Many people thought things would be different after spending much of the past year and a half in a pandemic. When COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out to the general U.S. population in the spring of 2021, cases hit an all-time high in June and a collective sigh of relief was breathed. Thoughts grew that the virus might be under control – but the Delta variant had other plans.
Around July 4, cases appeared to worsen. The end of the summer has left some with a strange sense of déjà vu: full intensive care units, masks put back on, distancing, debates over public health mandates and canceled plans.
As a mental health professional, Megan Hays, Ph.D., a clinical psychiatrist and assistant professor at the University of Alabama at the Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine in Birmingham, says her clients present a wide range of difficult emotions as the pandemic continues. over, including anxiety, worry, sadness, hopelessness, and guilt, among others. But one emotion stands out from the rest: anger.
People ask, “How did we get here? And “Will this ever end?” While short-term anger is normal and even adaptive, Hays says there are long-term health effects of uncontrolled anger, including increased risk of high blood pressure, worse pain management, increased pain increased anxiety, a weakened immune system, and headaches.
Hays recommends five evidence-based strategies to help cope with the chronic feelings of anger associated with the pandemic.
Realize that it’s good, and even useful, to be angry
Emotions have a purpose, and when controlled they can even be helpful. For example, if we are never afraid, we may not take objective danger seriously, such as being confronted with a dangerous virus like COVID-19. And if we never feel sad, we might not care about losing a loved one and, therefore, we would not value our close relationships. Likewise, anger has its purpose. Anger has a bad reputation because it is often mistaken for hostile behavior or aggression.
“Anger is an emotion, not a behavior,” Hays said. “Anger tells us that something is wrong. Perhaps our security is threatened, an injustice is occurring, or action is required on our part. If no one had felt anger over the pandemic, we might never have developed vaccines or instituted masking and distancing requirements, because no one would care what happened to people around. them. “
Learn to respond to anger, not to react
Aggressive behavior and anger are linked to high blood pressure and coronary heart disease. As a reminder, the emotion of anger is not bad, because it signals us that something is wrong and that we must fix it.
“It can be tempting to virtually ‘denounce’ an acquaintance on Facebook who posts misinformation about vaccines, but hostile behavior is likely to backfire,” Hays said. “The message usually gets lost in the aggressive communication style and leads to the other party’s defensiveness.”
On the other hand, constantly suppressing anger can lead to the “pressure cooker effect” of stew, resentment, and unexpected outbursts of anger, according to Hays.
“Instead of assaulting or suppressing, practice expressing your anger in healthy ways using assertive communication skills to express your feelings, needs and wants.”
Hays recommends stepping back from the situation, allowing time to process the anger, and then returning to the situation when the emotions are under control. This will help minimize the risk of speaking out in anger.
A great way to calm down during this recovery period may be to participate in enjoyable activities, such as:
- Be silly: turn on the music and dance and sing the frustration.
- Be Creative: Some people find drawing or painting very calming.
- Be Productive: Find a chore you enjoy, like washing laundry, washing dishes, or vacuuming.
- Be active: Some people may find brisk walking, running, or cycling a great way to vent frustration.
Hays said physical activity is one of the safest ways to relieve the “pressure cooker,” but she recommends not getting too aggressive while exercising.
“It’s human nature to want to hit a punching bag or pillow when you’re angry, but research shows this can actually make your anger worse,” Hays said. “Instead of hitting something, use rigorous, safe, exercise to let off steam.”
Do not water the weeds
Once it’s time to feel and acknowledge the anger, Hays suggests avoiding continuing to ruminate on the incident, news article, social media post, or conversation that sparked the feelings.
“It can be tempting to rehash all the misinformation you’ve seen on the internet today and come up with hypothetical arguments in the shower, but it’s an unproductive strategy,” she said. “Reorient your attention by focusing on what is under your control. “
For example, if you get upset after seeing a large group of people congregating indoors without masks, remember that there is a choice to avoid or leave the situation, to wear a mask and to to get vaccinated.
Hays also suggests that gratitude works well as an antidote to anger. Practice focusing on what’s good about the current situation, such as gratitude for the scientists who created the vaccines or access to accurate public health information.
Practice radical acceptance
“If only everyone had worn masks, we wouldn’t be in this situation. “If only I had worked harder, I could have saved them.” “Things should be different now. Why is this still happening? If these thoughts sound familiar to you, ruminating on the ‘should’ and ‘if only’ is a wake-up call to fight reality.
“Pain is inevitable, but struggling with reality generates suffering, and suffering is optional,” Hays said. “We can choose to radically accept reality as it is, not as we want it to be. The reality is that there are a lot of things we can’t control about the pandemic – and life in general. “
Radical acceptance does not mean agreeing with what is happening or what has happened, but leaves room for hope by accepting things as they are and not struggling against reality.
Tell your friends and family how you feel
Hays says sharing your feelings with others is a proven strategy for dealing with anger.
“Just be genuine and genuine with people rather than pretending everything is fine,” she said. “Chances are a lot of people are feeling angry right now, and realizing that you are not alone and that you are validated by others can do a lot for your sanity.”
When asking for help, be specific about what kind of help you need. For example, do you just need someone to listen to you, or do you want help with a situation? Show your appreciation for the person’s support if it has been helpful, and find a way to support the other person if they are looking for a safe space in the future.
“A therapist can also help deal with difficult emotions and learn healthy mechanisms for dealing with anger, so don’t hesitate to seek professional help when indicated.”