After more than two years of loss, disruption, and massive change, it's normal to experience a range of strong emotions, including anger. We can find healthy ways to cope.

Molly Colvin, PhD
Director, Learning and Emotional Assessment Program, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital

Following news of yet another potential surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the subvariant of Omicron, many people are facing an uncomfortable feeling: anger.

"We are all exhausted and overloaded from the demands of living with COVID, and it feels unfair that we can’t just leave it in the past,” says Molly Colvin, PhD, a psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. “It’s understandable that we’d feel upset or angry, especially when the losses have already been so great.”

Dr. Colvin notes changes to both our work situations and in our personal lives can contribute to our mental well-being. Use Dr. Colvin’s tips to cope with anger in healthy ways.

Does COVID-19 cause anger issues?

Anger is a basic emotion that helps us effectively navigate life’s challenges. It can be protective by alerting us that a particular experience or situation might not be good for us. To use anger adaptively, we must pair it with higher-order cognitive skills that help us with planning, organization, and reasoning. But these executive function skills are exactly the ones that are harder to access when anger first arises in our brains; it takes some extra work to effectively channel anger. And after two years of living with COVID, it’s hard to find the resources to do anything extra.

“It’s important to find healthy ways of managing anger to maintain our overall well-being,” she explains. “We can cope with those feelings in a number of ways that are healthy, sustainable and applicable to more than just pandemic-related situations.”

Tips for coping with COVID-related anger:

  1. Take a minute before you think or act. Anger and impulsivity are a dangerous combination. Give yourself a minute to recognize that you’re angry, to identify why you’re angry, and to start to think about the choices you can make to respond in the situation.
  2. Watch out for negative thought patterns. Anger can trigger negative thought patterns, like being highly critical, seeing things as “all bad,” or thinking that we’re “stuck between a rock and a hard place.” If we catch and shift these thoughts, then it can make it easier to release anger and engage in effective problem-solving.  
  3. Focus on what is in your sphere of influence. It’s normal to be anxious or angry when we perceive that we're being harmed by forces beyond our control. We can’t make COVID go away, but we can choose to spend time and energy focused on positive things in our lives that we can control.
  4. Make time for yourself. When things are stressful, it’s important to build in time to recharge. Just a few minutes a day of deep breathing, exercise, engaging in a pleasurable activity, or venting to a loved one can help to release anger and prevent future rage episodes.
  5. Learn to effectively communicate your needs in a way that respects yourself and others. This can be a hard skill to learn on your own, especially as an adult. If this is a struggle, then a good therapist can help you to identify and practice strategies that allow you to stand up for yourself without hurting others.