“Pangry” 2023 is making us afraid and “mad as hell”

In the immortal 1976 movie Network, TV anchorman Howard Beale goes berserk, rising from his news desk screaming at viewers to stop hiding from the calamities of life including “the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street,” to go to their windows and scream out “I AM MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE! And so the next scene shows millions across America doing just that (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOSaVPX2yB8).

Are we there today? Judging by the comments of mental health specialists, the nature and frequency of violent or erratic behavior in society, and the proven trajectory of human reaction to uncertainty resulting in fear, anger, and action, the year 2023 promises to be a year of emotional turbulence.  

The Mayo clinic (2021) uses the term “pangry,” stating that “Without a definitive answer as to what the next phase of the pandemic will look like, mental fatigue has set in for many during this COVID limbo, as has anxiety, depression and persistent anger.”  

In 2022 The Atlantic magazine asked in its headline, “Why are people acting so weird?” stating that, “Crime, unruly passenger incidents, and other types of strange behavior have all soared recently.” 

Dr. Crystal Clark, a psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Feinberg School of Medicine states that, “Overall, the trauma and stress of the pandemic has mostly gone unchecked, unacknowledged and untreated and now people are forced to re-enter society with these raw emotions still very much alive. Others may not recognize what they are experiencing are symptoms of PTSD or post-traumatic stress,” (2022, Northwestern University). 

The headline in the Washington Post (December, 2021) reads, “The pandemic has caused nearly two years of collective trauma. Many people are near a breaking point.” It goes on to say, “Across the United States, an alarming number of people are lashing out in aggressive and often cruel ways in response to policies or behavior they dislike.”

There is plenty to be currently afraid of. Canada’s and other country’s health care system is collapsing like a house of cards, global interest rates are at a high peak and inflation is keeping food and housing costs stratospheric, the IT sector is awash with layoffs, mass-shooting are on a rampage in America, Canadian cities are seeing increasing acts of random attacks, we think politicians are useless and self-serving, confidence in policing is down while concern over crime in higher (Angus Reid, https://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/2022.10.13_Crime_Justice.pdf ), the Ukraine-Russia war continues to threaten us with thoughts of nuclear annihilation, and uncertainly and confusion about the resilience and presence of covid and its shape-shifting variables eats away at our sense of personal safety. To top it off, the World Economic Forum (2023) concludes that 86% of business leaders think it is “moderately likely” or “very likely” that geopolitical instability will lead to a far-reaching, catastrophic cyber event in the next two years. 

Evidence of increasing fear and and anger can be seen it the global Google search term “I am afraid.” As of January 31, 2023 it reached the highest peak in three years, matching only the pandemic-era height of April 2020 (Google Trends, https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=today%205-y&q=I%20am%20afraid,I%20am%20angry ). The same goes for the search term “I am really angry.”

The extensive literature on public protest shows that fear is often the cause of anger, and anger can lead to dramatic action and reaction (https://www.academia.edu/66722110/Triggers_of_Public_Protest). Evidence of an activist public protest mood today is found in the global research carried out by the World Values Survey (WVS) that measures public sentiments about a broad range of socio-economic factors .

For example, the WVS shows that the Canadian public’s willingness to join a peaceful protest was the highest in 40 years in the year 2020 and trending upward. The same WVS shows the highest percentage in 40 years of Canadians willing to join an “unofficial strike,” and significantly trending upward (https://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSOnline.jsp).

In appears we are indeed living in very “pangry” times. But perhaps one of our greatest fears is that we seem incapable of doing much about it. In Canada, services for those in need of urgent emotional care and counselling is thin at best and getting worse.  As the CBC reported in December, 2022, “Demand for mental health services has surged, pushing some providers to their limits.”

And so we open our windows to cyber-space and scream.