Using Your Anger Against COVID-19

Get Mad and Get Moving

― Dr. Seuss

These past weeks, it is easy at times, normal, I would say, to experience feelings of helplessness and hopelessness as the COVID-19 outbreak has intensified, spreading infection and sickness and taking an increasing number of lives in America and around the world.

Like many, I have had my share of anxiety, fear, sadness and depression. But recently, something new is pushing these painful emotions aside and staking claim to my psyche, a sensation that makes me feel less helpless and more hopeful: anger.

Yes, I am mad at the virus. It enrages me. It took a while. I am a slow fuse. But I have finally reached the boiling point where I despise it more than I dread it. And for this I am glad. Because I know, from study and from personal experience, that anger is the emotion of movement. It’s the feeling that ignites my “enough is enough” response. It’s a call to arms, an adrenaline alarm that tells me that something has to be done about something or else. It is fuel for change. It is a life force. As Johnny Lydon (Rotten) of Pil chants in the song Rise: “Anger is an energy… Anger is an energy… Anger is an energy.”

I would also add it is not the enemy. Like all emotions, anger is not meant to harm, but to help. The key is to use it constructively, with measure and meaning, so that we extract all its benefits, and not fall prey to its pitfalls. The Buddha says, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” And according to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” So it’s important to process the feeling, to make a decision on how to put it to work, and then move on the plan.

But for COVID-19, how can anger be applied for personal good and the common good? I mean, you can’t punch the nasty globule in the nose or make it sit in the corner and take a “time out.” What can be done other than follow the essential advice of health professionals to stay-at-home, socially distance, and self-isolate as needed?

Well, for me, in addition to the above steps, I am using my anger, and releasing it, by doing (or trying my best to do) the following:

Eating and Drinking Healthy. Anger can trigger the fight or flight response, and I have decided I am going to fight. So I want to be in tip-top shape for the battle. To this end, I make a point to include immunity-boosting foods in my diet, such as garlic and onions, ginger and fennel, tomatoes and spinach and other leafy greens. I also make sure to eat plenty of fruit, oranges and pears and apples.

I also want to stay hydrated. I drink more water than I ever have, gulp down green tea, and also take in a lovely mix of ginger, honey and cinnamon tea when I can.

Hunting Gratitude: When I get angry, I’ll often take a walk, or go on a bike ride, making sure to be a safe distance away from passersby. I also make a point to study nature: plants, trees, the birds chirping, the bees buzzing. It’s Spring and the earth is giving us all that is needed to nourish our five senses. The more I observe, the better I feel, which turns to gratitude, the most comforting and inspiring of emotions. And it all starts with anger.

Keeping Calm. When I get angry, I note to myself that it is here to help me. I take a few breaths, thank it, and then decide what I can and should do with it. Often, the answer is to take a walk or bike ride, as described above, other times the best thing for me to do is to just sit and think and make a decision for later. The key is not to panic, to keep steady, and let your anger be your guide.

Becoming Defiant: Anger gives me strength. It comes to me and if I process it the right way, I straighten my back, lift my chin, push out my chest, and face my foe eye-to-eye. Sometimes, as strange as it seems, and I am in a private place, I will say aloud to the virus, “You can’t beat me. “ I back my fears into a corner. I stand up to the bully. It helps.

I could go on, but in writing this, I’m losing my anger. This has been a good way to get it out. So I thank you for reading. I am grateful to you. I am grateful to so many right now. There are countless heroic people in our world, kind people, giving people, who do all they can, every moment of each day, to help others get through this. It makes me know that we will no doubt beat this virus. It is losing its strength, while we are gaining ours.

It has no chance against our goodwill. And our anger.




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John McCaffrey

John McCaffrey is a writer and a director at a nonprofit mental health treatment and training center in NYC.