There are some who appear to always be walking in the sunshine, even when it may seem undeserved for any number of reasons. But, let’s face it, for the average person, life is often unfair and sometimes to the extreme. These are 5 things you can try to get you through the day, week, month or even just the moment that makes you angry because life seems unfair.
Life is unfair
“Life is unfair. And it’s not fair that life is unfair.”
~ Edward Abbey
The degree of suffering one experiences can be impacted, at least in part, by one’s expectations. For example, if one assumes life will be fair, there will eventually (and likely inevitably) be disappointment, disillusionment, frustration, anger, resentment, and/or feelings of loss or lack of agency.
This article will not be an ode to reframing, cheerleading for positive thinking, or suggesting your perception of things being unfair should be an exercise in relativity.
For those seeking an “assume positive intent” pep talk or “Others would gladly swap places with you,” you can stop reading now.
This article is also not intended to provide tips for addressing the root cause of the injustice you may be experiencing. That’s a big, complex conversation for another day.
The goal is to provide practical ideas you can try when you are in the thick of it, emotions are raw, and you are not in the mood to hear what may sound like platitudes. Or when you have tried to move to a different frame of mind and emotions and it’s just not working.
The hope is that you will find at least one suggestion that:
- makes you feel better right now, as well as in the longer term.
- shortens the amount of time your day, week, or month is emotionally stained by moments of unfairness at work or home or just going about your life when someone comes along and ruins your day by the words or actions to which they subject you.
- helps put you in a position to deal thoughtfully with self-awareness and intention.
- ultimately enables you to face your personal reality and act in a way which reduces the risk of in-the-moment reactions you may come to regret.
Some of the ideas may be new to you. Some may be those you have used successfully in the past and simply need to do more of. Some may just not be your thing.
I would encourage you to be open-minded and not reflexively jump to “that’s not going to work for me.” That may indeed turn out to be the case, but sometimes timing is everything.
I remember a book recommendation I received from someone I highly respected. I ran out and made the purchase with great excitement. And then when I began reading it, I could not even make it through the first chapter. However, 3 years later, I opened the same book, and it totally spoke to me in that moment as if it were tailor-made for my situation.
Another example. Remember when mindfulness and ballet lessons were viewed with great disdain and even snickering in many sports? Now it has become almost mainstream due to the benefits to body, mind, and spirit that both coaches and athletes discovered.
#1: Get physical.
Studies indicate our emotions impact our bodies. They may be manifest in muscle aches, joint pain, GI distress, fatigue, sleep issues, and headaches, to name a few.
If you’re angry all the time over the unfairness in life, there’s a health impact over time. The high and low swing of heat of the moment anger and then the aftermath can have a negative impact on your body. Anger can put you at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and respiratory/lung problems. It can also lower your immune system and life span.
In Chinese medicine it is believed that emotions can be stored in the body at a cellular level, somewhat similar to the concept of “muscle memory” in golf.
When you find yourself in a situation that feels unfair to you or is otherwise difficult to manage, know that you can come out stronger.
At first, though, it may lead to a cascade of physical signs that you may experience before you realize you are well on your way to emotional distress. And for some people, integrative modalities and body work may lead to an emotional release like crying without any obvious or conscious trigger.
So, getting physical and literally moving your emotions out of your body can provide relief.
Although the pandemic may reduce the number of options available right now, indoor activities like boxing work-out videos, drumming, and dancing, or outdoor activities like golf or tennis, walking or jogging, and canoeing or kayaking can help. These activities allow for masking and social distancing and provide the benefit of being outside with the ventilation that is so helpful in mitigating the risk of infection with the novel coronavirus. (Reminder: Be safe and take COVID-19 safety precautions.)
Here are a few possibilities to get you started:
- boxing (note some videos are boxing and some are kickboxing, which is not the same as boxing)
- drumming (You can use household items.)
- dancing (sometimes called “emotions in motion”)
- NIA – The Center for NIA and Yoga says “Nia draws from Tai Chi, Tae Kwon Do, Aikido, jazz dance, modern dance, Duncan dance, yoga, Alexander Technique and Teachings of Moshe Feldenkrais. Every class offers a unique combination of 52 moves that correspond with the main areas of the body: the base, the core and the upper extremities.” The beauty and appeal of NIA for many is the sense of freedom within the structure, the joy of movement, non-judgment, and the diversity of the moves.
#2: Get back to basics.
Infants can teach us a few things about two actions that can be helpful on occasion – crying and screaming. There is a primal quality to each, and they can have a cathartic effect during a tough time. Additionally, crying can have a self-soothing impact due to activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
There’s a reason heavy metal bands still have a following and Edvard Munch’s masterpiece, “The Scream,” is one to which so many have a visceral reaction. Iceland provides an opportunity to scream and release, along with tips from a mental health consultant to help make the most of the experience.
Lastly, get in touch with your body so you begin to notice the early warning signs your body may send to alert you that emotional distress is building. A body scan meditation can provide the practice you need to identify where you feel your emotions in your body.
#3: Express yourself.
Sometimes we need to just unload to get grounded and edge closer to emotional harmony.
That unpacking can take many forms:
- Write a letter or email but don’t send it. (Or do, eventually.)
- Create art.
- Write a poem.
Journaling provides an easy and inexpensive way to name and describe your feelings, to capture the circumstances or person who serves as a trigger, and to explore the why behind the feelings. You may also gain insights into your thinking, patterns of behavior, and ways of processing and reacting.
Is it related to a very specific interaction? Does it harken back to things from your past? Is your reaction out of proportion to what it typically would be? Might it reflect a much bigger and complicated picture and include a collection of emotions that have been piling up over time without venting the valve?
Anger, frustration, and overwhelm are powerful emotions that need to be released so you don’t explode or hit a breaking point.
Journaling provides a confidential, safe haven. You don’t have to share what you write, and you can capture the truth about how you’re feeling rather than how you think you “should” be feeling. If you aren’t honest with yourself, you delay reaping the benefits of the journaling experience.
Journaling can also help you get a more panoramic view. It can support steps to create order if things feel chaotic and overwhelming. You may more easily separate your emotions from the situation, perhaps even enough to allow yourself to get out from under. It can help you just let go and get relief from the tension your body is holding.
If you’re managing anger, journaling can help you explore the causes of that anger because you’re taking the time to reflect on how you feel and what brings those emotions to the surface.
Or is it that life is just unfair?
Over time, journaling can also provide a way to detect if you are making forward movement or have gotten stuck in a way that’s holding you back when you’re ready to take action.
Over time, you can turn disappointment and negative emotions into positive forces. Journaling can be a transformative process because there’s the release on paper. You let go of all the things holding you back, so you can find that path forward.
Write a letter or email but don’t send it. (Or do, eventually.)
Ever get so upset or reach the point where you feel you just can’t take it anymore? You can turn that anger and frustration into something positive.
Write a letter or draft an email to the person who is being unfair, and then stop and walk away.
Acknowledge your feelings on paper, and accept them without judgment. That’s your first step toward controlling and managing anger when life seems unfair.
Do some breath work or count to 10 (or 100) to help you emotionally de-escalate.
Later in the day or a few days later go back to your draft and determine if the benefits of sending it will outweigh the potential risks. If you believe they do, then you will have thought things through, tested your resolve, and given yourself time to develop a Plan B if things go south.
Art can take many forms, and you don’t have to be an “artiste” to create it. If you’ve never taken lessons or do not have any innate talents, that’s OK. The purpose is to find a way to express your emotions and feel better.
For example, it can be splattering paint in colors that represent your emotions to create your own abstract masterpiece. Or you can collect quotes and match them with images that capture your feelings.
Remember, the goal is not to open an art gallery or to hang in the Smithsonian.
Go with the flow and without judgment. Whatever you produce can be for your eyes only.
Write a poem.
Poetry can capture and express feelings. It can help you mentally escape as well as produce insights and self-awareness.
There are myriad forms poetry can take, and there is no one way to write a poem.
You can be very free-form or stick to a very structured format, e.g., haiku. Poetry can be descriptive and detailed, mysterious and coded, rhyming or flowing.
Once again, this is a safe haven activity which you can experience without judgment. After all, if it speaks to you and makes you feel better, you’ve reached your goal.
#4: Experience justice vicariously.
If you are suffering an unfair moment or have been brought down mentally by an unrelenting set of circumstances, sometimes becoming immersed in a situation where the good guy wins can provide a sense of vicarious justice. When life is unfair, watching a story which ends with the triumph of good over evil can be just the ticket, even if it is justice one degree removed.
See if these movies and TV series might fit the bill:
#5: Create a memory “box.”
Have you ever had a moment that was so wonderful that you consciously registered it at the time? When you were really present and processed the experience as it was unfolding? You felt energized or serene, calm and content, or as if all were right with the world. You might have even said to yourself, “I wish this moment would last forever!”
Use your imagination and all 5 senses to transport yourself to that time.
What do you see? Friends, family, your dog, a beautiful lake or the mountains, an exquisite painting, city skyscrapers, a rolling countryside?
Are there smells you remember? Perfume, wafts from wonderful food, the salt of ocean air, floral aromas of lavender, roses, or hyacinths?
How about sounds? Laughter, ocean waves, the hustle-and-bustle of the city, the quiet of the woods?
What about touch? The softness of a pet’s fur, the warmth of a baby’s cheek, the roughness of the bark of a tree, the feel of sand between your toes?
Lastly, do you remember the taste of a wonderful meal, a snowflake on your tongue, the creamy consistency of ice cream?
Now that you have mentally recreated that memory, visualize putting it in a beautifully wrapped box that you can take down from a shelf and open whenever you need a pick-me-up or an escape from situations that engender feelings of anger, indignation, helplessness, or loss of hope.
Take Care of You
Life is often unfair. To individuals, to specific groups, to whole nations.
It is important to recognize and accept that reality and not try to sugarcoat it. But it is equally important to take steps to buffer yourself from the emotional trauma that can ensue. Trauma that not only does not make your world a more just place but can result in your (understandably) becoming stuck in bitterness, cynicism, and, on occasion, making inaccurate interpretations of certain situations to your detriment.
Give yourself a break from all that is unfair in your life.
- relax your body – the clenched jaws, the shoulders up at your ears, the tightness in your lower back and
- really breathe – take a lung-filling deep breath in and then a deep cleansing exhale.
Whether it’s an hour, a day, or a weekend, take some time to decompress. Listen to music, get some sleep, buy some flowers, take a virtual trip, escape through guided imagery, focus on the flames in a fireplace or a flickering scented candle. Take some time just to be.
When all is said and done, take care of you. Don’t let external forces so infiltrate your mind share that one day you don’t recognize yourself anymore.
(Personal Insight MD, LLC, PeopleTweaker, and Insight MD does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are feeling extreme anger with thoughts and actions harmful to yourself or others such as physical/verbal abuse or acts of violence, find yourself self-medicating with alcohol, illicit drugs, etc., expressing your anger in such a way that threaten relationships or your job, etc. seek professional help immediately and call 911 if necessary if you find yourself in an out-of-control situation or have the urge to hurt yourself or others.)
As a physician, healthcare executive at a Fortune 100 company, and integrative health practitioner, Z. Colette Edwards, MD, MBA knows the unique value of a holistic, whole-person approach to health and well-being. She also understands the challenges health inequities can present. Known as “The Insight Doctor,” she offers guidance and powerful tools that prepare your body, mind, and spirit for menopause, stress, and inflammatory bowel disease. Lastly, Dr. Edwards coaches individuals in the development of self-advocacy and health system navigation skills.