Let’s say you’re following all of the latest health recommendations, trying your absolute best to keep your family and others safe from COVID-19.
You’ve probably made some pretty major sacrifices over the past year, all in the name of pandemic safety. Some of us have even had to virtually school our children, while maintaining a full-time job, or deal with increased work demands. It can feel like a LOT.
And then you see others: Gathering at packed bars and restaurants, attending mask-less weddings, all the while, COVID-19 has killed more than 800,000 people in the United States alone. Despite the fact that a vaccine is now available, we now have the omicron variant and its “whirlwind spread across the globe,” as the Associated Press phrased it.
All of it -- it’s enough to make you “pangry,” right?
“Pangry,” or “pandemic angry,” is a term coined by the Huffington Post, about a year ago. It’s a made-up word used to describe what so many of us are experiencing right now: that annoyance over other people seemingly ignoring the pandemic.
Michelle Warren, a therapist in Metro Detroit, said she’s heard some of this frustration from her patients.
People are asking things like, “Why am I being so cautious and following the rules, when others aren’t -- and it’s making this whole situation last longer? Why are they putting others at greater risk?” Warren said.
And it’s tricky, because it all comes down to how different people interpret the risk factors involved in the pandemic.
COVID-19 is a public health issue, but it has also turned political at times, and of course, people come up with their own interpretations regarding what’s safe or what feels right.
So, if you’re one of the people experiencing this “panger” toward others, how do you deal with it? Warren offered the following advice.
1. Feelings aren’t right or wrong, or good or bad. They just are what they are.
If you’re angry, do you have people in your life who feel similarly, who you can talk to?
“Having other people aligned with us (is important),” Warren said. “You can vent, but not in a gossipy way. (Ask yourselves), ‘How can we support one another?’ Sometimes, that helps. It won’t fix your problem, but it might help.”
Warren also recommended writing your feelings down, or as she put it, “Having a container for your emotions.”
That gets your feelings out of your system, and is likely better than confronting someone who’s living life in a way you don’t approve of. People have strong feelings on the pandemic, so even if your argument is science-based, that doesn’t mean you’ll be successful in changing anyone’s mind.
But it’s important to realize there are other ways to process your emotions, other than confrontation -- so that you’re not necessarily carrying your anger, Warren said.
2. Try not to focus so much on what you’re missing.
It can be tough, if you really sit with the reality of what’s going on lately.
For some people, you might not feel comfortable traveling. Or perhaps you’re missing the energy of your 50-person yoga class, or you’re wishing you didn’t have to wear your mask while in the yoga studio or you’re bummed at the idea of a 12-person exercise group when you’d prefer a larger crowd.
But keep in mind: Trying to make things normal is just going to create more emotion.
“Look for things you can do that are different,” Warren said. “Accept that it’s not normal. You can’t have things as they’ve always been. Find something else, so it’s not butting up against your old expectation.”
For example, maybe you can’t have a large gathering inside, but perhaps you could do a bonfire in the backyard, if the weather is nice, and everyone is masked and socially distanced. Or you could meet up with friends, wear face coverings and go on a walk.
“Embrace that it’s going to be different,” Warren said.
3. Lean into your Netflix binge.
Again, to touch on that last point once more, if we’re trying to make life feel “normal,” it’s just not going to be. And whether you’re taking pandemic precautions seriously or not, we’re not living in the time we knew previously, Warren said.
“So, lean into ‘This isn’t normal,’ and find new things that help pass the time till we get to some space of normalcy,” Warren said.
With that in mind, don’t feel bad about spending your weekends watching TV or kicking back, being less productive than you’re used to. We’re all in survival mode, so do what you need to stay occupied.
4. Turn off some of the ‘noise’ around you.
For some, this might mean watching less news. With cable networks, and the fact that they’re always on -- and more people are home, more often -- it might be easy to watch TV 24/7. It’s a similar situation with social media. But just because we all have phones in our pockets, doesn’t mean we need to be on them at all hours of the day.
Limit your intake. Watch your favorite local newscast and then step away from the TV. Engage with Facebook or Twitter for a set period of time, and then log off.
Otherwise, that could exacerbate your feelings of irritation and anger.
Our usual distractions might be limited. So in the meantime, be purposeful about surrounding yourself with the good.
5. Alter those expectations.
“Humans, and Americans in particular, are not great at sitting with discomfort,” Warren said. “This has been a massive lesson for all of us, collectively.”
Typically, what people do in our culture, when we feel discomfort, is try to numb it with other things, Warren said. And now we don’t have those things, and we can’t get out of this pandemic by willing it to go away.
So, again, it all comes down to altering our expectations.
“It’s not, ‘I want normal, now I can’t (have it), now I’m frustrated,’” Warren said. “We need to have different expectations of what this looks like.”
Earlier on in the pandemic, Warren said she found herself frustrated over her grocery store not having some standard items that they usually stock. But getting angry doesn’t help.
“You can honor (that feeling) at the beginning,” Warren said.
But at some point, realize everyone is affected: Store owners, restaurant workers, businesses, you name it. You might not have 27 different choices anymore at the store; you might have two. This is an opportunity to try something different.
6. Take care of yourself.
Exercising is a great way to get your emotions out.
Often, we feel better after a good sweat session or workout of any kind.
“And if you’re trying all these things and you’re still irritable, anxious, eating or sleeping (poorly), always know there’s help out there,” Warren said. “Seek help and support. This is not a normal time. People who’ve never experienced anxiety or depression -- this part can be hard. Having someone help you through it, knowing there’s hope out there (will likely make a difference).”
Warren said a record number of people are seeking therapy right now.
It takes strength and courage to admit you might benefit from talking to someone.
“We’re not meant to do life on our own,” Warren said. “(We’re) hard-wired for human connection. And our connection is being affected by this. When that’s how you’re hard-wired, it makes sense when we have this challenge, that we’re all feeling a certain way about it.”
Focus on you
This is a time to look at your own life, not fixate on others. Yes, even if you think you’re doing everything by the book.
And if you still think you need to have a frank discussion with someone about his or her pandemic choices, make sure you’re considering the audience and how receptive this person will be. Some people are open, while others might be defensive, take things very personally or double down on what they’re doing, so it’s best to proceed with caution.
“People are doing the best that they can,” Warren said. “Focus on your own family, self (and try) not to worry.”
This story was first published in February 2021. It has since been updated.