Managing Emotions In Lockdown: 12 Useful Tips

“Anger By Appointment Only!”. A 12-step plan to stay cool during lockdown from Knock Counselling Centre


Sunday 28th February will mark the first anniversary of the Coronavirus pandemic reaching Ireland. Over the past twelve months, we have had to adjust to extraordinary changes in our lives that have affected our health, the economy, schools, employment, social and recreational activities, church services and relationships.  We have experienced full lockdown, sniffed a sense of freedom at Christmas and, like a prisoner who has broken his parole, ended up back in lockdown.


With the exception of providers of essential services, most of us are spending much more time at home with our families than normal.  Whilst this can bring a sense of connectedness and solidarity within our family unit, negative fallout  can be caused by our inability to manage difficult emotions such as anger, worry, anxiety, anger, intimacy, fear, loss, grief and uncertainty.


Gardai have reported a 25% increase in domestic violence compared to the same time last year.  The risk factors include, unemployment, poverty, social isolation, gender inequality and lack of conflict resolution skills. How we manage our emotions will ultimately determine how we get through these difficult times.


Feelings of worry, anxiety, anger insecurity, fear, grief and uncertainty, along with spending too much time together are potentially huge anger triggers and can adversely affect relationships. If we react to them, the chances are that our loved ones, or ourselves will end up being hurt. If I personally feel anxious or worried about something, I know that my own tolerance levels with kids or my partner will be reduced. So it is important to firstly check in with ourselves and acknowledge how we are feeling. Acknowledging how we feel, first and foremost is crucial.


In reality, COVID-19 changes could last a very long time. In some instances, life may never be the same again and families may be feeling anticipatory grief.  Our primitive brain tells us that something bad is happening and it may get worse. Having no definitive end to it all means that we will be bracing ourselves for any potential threats to our wellbeing. Whilst social distancing may bring hope that things will get better, being forced to stay at home is likely to bring anger, frustration, grief and loss of personal freedom.


On a macro level, the government is responding by making decisions that will be unpopular amongst many during this emergency. On a micro level, this is what each family unit will have to do. Respond, not react to these difficult circumstances.


To survive this crisis, we have to ask ourselves how we are feeling, what we are thinking, are we catastrophizing? Are we thinking rationally? Once we have examined all the evidence available, we will probably have a more realistic view on things.


So, how can our relationships survive in such trying circumstances? Here are twelve tips and tactics to help us cope in relationships with others and ourselves during these difficult and uncertain times.


  1. STOP, THINK AND LOOK AT THE BIGGER PICTURE before reacting with the kids or your loved ones. STOP means removing yourself if possible from the situation that’s making you angry. THINK about the consequences of what you say or do. If we do this, there is less likelihood that the situation will escalate. LOOK AT THE BIGGER PICTURE  means, try and see it from the other’s perspective, even if we don’t agree with them, we can at least agree to disagree. The time we most want to express our anger is the time we should do NOTHING. Anger by appointment only!


  1. DON’T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY: Taking things personally usually means we are tapping in to some negative core belief we already have in ourselves, which was probably placed there by someone else in the past. Don’t hold yourself hostage to negative core beliefs.


  1. JOURNAL: externalise the feelings you have in a healthy way and you will be less likely to dump them on to the ones that you love.


  1. EXERCISE: Get out for a walk, run, cycle if possible, do yoga with the help of YouTube. Remember, movement is medicine!


  1. STAY CONNECTED: Build a support network for yourself, one, two, or more trusted people that you can check in with. Someone who is grounded and won’t collude with you if you are going off on one. Be creative; part of your support network could be an app, church, meditation, online therapy etc.


  1. DON’T FORGET TO PRAISE THE CHILDREN, and your partner if you have one, for their resilience in surviving through this extraordinary time.


  1. IT’S OKAY TO HAVE A DIFFERENT OPINION: Lot’s of arguments at home are about proving the other person wrong. Once we stop playing these mind games, life will be easier for us all. We can agree to disagree!


  1. FAMILY SUPPORT: Start with the mantra, “we are a family, we all support each other”. The kids may cringe, but It’s important that we model behaviour that includes support, kindliness, compassion and solidarity during these difficult times.


  1. IMAGINE YOUR “BEST SELF” AND BRING IT TO YOUR RELATIONSHIPS: Our children learn from all the wonderful things that we bring to them. Monkey see, monkey do! Unfortunately they also learn from our behaviour when we act inappropriately, so let’s make sure that our positive input heavily outweighs the times when our words or actions let us down.


  1. HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS: If I expect my 12 year old son to bring me a full Irish breakfast every morning during my self-isolation, I’m going to be disappointed. Expectations are often resentment waiting to happen, so make sure they are realistic.


  1. ADOPT AN ATTITUDE OF KINDLINESS AND COMPASSION: towards ourselves, family and others. Take time to stop and ask your partner, “how are you today?” Take time to listen to the answer. Let the significant people in your life know that you care about them. Many in these situations will develop rigid coping mechanisms, so a kind word or a caring gesture will help us get through the day in a healthier way. Altruism and random acts of kindness are also on the rise, individuals and communities are reaching out to the vulnerable. Being part of this movement can only bring positive outcomes. Try it for a week and everybody will win!


  1. LET GO OF WHAT WE CAN’T CONTROL: If we can do this, our anxiety, fear and frustration will reduce. We are responsible for ourselves and our actions, and that will be enough of a challenge in these surreal days.


Peter Devers M.Sc. is an accredited Psychotherapist, Clinical Supervisor, Trainer at Knock Counselling Centre, Co. Mayo. Peter is hosting “Temper Your Anger”, an evening online anger management programme starting on 13 April, 6:30-8:30pm, running for five consecutive Tuesdays.

Contact Knock Counselling Centre at 094 9375032 or counsellingoffice@knockshrine.ie