“Why is everything so annoying?”
I seem to ask myself this question approximately 1000 times a day as of late, as opposed to the usual 100 times a day in the pre-COVID era.
I’ll admit, I don’t have the highest frustration tolerance in general, but I feel like in the past few months, my tolerance is nonexistent. My patience is slipping, I’m snapping at people, and, as I said, everything is so freaking annoying.
The pandemic is taking a toll on us all in different ways, and many people, including myself, are taking hits to our mental health. Confession: I’ve become very petty, but I know I’m not the only one. If you feel an overwhelming need to scream at the top of your lungs on the daily, well, you aren’t alone. (There is at the very least one other person: me)
We’re Too Stressed Out
According to Talkspace provider Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, this is a common feeling right now because we are all dealing with “Toxic Stress Overload.” Basically, we have reached our maximum capacity for stress, and not the good kind of stress.
Ertel says there’s something called eustress, which refers to beneficial stress involving things that are more fun, such as the stress you feel when you’re going on a first date or moving into a new apartment. However, the stress we’re experiencing in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic is more toxic than any of the good stress we might have experienced —at really high levels, no less. Many of us are even pining for that eustress that’s missing from our lives!
“Once our minds and bodies have experienced more toxic stress than good stress, then it is much more likely that our filters go out the window,” says Ertel. We’re on edge and it feels like we can’t take even one more bad break. Enter: impatience, pettiness, snapping at people…you name it, bad behavior is what’s on the menu right now.
How to Deal With Negative Emotions
These feelings are common, but they’re not exactly helpful, and they might even get us in trouble — at work, in our relationships, with our family. So, how can you deal with the negative emotions that come along with all this stress? We have to make sure that we do not harm ourselves or others with negative actions due to all this pent up pettiness.
Here are some tips to manage these negative emotions and become at least a little less petty.
Take a step back from the situation
Just got a work email that rubbed you the wrong way? A family member made a comment about masks that you didn’t like? Instead of speed-typing an angry response or biting someone’s head off, take a step back and breathe. Ertel does not recommend saying the first thing that comes to mind when feeling annoyed by someone or something. She recommends consulting your “wise mind,” or the more rational part of your brain, instead of giving in to the emotional brain right away.
Depending on the situation and how much time you have, do an activity that can shift your mood before responding to the situation. Ertel says, “Watching a funny movie, tidying your living space, cooking a meal, going to the gym or on a walk, are all ways to distract yourself just long enough to move from a Petty Level 10 down to a more reasonable 5.3.”
Build your patience
While patience may be a virtue, it does not always come easy, Ertel says. Unless you’re a naturally very patient person (sorry, can’t relate), building patience takes a lot of work — especially these days. One way you can become more patient is to practice mindfulness, a practice akin to meditation that focuses you on the present.
Next time you’re feeling super impatient and frustrated, take a step back to be mindful. Notice the fact that you are feeling this way, and then label the emotions. Saying to yourself, “I am noticing that I feel angry and impatient” can help provide distance from the emotion. Try to notice the feeling without judging yourself for feeling it in the first place. Ertel says practicing meditation, in general, is something that may also help improve patience. If you don’t already have a meditation practice, start out with short (five minutes or less) guided meditations to get accustomed to it, and then work your way up to longer meditation sessions.
Practice radical acceptance
This is something that can help with your patience, as well as your overall stress levels, as you cope with the crazy circumstances we are living through right now. Ertel quotes Dr. Marsha Linehan, the creator of dialectical behavioral therapy, which includes the principles that “rejecting reality does not change reality” and “to change reality you need to first accept it.”
Think about it: even if you spend hours wishing something was different, rejecting things the way they are, does that change anything? No. And it probably makes you feel even more crappy, right?
“Often, we are feeling impatient because we do not want to accept the reality that we are being faced with. It is then easy to get frustrated and either shut down or react negatively,” says Ertel. “Practicing radical acceptance helps us to understand that our greatest power comes from our ability to absorb reality versus resist it.”
Slow down and be kind to yourself
We get so wrapped up with work and life, constantly rushing, that we forget to slow down, take care of ourselves, and be kind both to ourselves and others. According to Ertel, it’s crucial to give our bodies and minds time to rest and recharge. A recharged battery and a calmer mindset overall can result in us having a longer fuse, being less likely to snap at others, and ultimately, to be less petty.
“Cut yourself a mental break and practice extending generosity towards yourself when things do not go to plan,” says Ertel. “The more you practice this on the small things, the easier it will be to do on the larger things.”
Additionally, be sure to have sufficient alone time to practice self-care, whatever that looks like for you — taking a long bath, doing some yoga, reading, coloring, journaling, you name it.
It’s not an easy time to be a human right now. We have to deal with the pandemic on top of everything else going on in our personal and professional lives. As long as we remember to take care of ourselves and actively work towards bettering ourselves, we can handle this — and become a lot less petty along the way.