Why is COVID-19 making me so angry?


Across social media, outside of state capitols and inside crowded grocery stores, we’re seeing regular outbursts of rage and frustration. You’re probably feeling it too—anger about a picture you saw on your friend’s Facebook page or the party you heard at your neighbor’s house. Maybe you find yourself snapping at relatives or having a shorter fuse with your children.

There are a lot of factors right now that contribute to us feeling more frustration and expressing this more readily toward others. Fortunately, there are ways we can better cope with our negative feelings during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Your anger may be fueled by stress

First and foremost, increased frustration and irritability can be a common reaction to stress. With the current pandemic, many aspects of our daily lives are more stressful than usual. For example, grocery lines may be slower, work tasks may require quick adaptation and time may be increasingly devoted to new roles or obligations brought about by social distancing measures, such as child care or homeschooling.

At the same time, many of us likely have decreased access to activities that help us cope with stress in healthy and familiar ways.

For example, if activities such as going to the gym, going out to dinner with friends or shopping with family aren’t accessible in their traditional ways, you may feel less able to rely on your typical outlets for stress. This may lead to coping with stress in other ways, such as lashing out at others.

There may be good intentions behind some of our frustration toward our loved ones. Often when we care for others and their well-being, we find ourselves frustrated if they engage in activities we perceive as unsafe. For example, if a loved one is taking social distancing measures less seriously than we’d like, we may feel angry and upset toward them because we care about their well-being.

Ways you can manage your irritability

During times of increased stress, it can be particularly important to check in with yourself. Take a moment to pause, notice how you’re thinking and feeling, and acknowledge that feelings of frustration are a normal reaction to increased stress.

It can also be helpful to use the social support around you. Through checking in regularly with a loved one or close friend or family member, we can learn how others are coping with increased stress while providing support at the same time.

These check-ins and activities are important, because they can help us maintain and take care of important relationships in our lives. Social connections are critical to our physical and mental health, and being mindful of how we interact with others can help us preserve the quality of these relationships over time.

Travis D. Westbrook is a clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.