2020 Has Me Short-Tempered

I don’t feel like myself right now. The stress of living in 2020—plus the increase in migraine severity that stress has brought—has me short-tempered and quick to anger or tears. In Zoom calls with friends, I’m prone to monopolizing the conversation with frustration. On a professional call, I ranted about local politics, then spent the next 24 hours mortified by what I’d said. This is so not me. I don’t like how my moods are affecting other people or how I’m presenting myself.

Strategies to reduce stress and migraine attacks

Not only does being short-tempered feel inconsistent with my sense of self, the stress also leaves me more prone to migraine attacks. While I can’t change my emotions in this turbulent time, I’m working to make them a little less intense. These strategies are helping keep my stress levels down, which, in turn, has reduced the frequency of my migraine attacks.

My emotions and reactions are stronger than usual

As the world hits me at full volume, my emotions and reactions are also cranked up more than usual.

Pause and identify my emotion before reacting

Instead of taking immediate action when I have a strong emotion, I’m trying to stop and take a deep breath before I speak or make any decisions. I also try to identify the emotion that I’m feeling—knowing if I’m coming from grief, fear, anger, or something else can help me better modulate my reaction. This strategy is more successful sometimes than others, but when I do take a short pause and identify my emotion before speaking or acting, I always feel better about the outcome.

Assume best intentions

Assuming best intentions is one of the policies at my work and I’ve found it helpful in my personal life as well. If I’m upset with something another person has said or done, instead of jumping to how the person has wronged me, I assume they acted out of best intentions, rather than malice. This helps me approach them with curiosity about where they’re coming from, rather than with anger, which keeps them from getting defensive and escalating the situation. Most of the time, I find that someone didn’t upset me intentionally and we can come to a place where we both feel heard and understood.

Remember that everyone’s carrying a burden

I’m sure you’ve seen some meme about the heavy, unseen weight that every person carries. While it might seem like a cliché, it’s true that we never know what anyone else is going through. And right now, we know that almost everyone is feeling some degree of burden under the weight of this year. I know I’m not responding as I normally do and that my communication skills are rougher than usual, so I expect the same is true for others. Remembering this helps me respond to others with more empathy and compassion.

Give people space (including myself)

Sometimes, it seems like I can feel the stress pouring out of my friends and family. My husband is the only person I see face-to-face these days, but I can see the stress even in texts and on the phone. When the stress doesn’t affect me directly, it’s easy to express empathy and offer to help. However, sometimes the stress hits me through someone else’s short temper or impatience. Instead of snapping back, I’m attempting to give the person space. Sometimes that means disengaging. More often, I reflect that they seem [insert observed emotion] and ask what’s going on. Unsurprisingly, giving them a chance to air their grievances—giving them a space for their emotions—usually make both of us happier than if we’ve argued.

Trying my best

While I don't manage to use these strategies every time I feel out of sorts, having them as options makes me feel a bit more in control during this stressful time. And when I do remember to use one or more of these approaches, I feel less overwhelmed and more like myself. I'm also working on self-compassion for the times that I do lose my cool or monopolize conversations with my distress. Like everyone else right now, I'm trying my best.

What are you doing to manage the emotional distress of this year?

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