Life Wellbeing Coronavirus pinatas and screaming into Iceland won’t solve your anger problems
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Coronavirus pinatas and screaming into Iceland won’t solve your anger problems

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Taking your COVID-influenced anger out on a defenceless papier mache object sounds harmless enough, but it could be doing you harm in the long run, psychology suggests.

As the world lumbers through more than 170 days of the coronavirus pandemic, people have been getting creative on how to let out their pent-up frustrations.

Coronavirus pinatas started taking off in the US in May, encouraging people to DIY a smashable version of this year’s most annoying virus.

You can even buy them on Amazon if you don’t have the craft skills to make your own.

Iceland is leveraging its vastness, inviting people to record themselves screaming at the top of their lungs, to be broadcast into the countryside.

Part catharticism, part tourism campaign, it reads: “You’ve been through a lot this year and it looks like you need the perfect place to let your frustrations out. Somewhere big, vast and untouched,” the country’s tourism board posted on Instagram.

“Record your scream and we’ll release it in Iceland’s beautiful, wide-open spaces. And when you’re ready, come let it out for real. You’ll feel better, we promise.”

Both of these outlets sound harmless (albeit a bit gimmicky), but partaking in them as a solo mode of “therapy” could block us from growing as emotional creatures, organisational behaviour expert Associate Professor Burak Oc said.

When we channel this kind of anger or frustration into a release, Professor Oc explained, we’re actually ignoring where it comes from.

“It makes this thing called secondary anger,” Professor Oc told The New Daily.

“The reason they call it secondary anger is because anger is not the first emotion that you feel. Anger becomes the reactive feeling.

“To avoid feeling vulnerable, or to avoid feeling emotions like fear, shame, emotional pain, or you feel like you might be hurt, you might be harmed.”

This makes a lot of sense – everything we know has been turned on its head, and people are left not knowing what will happen next week, let alone next month.

So with all these powerful emotions bubbling beneath the surface, people are looking to use their anger as a coping mechanism.

A learned (somewhat useless) behaviour

What’s the harm, then, in tying a pinata to the Hills hoist in the backyard and smashing it to smithereens?

A one-off probably isn’t going to do your emotion self a great deal of damage.

It’s when we resort to these methods all the time that we’re in danger.

We use this secondary anger as a coping mechanism and a way to shut the door on the primary emotions that are causing us harm or distress, said Professor Oc, of the Melbourne Business School.

He explained: We release that secondary anger by hitting something, breaking something, yelling – and it helps us find relief. This feeling can then become addictive.

COVID-19 is making a lot of us feel like this. But it’s important to recognise the root of our anger. Video: Getty

“Because when you do it, first you’ll distance yourself from those emotions that you don’t want to experience – such as shame, emotional pain – but when you do the thing that calms you down, you reduce your arousal. So it works,” Professor Oc said.

That’s why it’s such a learned behaviour for us to want to smash something when we’re angry – we can get a split-second reward from it.

Therein lies the problem. We’re unconsciously letting this anger out, without addressing its root cause.

“When people yell or punch a pillow, they’re not necessarily doing it as a conscious process,” Professor Oc said.

“It’s not like, ‘Oh let me just take a step back and think about this and express my emotion’ – it happens so quickly, so automatically for them, because they learn it at some point in their life that whenever they feel these emotions, the best way to deal with them is to express anger towards something or someone else.”

Unfortunately, this can feed into the cycle of domestic violence.

A way to a happier, healthier self

So what’s the best way to deal with this secondary anger?

The answer, Professor Oc says, is mindful meditation.

It’s not a quick path, but it is a successful one, he says.

Mindful meditation, or mindfulness, is a process that brings all of one’s awareness to the present, in order to achieve greater harmony with your emotions and physical self.

It can especially help people deal with these core emotions that might arise in a highly stressful situation like, say, a global pandemic.

“So, for example, it might be a bit of fun to make a bit of a pinata and be like, ‘Oh, let’s just take out our anger in the backyard’,” Professor Oc said.

“But ask yourself, why do you want to destroy this in order to feel better?”

  • If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call 1800 RESPECT