The Vaccine for the Corona Virus’s Fear and Anger Contagion

The other day I was in a gaming store and watched as a patron was virtually yelling at a clerk about how angry he was that people were buying all the toilet paper.

“It doesn’t make any sense! Why toilet paper?! Like that’s going to stop them from getting sick!”

What caught my attention was not the substance of what he was saying. Rather, it was the degree of energy he was putting into this issue—at a gaming store which never carried toilet paper.

The Corona Virus situation has resulted in a few differing common mindsets:

  • Fear of the Virus — Many are panicking about what could happen from the virus. It’s fear about the death tolls. It’s fear about loss of loved ones. Fear for the elderly or for our children. It’s fear about all the unknowns in this unusual situation.
  • Anger at Those Fearing the Virus — Many, like the person in the game store, are expressing anger at the people panicking. They’re blaming the situation we’re in on everyone doing what they perceive as overreaction. It’s anger at the loss of business or income. It’s anger at the loss of toilet paper or diapers because of everyone’s panic. It’s frustration at not being able to go to local movie theaters to just see a simple movie.
  • Anger at Those Angry at Those Fearing the Virus — This mindset is angry at the people saying the steps taken to stop the virus are in panic. These people want to demonstrate that the death rates are high enough to be concerned. The mindset yearns to show that social distancing is important for a host of reasons and that we should be focused on flattening the curve. A lot of anger is funneled at those putting others at risk by not following the CDC’s or other group of scientists’ recommendations.

As the situation has evolved, people have become more entrenched in each of these positions. Along with that the anger has intensified. Just like the man that was yelling in a game store, everyone is becoming frustrated and terrified.

Information on each of the camps seems to be getting more and more elaborate. The gravity of the potential danger from the virus itself seems increasingly significant and stats keep coming in to support the risk. Meanwhile, others throw out stats comparing this situation to historical pandemics and find ways of showing us why this really is no big deal. And amidst all this, it’s completely impossible to find toilet paper or baby wipes or even a package of uncooked chicken.

This leads the objective observer to wonder, what the heck are we supposed to be feeling? Should we be freaking out? Should we be angry at the people freaking out? What do we do?

Stop Blaming

One of the guiding principles I try and remind myself of all the time (and like everyone else I constantly need to remind myself of the lesson) is to stop blaming. In my work as an attorney I see it paralyze people all the time. When you sit around and point fingers at your soon-to-be ex in a divorce proceeding, all you do is work yourself into an angry frenzy. You make yourself upset. You make the other person upset. And more importantly, you do nothing to solve the problems in front of you. In effect, you change nothing and feel worse at the same time.

The corona virus pandemic is fraught with blame. We want to blame:

  • The people panicking.
  • The people angry at the people panicking.
  • The people not taking it seriously.
  • The media.
  • The politicians.
  • The people taking all the toiletries.
  • The people not caring for the elderly.
  • The people fighting in the stores.
  • Ourselves for not acting more quickly to get essentials from the store.
  • Anyone else we can point a finger at.

Here’s the thing. You may be right. The politicians may be to blame. The government may be to blame. The people fighting over paper towels in the store may be totally in the wrong. But by allocating all your energy to figuring out who’s to blame for what happened in the past, you’re just making yourself upset. The kid in the game store wasn’t changing a damned thing by freaking out at the store clerk. He was just making people upset. He got himself worked up and wasted his time in anger. In effect he created his own negative environment.

Own how you feel. Own where your attention goes. Don’t make yourself feel like garbage by spending all your time pointing a finger. Stop blaming.

Don’t Panic

Panic is a state of mind that manifests in actions. It isn’t the action itself. Just because someone stocked up on toilet paper does not mean they were panicking. It also doesn’t mean they weren’t. The question of panic underscores what you’re doing. If you started wearing a face mask out of a place of terror, then you’re panicking. If you made a calculated decision to minimize the risk of exposure to others by wearing a mask you’re not panicking. (By the way, I’m absolutely not talking about the efficacy of wearing a mask or not. I’m talking about the mindset behind it).

The problem with panic is that it shuts off rational thought. It causes us to make poor decisions. It makes us feel like garbage. It spreads panic to others.

Whatever you decide to do about this situation, don’t panic. But also don’t tell everyone around you they’re panicking just because you don’t agree with their approach to this situation (see Stop Blaming above).

Don’t Ignore the Problem

The opposite end of the spectrum is putting your head in the sand. Calmness can sometimes result in total inaction if you decide you’re going to calm yourself into the grave. If you were a member of the Jewish community in the beginnings of Nazi Germany, simply remaining calm and doing nothing would not have put you in a good place. In that moment getting out of the country, if possible, would have been best. Prompt action to eliminate the problem in front of you is important. But make sure that you stay focused on the problem. Don’t just point fingers. If you missed an important opportunity (say in purchasing toilet paper before it was all gone) don’t lament that you messed up. Figure out how to fix the problem now.

So What DO I Do?

Blame, panic, and inaction are all wastes of energy. Worse they leave you feeling terrible. Instead of languishing in these states, focus on what you need right now and what you have right now. There’s a ton you can do, including:

  • Identify and Solve Problems — Determine what problems you have right now and focus on solutions to those problems. Do you need toilet paper? What can you do about that (you might have to get creative)? Do you need food? What can you do about that (again, be creative)? By focusing on solutions instead of complaining, you’ll not only feel better, but you’ll figure out how to get through this.
  • Exploit Opportunities — There are so many opportunities this situation has provided. If you’re stuck at home because of work or school closures, you have the opportunity to spend more time with your family. You have the opportunity to serve as an example to your children, loved ones, or coworkers by not panicking. You have the opportunity to lead through calm and decisive action. You have the opportunity to express understanding and compassion to those that are suffering through their own choices or otherwise. Every crisis and every calamity brings opportunities. See them and put energy towards those rather than dwelling on what you feel like you’re losing out on.
  • Focus on Health — Rather than focusing on illness and the possibility of contagion, spend a few minutes expressing gratitude for your health. If you happen to be sick currently (from Corona or otherwise) be grateful for how you’ll feel when your body recovers. Put your energy into health, not sickness.
  • Assure Yourself and Others That You Will Be Okay — With the uncertainty in the air, many people are truly feeling fear. Everything is going to be okay. No matter what you’re facing, you are adaptative. If you have no toilet paper you can find creative ways to clean yourself up. If you have sickness in the family, you’ll recover. If you’re being financially impacted, it’s going to get better. Even if—God forbid—someone you love passes away then they will no longer be suffering. You can and will get through this.
  • Journal — A great way to work through what you’re feeling is to journal. Write out what you’re thinking and what emotions you’re experiencing. Grab a blank journal or use a guided journal (if you need one, click here).
  • Meditate — Meditation is a great way to calm yourself down, to work though emotions, and to chill emotional reactiveness. To learn more, click here.

You have control of your mind. You have control of how you react to this situation. Make sure you’re acting accordingly.

By denevoldsen

David has spent years studying emotions and conflict in his practice as a family law attorney, while obtaining his bachelors degree in psychology, and through his own personal life struggles. He's on a continuing journey to better understand how to use emotions to make life a wonderful thing for everyone.

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