Quarantine frustration is a real thing. We’re not talking about Karen anger at having to wear masks or not being able to have coffee with friends. We’re talking about the type of anger and frustration that arises when we least expect it. For those already dealing with stress and anxiety, quarantine comes with its own set of problems. Learning how to work from home, trying to home school kids at the same time, worrying about job loss and money, battling isolation, and not knowing what is going to happen at any given time results in a lot of added stress.
I have managed to stay relatively calm, even after a few months of lockdown. I am one of the lucky ones – I work in digital, I work from home and (so far) my clients have been ok, too. At the same time, there is a constant low-grade hum of tension. So many confusing and conflicting updates. Many changes to lockdown regulations that make it all even more confusion and uncertain. I realised recently that even if we are staying calm outwardly, our brains are still not altogether calm internally. How did I realise that? By having a short but hectic surge of rage over something as stupid as a hand wash bottle refill. As inane as that surge was, it was not the first time I have dealt with simmering quarantine frustration. It was only the first time that frustration had crossed over to rage.
There are a few reasons for this unique type of frustration, anger and rage. In my case, it came down to all that emotion needing an outlet. Once I got over my moment, I felt a lot better. Silly, of course, but better. A bit later, when I had another flash caused by yet another completely random thing, the surge was far smaller and quicker.
Dealing With Quarantine Frustration
So, how do we deal with quarantine frustration in whatever form it takes? That comes down to how you generally deal with anger, annoyance and other emotions that are often labelled as negative emotions. In reality, a little bit of anger, annoyance or frustration is completely healthy and normal. In some cases, these emotions can even act as a way to motivate us to take action or give us a burst of energy. These emotions also help release pent-up stress. As long as we release those feelings in a way that is safe and healthy, there is nothing wrong with getting mad.
There are a few ways to deal with the frustration that comes and goes during quarantine, including the following:
Understand the cause behind the frustration.
I was beyond frustrated at a hand wash bottle with a broken pump. After decanting the refill, I could not get the bottle to work. Every time I tried, more soap would leak out and I would get more cross. Eventually, I wanted to kill that bottle until it was dead. All I actually did was bash it around the sink a bit. As soon as I found another empty bottle and got the soap into the bottle, the feeling vanished. Although the bottle was the object of my frustration, it was not the cause. When I began thinking about how I was really feeling, past the sense of calm, I realised that a lot of that calm had been avoidance. Ever since the start of this madness, I have been shell-shocked. I am only just starting to get used to seeing every person in masks (and being comfortable in mine). Although I have been following every update and regulation, my mind is still trying to accept the fact that the entire world is going through all of this. There are many other feelings and thoughts that I had not realised I had been avoiding.
When you get frustrated or angry, think beyond the immediate source of the frustration. Ask yourself why you might be feeling angry. Write down your feelings. Take the time to think and process your emotions and you might see the bigger picture behind the anger. Once you understand the cause, it will be easier to manage the resulting frustration.
Give yourself permission to feel what you need to feel.
Bottling up negative emotions is the worst way to deal with quarantine frustration. Those feelings are there for a reason. They might be trying to tell you that you need to process other emotions. They may be telling you that your stress is reaching critical levels. They may be a warning sign that anxiety is getting worse or even a symptom of depression. Venting frustration helps you to release pent up emotion so that it does not fester and result in far greater levels of anger. Frustration and a bit of anger is one thing. Extreme anger and rage is a whole other thing.
Instead of trying to keep a lid on that simmering frustration, give yourself permission to feel your feelings. This is a brand new situation for all of us and none of us really have a clue what is going on now, let alone what is going to happen afterwards. The world is going mad and quarantine is incredibly frustrating on every level. It’s not just the obvious things like not being able to do things you enjoy. It’s also being away from loved ones, spending time with partners on a 24-hour basis, being stuck in the house with kids all day, dealing with online meetings or not having any time to yourself. Be gentle with yourself. You are human and humans feel emotion.
Know the difference between healthy and unhealthy anger.
With that said, there is a difference between healthy and unhealthy anger. Taking your frustration out on an inanimate object is fine. Taking it out on another person or an animal is not. Getting cross, slamming a door and hiding in your room is healthy. Getting cross and looking for an argument is not. If you have trouble with anger and you know that even a bit of quarantine frustration will quickly turn into something worse, make sure that you have a strategy in place on how you will process your frustration before it worsens. Recognise early warning signs, too.
Make a list of activities that help you calm down when you are feeling anxious, angry or stressed. Whatever helps – cardio, yoga, breathing exercises, talking to someone you trust, being alone, sitting outside, going for a walk (alone, with your face mask on, of course), drinking tea… find one or more calming activity and use it as soon as you start to feel your temper rising. Drinking alcohol is not a good idea, no matter how tempting that glass of wine may seem.
Channel those feelings into something positive.
Finally, another strategy is to use your frustration and anger to do something productive. You could get all those feelings out onto paper with paint or pencils. You could journal. You could look at how to get involved during the lockdown to help others. This one is a great idea if you are feeling helpless and scared. There are many people dealing with extreme poverty, hunger and job loss right now. Here in South Africa, there are numerous NGOs doing great work with the homeless and with local communities. In my little neighbourhood, there has been a weekly feeding scheme that donates sandwiches to a nearby suburb every week. Even the simple act of making sandwiches and dropping them off at the delivery point makes me feel like there is hope.
Think about how you can get involved and use your anger to vent your frustration where you see injustices being committed. Speak out for yourself, your city and the voiceless. Stand up and use that quarantine frustration for good.
Only time will tell what happens next. For now, I am going to do my best to get through this, feeling what I feel and doing what I can to feel less powerless. If you are trying to cope with quarantine frustration, I hope some of these tips help.