist wrote an essay on the stresses of Covid-19 and the emotional toll that it is taking on Americans.

“Why can’t I stop screaming at my partner?” “Why do I always feel on edge?” These are common questions posed by their psychotherapy patients. For many, the unending pandemic, political unrest and racial injustice are worsening their mental health, write doctors Fraga and Hendel.

While these professional women are uniquely positioned to be exposed to the specific horrors of how Americans are impacted by the ongoing stresses we are enduring, we all probably have experienced moments ourselves or with someone close to us who has reached the end of one’s proverbial rope. What the heck do we do with all these feelings? How do we sort through them, recognize the reality of such strong emotions, and find ways to express or cope with them? Furthermore, how do we do that when we’re still in the midst of a great deal of trauma, loss, and uncertainty? Good God!

It is precisely because the emotional turmoil is not going away any time soon, that we need to look at our frustration, irritability, and – let’s face it – sheer anger and rage, so we can begin to unearth why it’s occurring in the first place. What we know from past studies are the kinds of things that diminish our ability to cope and expertly problem-solve include:

  • Lack of quality sleep
  • Poor eating habits – eating junk with little or no nutritional value to fuel & energize
  • Not having control over the most important aspects of our lives
  • Restricted income or sources of money – still having to pay for housing & all the bills
  • Threat of failing health

Obviously, several of these are occurring for many Americans, and unfortunately for some, all of these concerns are experienced simultaneously – absolutely devastating!

The onslaught of so many feelings at once, along with emotions that combine and influence other emotions have resulted in an enormous amount of anger that is surging unbridled throughout the country. Anger at this level can have dreadful consequences. Let’s take a closer look at anger. Even though several theorists call anger one of the “primary or core” emotions, from a clinical standpoint, it’s helpful to conceptualize anger as a secondary emotion. A secondary emotion occurs as a reaction to our primary emotions, rather than to a given situation. For example, when a perfect stranger, standing 20 feet away from you, screams nasty comments at you for not having your mask on (even though you are socially distanced well beyond the recommended number of feet), the core of what makes him scream at you is probably his fear about not wanting to get sick or die or even his sadness about the ongoing presence of this virus that is not yet contained. The anger then is stemming from fear and sadness, much more so than from the fact that at 20 feet away, you are not wearing your mask. By not recognizing and sorting the feelings and then finding ways to cope with them, he doesn’t even see the fear and sadness – he skipped over that straight into anger and rage. This pattern itself is what causes people to draw a gun, attack someone, or at the very least scream relentlessly or bully someone.

Attachment theory describes that all human beings need connection with others to survive and thrive. We go into anger or attack mode as a primitive way of defending ourselves. The driving force here is to feel strong, invincible, with power over others, when in fact we are feeling scared, small and vulnerable. The unformed, immature person does not see what they are actually feeling, and they have not learned how to identify and sort through their emotions. Quite ironically, it is incredibly powerful for us to feel our vulnerability and let others see it too. When we are open with our vulnerability, we are able to be the most creative, resourceful, and capable of overcoming the perceived enemy. The scientists who looked into the face and underbelly of this virus are the ones who brilliantly created multiple vaccines to overcome this malicious, deadly virus to slowly help us return to vibrancy and health. They saw the vulnerability, they admitted what had to be done, and they have brought much hope, and probable healing to all the world.

We have a long journey ahead to be strong and thriving again. In the interim, we need to take the time to discern what we feel and how to get support. Then, we take action steps that can slowly make a positive difference. Examples of small things we can ask for and try to create for ourselves, depending on individual needs – they vary from person to person AND from day to day – include the following:

  1. Plan for small amounts of “alone time” for quiet reflection or simple rest
  2. Write down things to tell yourself that are encouraging, kind, uplifting – then read or speak them out loud every day. Believing in yourself and your capacity to cope is paramount
  3. Find things to laugh about – cartoons, antics with pets, comedy routines…

  1. Ask yourself what you can change in order to feel more positive – even for short periods of time. The question itself can be empowering and instill creativity
  2. Read something brilliant about compassion – practice it with yourself first. Then, apply compassion onto others
  3. If you are with others in the household, recognize the wisdom of collaborating and putting your best foot forward together. There is power and energy in seeing the best in one another to make your environment as positive as possible
  4. Laugh repeatedly throughout the day. Find the humor in things. If you are with others, share telling stories that are silly and fun-loving

  1. Provide for your emotional and mental health with as much care as you would provide for a blood-gushing wound. Be swift, be steadfast, be open about it. There’s no point in hiding any feelings – they are real, they need to be admitted, and then with compassion and control, they can be expressed with honesty and respect
  2. To enhance quality sleep, turn off all “screens” at least an hour before going to bed; have no food whatsoever for 3 hours before bedtime; read or discuss something positive and uplifting before going to sleep; ensure maximum darkness and silence in the bedroom if possible. Focus on letting go, relaxing all your muscles as you attempt to fall asleep.
  3. Remember to laugh! Laughter is salve on the wounds of the day!

 

 

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