Why Am I Angry in a Pandemic?
I saw this meme around the time COVID-19 was ramping up and quarantine was just beginning. It stated something to the effect that divorce lawyers are eagerly awaiting couples who have struggled with being stuck in the house with each other. One aspect of this that I haven’t seen mentioned too much is the possibility that people are irritable at home with others, expressing anger and feeling some rage when watching the news, and getting so mad at their friends or neighbors who appear to not be taking this “seriously enough.” This could lead to taking these things out on a spouse, parent, or child, and can erode your own immune system as you stay in a heightened state of stress and anger, raising blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels. Let’s explore why this might be occurring and what we can do about it.
Anger and fear are natural responses to the underlying experience of feeling powerless. Now is a time when so many people around the world feel absolutely powerless to stop Coronavirus, help sick loved ones, keep unnecessary people home, and affect change. We feel powerless in helping doctors and nurses without PPE. We feel powerless to help those who are struggling to afford rent, food, medications, and other necessities. When we feel powerless on such a large and global scale as this, it increases anxieties and anger can often come out in an effort to counteract the discomfort of acknowledging that there is only so much we can do. When we express anger, we experience a rush of blood, a strengthening of muscles, and may even experience a sense of righteousness that can challenge unjustified feelings of inadequacy or “laziness” (I put this in quotes because I don’t actually believe laziness exists, but that’s for a different post!) about our efforts to do what we can within our own bubble. The anger and blame of others can also challenge irrational judgments we hold of ourselves and unjustified feelings of guilt about us “not doing enough.”
Allowing ourselves to get worked up only serves to disrupt our bubble and increase distress for ourselves and those around us. It also lowers our immune system and our body’s ability to fight off infection. One way to help with this is to work on radically accepting that, if we aren’t doctors, nurses, scientists, etc., there really isn’t too much we can do to stop this thing. When we radically accept something, it’s not saying that we like it or are even okay with it, we are just acknowledging the reality in front of us, the limitations and capabilities of ourselves and others, and how these facts make us feel.
Balance this with acknowledging the steps you can take to help protect yourself and those around you. If you know you can afford to stay inside, do it. If it would help your bubble for you to not watch the news and judge everyone else, try to limit exposure and challenge judgmental thoughts. Taking things out on people you’re quarantined with is just going to make the entire house feel tense and add unnecessary distress (and gets super uncomfortable!). Speak to the genuine, underlying emotions you’re really feeling; most likely there’s powerlessness, fear, uncertainty, and sadness. Try having conversations with people who appear not to be following CDC guidelines or directives to understand them, and let go of trying to change people. Also, refrain from judging yourself and others; judgments only serve to increase emotional reactivity and distress. Try not to assume you know why people are still out and about, everyone deals with and copes with things differently. If we can remind ourselves that we are doing the best we can with what we have, then maybe we can start to extend that belief to others as well.
Where you have power (your home, your emotions, your reactions), exert power effectively. Where you don’t, acknowledge the emotions that come with accepting that reality and share them openly and honestly with those around you. Now isn’t the time to attack one another, now is the time to do our part to the best of our abilities in support of one another.