Updated on: March 23, 2021

The Year in a Word (or Two): Marking Pandemic’s Anniversary

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Original story posted on: March 22, 2021

Some have called this particular kind of pandemic anger, “panger!”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Moffic, an internationally acclaimed psychiatrist, serves as the resident psychiatrist for Talk Ten Tuesdays.

What a year it has been, as we just passed the official one-year anniversary of the advent of our viral pandemic. But it is even more than that. It is a syndemic, considering the synergistic pandemics of racism, climate instability, and opioid deaths. How to summarize it? In a world of tweets, couldn’t it be done in one word, in what we might call a “beep”? I mean, if the poet William Blake memorialized that the world was in a grain of sand, then why not? And that word may not be “anger,” although anger has increased.

Earlier this month was the Ides of March, the date when Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome, so as the seer in Shakespeare’s play prophesied, beware! Caesar could be a symbol for all the COVID deaths there have been, because some did not “beware” enough. Indeed, the prophecy may still be alive, given that half of Italy just entered its third lockdown due to inadequate vaccination and new viral variants. Moreover, beware Daylight Savings Time; the day before the change is associated with more accidents.

How about “egad,” an old English word that can defuse our collective unsettling emotional reactions of anger, affirmation, and surprise?

Take the anger part. It can be a normal and helpful reaction to events that seem to throw one off balance. It becomes too strong when it impairs functioning at work, in relationships, and

physical health. Some have called this particular kind of pandemic anger, “panger!” There can be an ICD-10 Code for it, though not named egad: it is R45.89: Other symptoms and signs involving emotional state.

We’ve been discussing prolonged grief recently in connection to all kinds of losses over the past year. And what is one of the stages of grief that one has to go through? Anger!

In some contrast to anger, there is affirmation, when one perceives a point of view like one’s own. Often in life, we search for those like ourselves in important ways. When you feel your life may depend on others affirming your beliefs, that is a powerful contrast to anger, or a precipitant to it, when not fulfilled.

Then add on being taken aback by what has been so unexpected and uncertain this past year. No wonder that on March 11, the headline article for Medscape was titled “Everything We Thought We Knew Was Wrong.” I added “egad” and “beware” to one of their examples, as we scientifically learned more.

  • On March 2020: egad, no need to beware: masks aren’t necessary!
  • On March 2021: egad, beware, and wear two!

The useful intervention? Centering, or what is sometimes called grounding. Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth said ”there’s a center of quietness within, which has to be known and held. If you lose that center, you are in tension and begin to fall apart.” Find yours through such techniques as exercise, humor, journaling, meditation, naturing, and prayer.

As we center ourselves to clear our minds, do “egad” or “beware”, (or both) seem to fit? With our help, can they evolve into “beglad” or “wecare” for this coming year? Research on 3 million students would generally confirm that gratitude, as for the vaccine: providing some helpful slack to others and improved sleep, are the essential ingredients for future happiness.

H. Steven Moffic, MD

H. Steven Moffic, MD, is an award-winning author whose fifth book, “The Ethical Way: Challenges & Solutions for Managed Behavioral Health,” is considered a seminal study on healthcare ethics. Always in demand as a writer, Dr. Moffic has attracted a national audience with his three blogs: Psychiatry Times, Behavior Healthcare, and Over 65. H. Dr. Moffic, who is also a popular guest on Talk Ten Tuesdays, recently received the Administrative Psychiatry Award from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the American Association of Psychiatrist Administrators (AAPA).

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