How to deal with your rage at this point in the pandemic
After getting my second dose of Pfizer in the spring, I cautiously allowed myself to feel hope. At the time, vaccination rates were still on the rise in the U.S., and the Internet was abuzz with the shimmering promise of Hot Vax Summer. But that optimism was short-lived. Since then, vaccinations have stalled, and the Delta variant has blazed through the country, dragging the pandemic out even longer than some of us had anticipated.
Now, I’m pissed — at anti-vaxxers for helping to fuel the spread of Delta, the GOP politicians and Fox News commentators for encouraging them, and the CDC for loosening its masking guidelines in May for fully vaccinated people based on the "honor system" (yeah, right).
I’m in the camp of people who got fully vaccinated and continued to take precautions like we were supposed to, only for those who refused to get the vaccine to undo what little progress we’ve made and endanger all of us. As some on social media have pointed out, the whole situation is giving off serious group project vibes.
If you’re infuriated at the external forces prolonging the pandemic, you’ve probably acknowledged that you need to learn to live with this simmering anger long-term. How can you manage your rage at this point in the pandemic?
Let’s start with unpacking it. Tess Brigham, a psychotherapist and certified coach in San Francisco, sees pandemic rage as part of a larger grieving process. Grief typically starts with shock or denial, she explains, followed by anger, bargaining (telling your higher power that if they do X, you’ll do Y, for example), sadness or depression, and finally, acceptance. The thing with grief is, you can reach acceptance and bounce back to earlier stages. You might be angry, while someone else might be sad or in denial. And anxiety doesn’t always manifest as anger. “I think that what you’re seeing is people who are in all these various stages of the grieving process,” Brigham says.
If you're experiencing anger right now, fear might be bubbling below the surface. “A lot of it has do with control,” Brigham tells me. Usually, strangers have little impact on our lives, she points out, other than, say, annoying or startling us when they cut us off on the freeway. “This is the first time that what people who are nameless and faceless are doing is impacting us and how we move forward. That’s really difficult and really scary.”
Where you are in the U.S. matters, too. Brigham says that in the Bay Area, where she’s based, and where I’ve lived most of my life, people have been pretty vigilant about COVID precautions. Many in my community continued to wear masks indoors, even after the CDC said in May that it was fine for fully vaxxed people to forego them in most indoor settings.
Fast-forward to the cross country roadtrip bae and I took this summer. In many stores and other businesses, we were the only ones wearing masks — even after the CDC recommended amid Delta’s takeover that people in "areas of substantial or high transmission" (i.e. most parts of the country), regardless of vaccination status, mask up indoors in public. I became keenly aware of how many people who didn’t see the pandemic the way I did were helping to shape its trajectory.
The fact that Hot Vax Summer didn’t live up to the hype probably didn't do much to curb your anger, either. “Expectations do us in,” Brigham says. She compares Hot Vax Summer with going into a date expecting the person to be amazing, which, naturally, dooms it from the start. You end up disappointed — and for some people, disappointment can look like frustration. Likewise, you might've more or less accepted that the pandemic would persist for a while, Brigham says — but maybe the mostly stagnant vaccination rates, plus the Delta variant, made you realize it’ll last even longer than that.
The first step to coping with your anger is always awareness of it, Brigham notes. Ask yourself what exactly you’re angry about, and if there’s anything you can do about it. You can’t force strangers in other states to get vaccinated or mask up like you do, she says — and besides, your anger toward them would only hurt you. “As much as we want through osmosis for that person to feel our rage or our anger, they don’t, because they’re going through their own thing,” she says.
Instead, she suggests focusing on what you can control, and channeling your anger into action. If you want different mask mandates or other legislation, figure out how you can donate or volunteer your time toward pushing it forward. “Those are things that are in your control,” Brigham explains.
Remember that anger isn’t inherently “bad." Responding to your anger in healthy ways — as opposed to stomping around, raging at yourself or those around you — can help effect real change, Brigham says. In the heat of the moment, she suggests tried-and-true anger management strategies, like meditating, practicing mindfulness, counting to ten, and pausing before you hit “send” on that email.
Brigham thinks it’s also worth taking a step back and trying to understand why others haven’t made the same choices as you. That might include people hesitant to get vaxxed because no one else can babysit their children if side effects wipe them out, for example, or belong to a community that's experienced medical racism. You can still feel compassion toward them, even if you can never embody their experiences, or wouldn't make those decisions yourself, Brigham says.
Like Brigham explained in another story for Mic, anger can give the anxious among us a sense of power over our situation — but it’s illusory. Even if the anti-vaxxers who make my blood boil bear some responsibility for prolonging the pandemic, I can do little more than blame them. Investing my energy in things I can actually control, rather than those that simply make me feel in control, ultimately serves everyone better, pandemic or not.