How To Deal With The Anger You Feel Over People Ignoring COVID-19

If seeing the risky behavior of family, friends and others during the pandemic makes your blood boil, read this.
Therapists offer tips on how to manage the strong emotions that bubble up when you see people disregard public health guidance.
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Therapists offer tips on how to manage the strong emotions that bubble up when you see people disregard public health guidance.

It's been one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Explore HuffPost's Bent Not Broken project to learn how the coronavirus has disrupted our mental health, and how to manage our well-being moving forward.

When you haven’t seen your family, hung out with friends or gone on vacation in the name of pandemic safety, watching other people do the things you so desperately miss can be maddening. You might say it makes you “pangry,” a made-up word for pandemic angry that describes what many of us are feeling right now.

COVID-19 has now killed more than 400,000 Americans and sickened millions more, while putting tremendous strain on our health care workers. Yet many families continue to gather indoors for maskless get-togethers. Celebrities and influencers are still taking group trips to far-away destinations.

If seeing other people defy public health recommendations while you’ve been sitting at home makes your blood boil, first know that your strong feelings are justified and normal.

“Those who are engaging in risky behavior are sending the message that COVID isn’t really their problem, that they don’t see a reason to modify their behavior to mitigate risk,” said Atlanta clinical psychologist Zainab Delawalla. “This is infuriating to people who have been making sacrifices for almost a year, and doing so not just to protect themselves, but also to protect others around them.”

“When you’ve been holding up your end of the bargain, it is enraging to see that others are not doing the same,” Delawalla added.

Below, experts offer some advice on how to cope with the “panger” you might be feeling.

1. You think their behavior is risky, but they may not see it that way.

People’s individual definitions of what COVID-19 safety looks like vary widely. You think eating inside at restaurant is too risky right now (and infectious disease experts may agree with you), but your friends may believe it’s totally fine. They figure restaurants wouldn’t be open if they weren’t safe, right? As journalist Amanda Mull of The Atlantic pointed out, there are many people who “are trying to do everything right, but run afoul of science without realizing it” because of “confusing policies and tangled messages” from government leaders.

“Often, safety protocols, of all things, are what’s misleading them,” Mull wrote. “In the country’s new devastating wave of infections, a perilous gap exists between the realities of transmission and the rules implemented to prevent it.”

In other words, some people participating in riskier activities may be unaware that their actions could be dangerous, said Los Angeles marriage and family therapist Abigail Makepeace.

“They may wholeheartedly believe that the people they are with are healthy or that they are largely safe while traveling for leisure,” Makepeace said.

2. Consider the less obvious reasons they may be making these “selfish” choices.

As difficult as it may be, try to exercise some compassion toward people who may be engaging in activities that you deem self-centered. It may help soften some of your anger.

You don’t know what others might be struggling with in their personal lives or how the pandemic has impacted them. For some, socializing in person may be a much-needed coping mechanism “necessary for a different form of survival,” Makepeace said.

“When you’ve been holding up your end of the bargain, it is enraging to see that others are not doing the same.”

- Zainab Delawalla, clinical psychologist

“They may have lost their job or relationship or may be struggling with less visible challenges, such as challenges in their mental health,” Makepeace said. “Their gathering and traveling may not equate to a lack of suffering. In fact, it may be reflective of how much they have been suffering.”

3. Know that anger isn’t inherently bad — it’s a normal, healthy human emotion.

When you consider the chaos, uncertainty and instability of the last year, your frustrations with other people (and the state of the world) are completely understandable.

“Anger can often be closely linked to the fear people commonly experience when feeling helpless or out of control,” said Lee Land, a psychologist in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Many of us — women, in particular — are taught that anger is something that needs to be suppressed. But ignoring these feelings can actually intensify them. Instead, remind yourself it’s OK to feel what you’re feeling, as long as you’re not bottling it up or lashing out at others.

“There’s an important distinction between developing comfort with anger on the one hand and, on the other hand, acting out aggressively or violently,” Land said. “Ironically, it is often the case that being more aware of and comfortable with our angry feelings can actually reduce the chances that it ends up leaking out in impulsive, hurtful ways.”

4. Channel your anger toward something productive.

“For example, instead of being angry at the shopper who is not wearing a mask while inside the store, write to the corporation or to your local city council members demanding that mask mandates be more strictly enforced,” Delawalla said. “Anger is a very motivating emotion — use it to effect the change you want to see.”

If your goal is to get an individual to change their ways, shaming them is unlikely to be effective. It often leads to defensiveness, “which can make people double-down on their behavior to ‘prove’ that their actions are justified,” Delawalla added.

Taking a few steps back or walking away from the maskless person is an option if you want to avoid confrontation. But if you feel compelled to speak up, you could say something like: “I have a son at home with a compromised immune system — would you mind putting your mask on?”

“If you’re calm and consistent and empathetic, you will have a much better result than if you go in with guns blazing,” Susan Driscoll, president of the Crisis Prevention Institute, told Fast Company.

5. Talk to loved ones about their questionable behavior.

Have the conversation when you’re not in an agitated state, lead with your feelings rather than citing statistics and try to withhold judgment. (We have expert-backed tips on how to broach the subject, if you need them.)

Even if you’re not able to change this person’s mind, you might feel better if you voice your frustrations.

“Ideally in any healthy relationship, people can feel safe enough to talk directly about anger openly to increase the chances their emotional needs will be understood and met by others,” Land said. “Developing this type of healthy assertiveness can be healing not only in close relationships, but can also provide the energy and motivation necessary for healthy forms of advocacy and social change.”

6. Take a break from social media.

First, keep in mind that what you see on Instagram doesn’t always tell the whole story. Maybe that vacation pic your college friend posted isn’t recent, but a throwback from 2019. Perhaps your co-worker’s photos with her parents weren’t from a holiday visit — they’ve actually been living together during the pandemic.

But if the images on your feed are still making you pangry, then consider muting certain people or limiting the amount of time you spend on these sites.

“I recommend signing off and redirecting your attention to a fulfilling or relaxing pursuit,” Makepeace said.

7. Lean into self-care.

When we’re stressed out, it doesn’t take much to set us off. Making time for activities that relax you — like taking a walk, cuddling with your dog or doing a puzzle — will help you build up tolerance for the aggravating behavior of others.

“The times call for self-care more than ever,” said Los Angeles marriage and family therapist Patrick Tully, who works with the LGBTQ community.

“The times call for self-care more than ever.”

- Patrick Tully, marriage and family therapist

Even doing basic tasks, like straightening up your apartment, can improve your emotional state.

“Doing the laundry, for example, might make us feel a bit of reprieve from the unsettled feeling of our exterior world,” Tully added. “And it’s worth doing for those moments of happiness and certainty we gain from them.”

8. Talk to a mental health professional.

If your anger is overwhelming or you’re having trouble controlling it, consider making a virtual appointment with a therapist.

“As an impartial observer, we can listen and be present for someone in a way that a friend may not be able to right now,” Tully said.

Counseling can be expensive, but more affordable options do exist. You can try online platforms such as BetterHelp or Talkspace, or ask if your therapist offers sliding scale payment options to reduce costs.

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