How to Manage Disappointment and Anger During COVID-19, According to a Psychologist
Our world has changed. Dr. Lynn takes on the emotional issues many of us are grappling with.
I worked hard on a special event that I had to cancel because of COVID-19. How do I manage my disappointment, knowing that there are bigger issues to deal with right now?
While COVID-19 has given us opportunities to slow down and rethink, it has also wreaked havoc with anticipated events. As things came to a grinding halt, plans for weddings, new jobs, graduations, vacations, and retirement may have been scrapped altogether. Trying to manage these dramatic changes inevitably stirs up emotional and logistical challenges.
Allow yourself to feel your feelings. It’s with the best of intentions that we say things like, “I’m devastated that my wedding was canceled, but I know it’s not as important as someone losing their job.” It’s OK to be upset, even if others have it worse.
Actively grieving your loss can also help. Make a list of what you’ve had to let go—include tangible things, like financial gains, as well as more experiential goals, such as traveling abroad. Give yourself permission to sift through your losses: You may feel anger, sadness, or frustration, all of which are entirely appropriate.
And finally, look over your list and note which things you’d like to rebuild when the time comes. For example, if you still dream of a career change or a big wedding, commit to pursuing these things when the dust settles. Things may have been “paused,” but your commitment will keep the hope alive for your future.
I’m doing OK financially and emotionally right now, but some of my friends are not. I feel guilty about this and don’t know what to do.
The sudden shake-up of the world has impacted people in a variety of ways. While some have remained relatively secure, many others have been devastated by the loss of family members or financial security. If you feel like one of the lucky ones, it’s not uncommon for your gratitude to come with a side of guilt.
Guilt often implies that we deserve blame for something, so first remind yourself that your good fortune hasn’t caused the struggles of others. If you worry that the contrast between your own life and your friends’ lives may create a rift, the best you can do is offer humility and compassion. For example, let them know you’re there for them, but offer a sense of normalcy by treating them the same as you usually would.
A side effect of guilt is the impulse to downplay your optimism and motivation. Try your hardest not to do this. While it’s obviously not a time to brag, the ability to stay connected to what’s going well for you is important because it may allow you to help others. For example, if you have come through this pandemic so far with your job and salary intact, you may be in a great position to help a friend brainstorm about new job opportunities. If you can keep guilt at bay, you’ll increase your ability to support others when they really need you.
I’m harboring a lot of anger toward family and friends about everything from political differences to flouting social-distancing rules. How do I deal with it?
There’s nothing like a pandemic to place a spotlight on polarizing topics, such as political opinions and people’s approaches to managing their health! Things that caused small arguments around a dining table have now gotten extra heated under the pressure of a global crisis. If those divides have caused some resentment toward your loved ones, you’re not alone. Here are a few things to consider.
Get specific about what’s irritating you. For example, if conversations with your father start out well and suddenly go south when politics arise, setting limits may do the trick. Try saying, “Dad, I love speaking with you, but let’s stay away from discussing the news so we enjoy our talks more.” This may help preserve your relationship while keeping hot-button topics to a minimum.
If someone’s actions potentially have an impact on your health, like refusing to socially distance, stronger boundaries may be in order. I’d recommend putting these in place sooner rather than later to limit frustration. Set the expectation that you’re most comfortable with remote meetups for the time being, and make a specific plan, like a weekly check-in. This shows you’re prioritizing your friendship while continuing to feel safe. You may even want to explain that you aren’t judging their choices, but taking time apart will minimize your anxiety until things calm down. By being respectful but firm, you’ll hopefully preserve your support system without creating a big divide.
The silver lining in this pandemic is that I’ve discovered I like a slower pace. Once the world has stabilized, how can I hang on to the advantages of the slow life?
Many people are reporting some unexpected joys in slowing down, including family dinners, phone calls with old friends, board games, and at-home workouts. While we’d all be happier if we never sanitized a bag of chips again, some are looking for ways to keep our simple pleasures close when life speeds up again.
What can you do to get these benefits to stick? For one, write down the activities you’ve enjoyed during this time, from trying new recipes to reaching out to loved ones. Do this as soon as you can, so the memories don’t fade. Once you have the list, make specific plans and put them into your calendar. If a plan includes others, ask them to commit, too: If you’ve loved reconnecting with your college girlfriends, make two dates for video calls in the next few months. By the time those dates come around, you’ll be ready to fit a little slice of the slow life into your busy schedule.
Finally, remember to be patient with yourself. There’s a reason you had a hard time fitting these things in before. The greater the priority and intention you give them, the more likely they’ll become part of your normal routine.
I see people suffering in all kinds of ways, and I feel helpless. I want to be of service, but I don’t know where to start. Can you give me any suggestions?
Your desire to help is wonderful. And it’s not uncommon to feel a bit helpless if you aren’t sure where to chip in. There are so many ways to contribute, and with a little creative thinking, you’ll find your niche.
On a piece of paper, make two columns and label them “restrictions” and “strengths.” Begin filling in the “restrictions” column first so you can quickly eliminate anything that may put you at risk. For example, if you have a preexisting health condition, have a high level of anxiety, or are strapped financially, you can confidently pass on opportunities that would add extra strain in these areas.
Next, move to the “strengths” column. Think big for this one, as most of us have more strengths than we give ourselves credit for. Some may seem more obvious, like a strong financial position or lots of extra time, while others may seem far-fetched, like web design or landscaping. Don’t worry, there’s need everywhere!
Once you’ve completed this, it’s time to search for opportunities. You may want to check out Nextdoor.com, which works like a community bulletin board. Whether you’re helping a stressed mother with her children or doing lawn work for a first responder, your efforts will make this tough time a little better for you and your community.
Lynn Saladino, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist in New York City specializing in weight management, relationships, and life transitions.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!
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