How to Stop Freaking Out

If you can prevent your emotions from taking over in the face of stress, you can avoid a lot of regret and set a good example for others.

By Arthur C. Brooks

Americans are emerging from the pandemic more stressed out and reactive than ever. For example, in a typical year, the United States sees about 100 to 150 cases of “air rage”—passengers becoming violent or unruly on airplanes. In 2021, there were more than 5,700 cases, of which more than 4,100 were mask-related. The problem is not limited to the skies: As my colleague Olga Khazan writes, “disorderly, rude, and unhinged conduct seems to have caught on as much as bread baking and Bridgerton.”

You might not be disrupting a flight or assaulting a stranger in the street, but maybe you are more emotionally volatile than you would like—more prone to strong negative feelings, and more often ending up in confrontations you would prefer to avoid, perhaps with people you love. A friend of mine refers to COVID as “the Divorce Lawyers’ Full-Employment Act of 2020,” and indeed, evidence suggests that the pandemic has torn many families apart. Emerging data on adolescents abroad show that emotional reactivity—when emotions are unstable in response to the stressors of ordinary life—increased during the pandemic.

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