Anger During the COVID-19 Pandemic: 3 Lessons Learned from Road Rage

by Tina M. Roemersma, Ph.D.

Why are people ignoring repeated pleas and restrictions to stay home?  Why am I restricting myself and being so careful not to spread this virus when others are not doing the same?  Why are people hoarding supplies making it difficult for others to get them?  Why aren’t others doing “the right things”?  These are some of many questions fueling anger in so many during the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

So many of us can relate to anger while driving.  Who hasn’t gotten frustrated, if not downright angry, when other drivers are not behaving correctly?  Similar to driving while other cars are on the road, the actions of others during a pandemic, can put us at harm.  So, of course, we feel angry.  It is okay to feel angry and frustrated; however, allowing anger to consume us is unhealthy and unproductive. 

Consider incidents of road-rage.  What makes otherwise rational people behave in such entitled, judgmental, and sometimes aggressive ways?  The anger that so many of us are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic resembles the phenomenon we have seen time and time again when people are expected to share roads, drive safely, and follow laws and guidelines that are meant to keep everyone safe.  Lessons learned from familiar experiences like road-rage can help us cope with unfamiliar experiences, such as anger during a global pandemic:

 

1. Accept that we share space

While we can create our own space and invite whom we would like into our lives and into our homes, we do have to share space with strangers when we drive on the roads or go to public places.  Sharing space means we have to be around others, who think and act differently from us.  We cannot control what others do in our personal lives and we certainly cannot control what strangers, neighbors, or co-workers do.  We can, however, make our own choices.  We can choose to text and drive or choose to pay attention to the road even if our fellow drivers are not doing the same.  For those “near accidents” when the carelessness of others puts us in harm’s way, we can choose to focus on that anger or be proud of ourselves for being attentive and for preventing an accident.  Similarly, when we see others behaving irresponsibly during this time, we can allow ourselves to be consumed by anger or we can focus on how to keep ourselves safe.

 

2. Focus more on the reality than what is ideal

While we would like everyone to think the way we do, the reality is that others will justify their own actions.  Other than a general consensus that puppies are cute and pizza is good, there are often differing schools of thoughts on most topics of importance.  As humans, we tend to be judgmental of others, while justifying our own actions.  We are not going to get everyone to agree, so focus on what you can do rather than what others should do.  Also know and accept that not everyone is going to agree with what you are doing either.  On the road, some drivers may feel you are driving too slowly, driving too closely, or think you should have merged when you thought it was too risky.  With the current threat of virus, some may perceive you as being overly cautious and others may feel you are not doing enough.  Be more concerned of what you think about you than what others may think.   Feel good about the choices you make during this time.  Get projects done, focus on academic or vocational pursuits, exercise, spend time with family, find creative ways to spend time with friends, and enjoy unproductive days, as well, because it is okay to relax and de-stress, especially in a time of such flux and uncertainty. 

 

3. Be careful not to mis-direct your anger 

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that has taken so much from so many.  People have died, have gotten very sick, have lost jobs, are experiencing significant financial concerns, and are missing out on opportunities and experiences.  Whatever emotions you are experiencing are normal.  There may be fear, grief, sadness, jealousy, shame, disgust, and anger.  While the people closest to us tend to bear the brunt of our emotions, they are often unfair targets of our frustrations when really it is a situation that is upsetting us.  When driving we may be angry that there is so much traffic, that there is a detour, or that there are poor weather conditions.  Releasing that frustration onto a faceless entity is sometimes just not that satisfying.  Those, closest to you, are in this with you.  Yes, their little habits or their own bad moods may be irritating, especially now that you are spending so much time together, but be honest with yourself.  Are you really that angry at them?  Perhaps it is more accurate to say that you are frustrated, worried, sad, or scared.  Sharing those emotions with those closest to you, will draw them closer to you instead of pushing them away.  Chances are they are feeling similar to how you are feeling.  Forgive one another for minor grievances and remember who is on your team. 

This is a novel situation that no one in today’s modern world has experienced.  It, of course, impacts each of us on so many levels, but our core personalities have not changed because of it.  The extremity of the situation is just highlighting who we have always been.  Stress has an amazing way of drawing out our core personality characteristics, including the way we think about situations, the way we respond to stress, and the way we interact and perceive others.  While recent events have most certainly proven that we cannot control everything, like many other situations we do have choice and power in terms of how we respond.

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