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“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” Leo Tolstoy wrote in one of his famous novels, “Anna Karenina.”
His observation about unhappiness is applicable to the COVID-19 pandemic and its far-reaching consequences. Nearly everyone is unhappy or on edge in some — likely many — ways during the ongoing pandemic.
Many are worried about their health and that of their family, friends and neighbors. Many, especially those who have been laid off or had their hours reduced at work, are worried about their finances. Can they pay the rent? Buy enough food to adequately feed their family?
Business owners worry about depressed revenue. Can they continue to pay their workers? Can they keep their doors open with fewer customers?
Families are worried as their children return to school. Will they be safe? Is two days of in-person learning enough? Do they have time to interact with friends? How will they manage their jobs and remote learning?
In other words, we’re unsettled, in many different ways.
It is easy for this edginess to slip into anger. With so much uncertainty, it is understandable that fuses are short.
When the pandemic began in America in March, few of us thought we’d still be physically distancing in August. There was a general expectation that the curve would be flattened by now. Instead, cases continued to rise into late July with only a recent downturn, that may not be sustained. More than 5 million Americans have been infected and about 170,000 American have died from the virus, the most of any country.
A national response to the deadly virus has been plagued from the beginning by a lack of coordination, conflicting messages and lack of responsibility from the White House.
That is good reason for frustration, even anger.
Anger, however, should not be directed at businesses — and especially their employees — that are complying with state mandates, such as the governor’s April 29 order requiring face coverings in public places, and trying to protect the safety of their customers and staff.
The owners of the Common Loon Public House in Orono shared their experience with a group of customers who argued about the pub’s mask policy. The group put on masks and were seated at a table. One member of the group, when reminded about wearing a mask in the restaurant, threw silverware and a menu off the table. She then spit at a staff member after the group was asked to leave. Police investigated the late July incident, but didn’t file charges.
“This is a complicated and sort of dangerous time to be working with the public,” Meghan Gardner, a co-owner of the restaurant told the Bangor Daily News. “At the end of the day, we don’t want to have these philosophical or political debates with people. This is what we have to do to stay open.”
Last week, a teenage worker at Sesame Place in Pennsylvania suffered a dislocated jaw when he was assaulted by a couple after he told them they were required to wear masks at the park.
A security guard at a Family Dollar store was shot and killed in May, after an argument about wearing a mask.
Anger has been on the rise in America, even before the pandemic, according to polling by Gallup.
Matt Tiffany, a Lewiston-based mental health therapist, said that many more of his clients than usual have been struggling with anger issues over the past few months.
“It’s alarming for people to be feeling so on edge for long periods of time,” he told the BDN.
Although the roots of this anger are understandable, there are healthier alternatives. As mental health experts have counseled since the beginning of the pandemic, taking care of yourself is essential.
Stick to your routine as much as possible. Eat meals together, walk the dog (keeping a distance from other people on the street or trail), work your regular hours.
Talk with friends and loved ones by phone or video chat. Get together in small groups, outside and at least 6 feet apart.
Helping others will boost your mental health and ease stress. So engage in acts of kindness and support others as much as you can safely do. Reach out to older relatives and neighbors. Local nonprofits need volunteers and donations.
Anger is understandable. Taking it out on others is not.