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Time to chill out

Rutland Herald/Times Argus

Jan. 6

Editor’s note: The editorial was modified to show New York’s numbers.

There have been incidents appearing in articles and police logs in recent weeks that would suggest that we’re not handling our stress very well. In fact, indications are that we need to take a chill pill.

Recently, Alcohol.org, a leading provider of addiction treatment resources, conducted a survey of about 3,000 Americans to determine levels of anger across nationwide in 2020. According to the survey, those who are angriest in the country live in Delaware, where residents admit to getting angry a significant 12 times a week, or almost twice a day. The least angry citizens have been those living in Hawaii, with people only getting riled up twice a week, the survey found.

According to a release on the survey, [New Yorkers polled admitted to getting angry six times per week.] The national average was six times a week.

Why? The survey indicates that spending more time at home due to social distancing can leave some people short-fused and particularly irritable in certain situations. For many Americans, the coronavirus pandemic brought with it a wave of negative emotions, such as fear, stress, anger and frustration at these unprecedented circumstances.

But anything could be a trigger: a slow WiFi connection, excess workload or any number of minor annoyances can set off anger. Throw national politics and the divisiveness pervasive in the country right now and you have plenty of fuel for our collective fire.

According to Kaiser Health News, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly one in five of U.S. adults [47 million] reported having a mental illness in the past year. Over 11 million had a serious mental illness, which frequently results in functional impairment and limits life activities, and can lead to anger issues. In 2017-2018, more than 17 million adults and an additional 3 million adolescents had a major depressive episode in the past year.

Deaths due to drug overdose have increased more than threefold over the past 19 years — from 6.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 1999 to 20.7 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019. Nearly 50,000 Americans died by suicide last year, and nearly 11 million adults [4.3 percent] reported having serious thoughts of suicide in the past year.

“During this unprecedented time of uncertainty and fear, it is likely that mental health issues and substance use disorders among people with these conditions will be exacerbated,” Kaiser noted.

For Alcohol.org, the implication is huge: A rise in anger and anxiety levels has affected the majority of us, with 88 percent admitting to feeling angrier since the start of the pandemic. And some of those angry people [68 percent] have turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism. Unfortunately, this can exacerbate the issue; 65 percent of people who did this admitted it had the opposite effect and only made things worse, the survey notes.

Alcohol.org explains that, while anger in itself can be a healthy emotion, using alcohol, or any other substance, to try and soothe it can actually disrupt and deepen the angry feelings, due to the effect of the chemicals on our brains.

And in a lot of the cases reported on these pages, there were substance abuse, as well as anger management issues — some of them among repeat or habitual offenders.

As Jill Ebstein, the editor of the “At My Pace” series of books, wrote this week, “It is easy to overstate the obvious. Our world has endured mental and physical anguish that takes us back to some of our darkest days, including wars, terrorism, hazards of nature, and personal failure. COVID feels like a villainous twist on a theme, maybe setting a new standard for fear, isolation, and a pervasive sense of loss. We wonder whether there is a future that we want to be part of.”

Ebstein sees moments of optimism, but not without some self-help. Here is her three-part approach to chilling out:

∫ Quell growing pessimism. The Pew Research Center reports worldwide pessimism is at a high. Four areas were probed — inequality, politics, employment and education — all returning pessimistic outlooks. For example, 65 percent of respondents generally felt pessimistic about reducing the gap between the rich and poor. Be positive.

∫ Empower ourselves through small acts of kindness. We know it is more fun to give than be given to, but both are good.

∫ Visualize positive outcomes. We need to nurture our kernels of hope, and visualization helps. Seeing possibilities motivates.

Easy, right? Yes. Chill out, and give it a try. You’ll feel better.

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