It’s a sentence that would have been unbelievable not too long ago: We are now a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, facing a fourth wave brought on by the delta variant.
Have you had any of these thoughts?
This should be over.
People aren’t doing what they should be doing.
I am on my own to protect my family.
Living and working like this has become impossible.
At this stage of the pandemic, anger and frustration are natural, understandable and often painful emotions to experience, says UNC Health clinical psychologist Crystal Schiller, PhD.
“A lot of people initially reacted to all of these changes in society with fear and anxiety, and then it turns to anger, because there are just so many moving parts and so many people, it’s impossible to get everybody acting and reacting in the same way,” she says.
Division, Fear and Anger
Unfortunately, prevention measures such as masks and vaccination have been politicized and are controversial in some communities. That leaves many vaccinated people feeling anger that a clear route out of this pandemic—the vast majority of people choosing to receive a safe, free vaccine—is available, but hasn’t happened. While vaccinations have been very effective in keeping individuals safe from COVID-19, not enough people have been vaccinated to prevent the virus from mutating and continuing to spread.
That leaves unvaccinated people vulnerable, including children under 12 who are not eligible for vaccination. Parents of young children and people who are immunocompromised, who cannot rely on full protection from vaccines, may resent this ongoing threat. Healthcare providers, teachers and other essential workers may be angry that they are still working long hours in unsafe conditions. The millions of Americans who have lost someone to COVID-19 may feel their loss isn’t validated by people and politicians who downplay the virus.
With infection rates so high, yet again, “it feels unsafe to even go to the grocery store,” Dr. Schiller says. “It makes life harder, and it makes sense to feel angry about where we are.”
Coping with Anger
Anger may be understandable, but it also can be harmful to well-being.
“This is a frustrating situation,” Dr. Schiller says. “The question is, what do we do with that anger and frustration?”
The first step is to ask yourself if you can do anything productive with your anger. Can you have a calm, respectful conversation with a loved one who feels differently than you? Can you advocate or volunteer, such as at a vaccination site?
If that feels too hard, that’s OK. It’s important to take care of your own peace and try to accept that you can’t change other people.
“There is very little any one of us can do to control this situation,” Dr. Schiller says. “We can only make the best choices we can at this given time and accept others are going to make different choices.”
First, it can be helpful to be choosy about your media consumption, especially social media, Dr. Schiller says. It’s important to stay informed with reliable news sources but try not to spend hours a day consuming news.
Social media, where so much misinformation has flourished about the virus and vaccines, is especially problematic for mental health, Dr. Schiller says. “If you find being on social media makes you feel worse, reduce the time you spend there and potentially get off it altogether.”
Second, Dr. Schiller recommends self-care actions. Take care of yourself the way you would care for a child; that means eating healthy food, drinking enough water, sleeping enough to feel rested, getting exercise and spending time outside. Connecting with other people, in whatever way feels safe to you, is also a good way to experience positive emotions.
Look for opportunities to build pleasurable activities into your day-to-day life, Dr. Schiller says. Don’t wait for vacations or even weekends to take a break or have fun. This can be as simple as listening to your favorite song while you make dinner, drinking a cup of your favorite tea on the porch or eating a piece of chocolate.
These positive moments can help you move on from feelings of anger and fear, even if just temporarily. “Now’s the time to really focus on self-care as a way of getting through this,” Dr. Schiller says.
Professional Help for Anger
If you feel your anger is unmanageable or affecting your quality of life, it can help to talk to a mental health professional.
The pandemic has made psychotherapy and counseling much more accessible, because insurance companies are covering virtual visits, Dr. Schiller says. That means you can see a mental health provider from the comfort of your own home, and you don’t have to select a therapist within driving distance.
“More people are utilizing mental health care, and that’s going to reduce the stigma associated with mental health care in the long run,” Dr. Schiller says. “It’s really important people reach out for help if they’re struggling.”
If you think you could benefit from talking to a therapist, tell your doctor. If you need a doctor, find one near you.