Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Are you experiencing frustration with the COVID-19 pandemic?

10/4/2021 by Anne Roche, Ph.D.; Sydney Kelpin, Ph.D.; Craig Sawchuk, Ph.D.


Have you noticed increased experiences of frustration, agitation or anger throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic? If so, you're not alone. 

Research has shown that many people are experiencing anger. The pandemic anger, or "panger," is real. 

If this experience is familiar to you, you know that anger can become exhausting over time. And you might be interested in learning about different ways to cope. 

What is anger?

Anger is a universal human emotion. In its most basic form, anger's primary purpose is to motivate action. That's really important. But many of the things done in response to anger, such as yelling, ruminating or shutting down, can be less than helpful. And these actions can negatively affect physical and mental health, and relationships. 

So what can you do? 

Below, you'll find some ideas that may help you respond intentionally and effectively to "panger" rather than simply reacting: 

Step back and observe. 

Take a deep breath and pay attention to what's happening in the moment without judging or evaluating your experience. 

Oftentimes, anger feels too overwhelming. If you can step back, you can notice that experiencing anger has many parts. People experience anger in their own way. 

Take a moment to reflect on what your anger typically looks like: 

  • Thoughts 
    Thoughts and emotions are closely related. What thoughts indicate you're becoming angry? You may notice thoughts such as "This isn't fair" or "How dare they," or "I'm so tired of this." Try to observe your thoughts coming and going like clouds in the sky rather than thinking of thoughts as absolute truths that must be immediately acted on. 
  • Emotions 
    A variety of other emotions can come with anger. For example, you may be feeling hurt, fear, embarrassment or frustration before you notice anger itself. Be specific in labeling your emotions
  • Physical sensations 
    Where do you notice anger in your body, such as as tightening of the chest or clenching of the jaw or fists, or feeling hot? 
  • Urge to act 
    Before taking action, you may notice an action urge, or impulse. For example, you may notice the urge to scream or run away. 

Try imagining what your "panger" might look like in physical form. Would it be big or small? What color would it be? What shape? Where would it be located in your body? Would it make noise? Would it be loud or soft? Imagining a physical "anger monster" might help you notice and observe your anger rather than being caught up in it. 

Simply slowing down and observing anger in these ways can make it seem less overwhelming and can help create space between your anger and what you do next. 

Allow 'panger' to be present.

As humans, we often try to avoid or get rid of unpleasant internal experiences, including thoughts, emotions and memories. This is natural and even makes a lot of sense in the short term, but it doesn't always work well in the long term. With anger, the tendency to avoid can result in various automatic reactions that aren't always helpful and may even lead to an increase in anger over time. 

For example, though lashing out at someone may make you feel better in the moment, it doesn't often help in the long term and may even make you feel worse, such as feeling guilty for yelling at your children or co-worker. Similarly, shutting down and suppressing anger or frustration often leads to an increase in its intensity over time — what you might think of as "the beach ball effect." That is the more you push the beach ball down under the water, the bigger and stronger it becomes when it explodes up. 

Listen to anger's message about what you value.

Choosing to allow anger, and associated thoughts, emotions, physical sensations and urges, to be present without automatically trying to avoid or get rid of them creates freedom and flexibility to choose effective and meaningful actions. It's important to note that accepting anger is an active choice, not a passive resignation. It does not mean you're accepting the situation that may have led to anger or that you're giving up on what you care about. It means you're choosing to put energy toward effective action rather than focusing solely on trying to control the uncontrollable. 

If you listen closely, painful emotions, like anger, often connect with a message about something or someone you really care about or value. If you didn't care, it wouldn't hurt. And of course, most humans are hurting in the context of the global pandemic. "Panger" makes sense. 

Choose your effective action. 

Once you've slowed down to listen to the message anger may have for you, choose your next effective action. You may not be able to control what others say and do, or even what you think and feel, but you can control how you respond. 

For example:

  • Anger about pandemic-related travel and social distancing restrictions might carry the message that you really care about your family and friends. You miss spending time with them. You may choose to explore new, creative and safer ways to connect with loved ones, such as walking together outside or scheduling a Zoom game night. 
  • Anger about racial health disparities related to COVID-19 may point to how much you value equitable health care policies and practices. Anger can help motivate you to take part in values-based actions, which could range from getting involved in advocacy efforts to giving yourself time to rest and recharge. 
  • Frustration with stress or exhaustion, or burnout at work, may be associated with the importance of self-care. This message may cue you to make time, no matter how small, to take part in restful, grounding or enjoyable activities. 
  • Agitation toward those who may not agree with your views and the importance of public health measures, such as COVID-19 vaccinations, may indicate that you value the health and wellness of the global community. This may lead you to focus on public health education efforts and modeling the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations. 

It is important to note that everyone has unique and individually chosen values, and the actions that align with these values likely look different across people and situations. It's all about exploring the message that anger may have for you and choosing actions based on what you care about most. 

If you feel like anger or other strong emotions are significantly and negatively affecting you, consider seeking out psychotherapy services from a professional who uses evidence-based treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy or acceptance and commitment therapy. 

Here are helpful resources if you need help managing your "panger":

Anne Roche, Ph.D., and Sydney Kelpin, Ph.D., are clinical psychology fellows in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Integrated Behavioral Health at Mayo Clinic.

Craig Sawchuk, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Integrated Behavioral Health. He is the co-chair of Integrated Behavioral Health and co-chair of Clinical Practice within the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.