Pandemic Resentment Is Real

As we ease back into socializing again, we have to deal with our feelings about the very different years we’ve all had

Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

I have pandemic resentment.

As we ease back into socializing and I reconnect with folks I haven’t seen in many months, I keep finding myself in conversations about how hard the past year has been. Inevitably someone mentions a close friend or relative who had it much easier, and we all bond over our shared sense of frustration with how unequally Covid has affected us.

I don’t particularly feel like I deserve to feel resentful. I got laid off from a job I loved and built a freelance business from scratch while also parenting a five-year-old and a three-year-old, but no one in my life died or even got very sick, and for that, I have nothing but gratitude. People whose jobs demand their presence in a hospital, or in a classroom, or at a cash register have had to make much more difficult decisions about personal safety and child care than I have.

In Europe, where furloughs were unevenly distributed, there’s resentment between people who were paid a portion of their wages to stay home, and those who retained their wages, but worked through lockdowns and school closures. In the United States, the resentment is not just about time, but about how closely we followed the rules. Some people spent sad holidays alone, while others socialized indoors, unmasked. We can’t just jump right back to where we left off a year ago.

Here are some ways to deal with pandemic resentment.

Identify the real source of your frustration

It’s important to recognize that a big component of resentment is the perception that you have been treated unfairly. Some elements of the pandemic have been unfair, like the fact that poor people and communities of color have been affected in an outsized way due to health disparities and the long-term effects of systemic racism.

If you’re upset that your kids had to Zoom into school from your kitchen table all year, know that your friend who lives in a state where schools were fully open didn’t cause that to happen. Resenting folks who thrived during lockdown only hurts you. Loss — of loved ones, of health, of jobs and stability — has been unequally distributed, but it’s a systems failure, not, in most cases, a personal one.

Recognize that your resentment might be petty

Are you outraged that your brother went to a Super Bowl party months ago with no bad consequences? It’s probably time to move on.

Use empathy and the benefit of the doubt. Think about your brother. What else might have been going on for him then? Did in-person school for his kids get pushed back yet again? Did his company announce layoffs? The pandemic has been a long slog of making good choices. Making one not-so-great one that had no terrible consequences is a clear win.

Work on forgiveness

Maybe your resentment isn’t petty. If your life was upended, and especially if you lost someone, there’s a lot to be angry about. Identify situations that need a conversation and figure out how to have that conversation. If you feel that someone in your life unnecessarily put you at risk through their actions, and it has shaken your trust in them, you may need to talk about it.

Acknowledge that you’ve been struggling with emotionally processing the pandemic. Lay out the action or behavior that affected you. Then ask this question: “Can you help me understand this?” If this person is important to you, then gaining an understanding of their motivations and what they were going through may help you move forward.

The other option is to work on a forgiveness practice on your own, or with a therapist.

Fight injustice

It’s a lot easier to get salty with a friend who spent the whole pandemic shacked up with a new partner than it is to dismantle structural racism, or end poverty, or expand access to health care. Find a way to participate in one of these conversations in your community. Join an anti-racism working group at your kids’ school, or start one. Use any privilege you have in the workplace to support your co-workers, whether that has to do with salaries, working from home, or general work-life balance. Volunteer, regularly, at a place that works directly with a community you are not part of.

Choose joy

Don’t let resentment get in the way of being able to fully enjoy being vaccinated. Go to social gatherings. Hug people. Commiserate. Tell your story — it’s probably funnier and more interesting than you think. And listen to other people tell theirs. We may not have all had the same experience, but in some way or another, we’ve all made it through to the other side.

Annaliese Griffin is a writer and editor who most recently led the Quartz Daily Obsession, an award-winning newsletter. She lives in Vermont with her family.

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