I have spent a lot of time online during the coronavirus pandemic. With stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements, it’s nearly impossible to conduct any sort of person-on-the-street interviews IRL.
Similarly hampered from socializing, folks have taken to social media more than usual. This is where I find out what’s on their minds.
And it’s anger.By anger, I mean that in the past month I’ve seen a fury that’s deep. A yell-at-strangers, unfriending, dying-on-this-mountain kind of wrath. Rage like I’ve rarely seen, honestly, and I’ve been on social media for a while, and a writer for even longer.
But is this surprising?
Anger is the emotion “that comes up typically when a goal is blocked or when something is unjust,” says Dr. Andrea Gottlieb, a psychologist and the dialectal behavior therapy project coordinator for Sheppard Pratt Health System.
Did she say blocked goals? Things that are unfair? Hello, 2020, take a seat and let me pour you a steaming hot cup of our ire.
Yes, these things lead to both anger and fear being “really prevalent” right now, Gottlieb admits. And that’s to be expected.
Maybe your child will not return to college, but learn from your kitchen table. Now you’re angry that he’s missing out.
Maybe you’re working extra hard at your job because of the pandemic and the lack of down time irks you. Maybe you had to scrap vacation plans and you’re pissed.
Perhaps all of the above are true—and you are enraged.
Fear & rage
This is totally normal, Gottlieb says, adding that the best thing we can do is recognize this. It’s normal to be angry at the ways that the coronavirus pandemic derailed our lives this year.
“Anger also comes up because people are scared,” she says. Life as we know it has changed. And “what happens when we have unknowns is that we fill in the holes ourselves,” she says. “That can prompt anger.”
The best thing to do is to consider the facts that led to our rage, rather than push them away. Anger is like a beach ball, she says. If we try to push it underwater, it will pop back up.
Then take slow, deep breaths. “I know, it’s so cliché,” she admits. But when we are angry, our body tenses and our heart rate increases. Deep breathing counters that.
So, too, does splashing cold water on our face.
Combat the unpleasant with the pleasant, Gottlieb continues. Do something you like. If you are craving social time, send someone a card or FaceTime with them. “Gently avoid” things that make you angry, she says. Stop reading the news and turn on a TV series you enjoy instead. Or put down your phone and take a walk.
Set small goals for yourself so that little successes are possible.
Do something that occupies your thinking. A puzzle might not do that, she says, so try an art or cooking project. Similarly, know that venting may not help. In fact, talking about your anger may make it worse if it’s just to complain about the status quo. But opening up to a friend about this hard time can be more effective, she says.
“Everyone is different. It’s hard to say how long this anger will last,” she says.
But until it does, this is a time for self-compassion, Gottlieb adds. We need to give ourselves both a shoulder to lean on and kind words.