If there’s one thing about COVID-19 we can agree on, it’s that we don’t always agree. There are so many polarizing opinions on each topic — from wearing masks to the origins of the virus itself. We try to read the news and listen to medical professionals, but even the experts don’t seem to have a singular view. Or, if they do, it may shift over time. As we try to make sense of what’s happening around us, it’s only natural that we start relying on our individual sense of logic to find a sense of clarity.
This is why writer Damian Barr’s tweet about the pandemic went viral. He wrote, “We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar.” People turned the tweet into graphics on social media and it even inspired an article from a Wall Street Journal columnist. Essentially, it’s a reminder that we’re having different experiences of a single event. This is why what sounds reasonable to one person might sound outlandish to another.
When we gain an understanding of others’ experiences, we can start to feel less angry when someone doesn’t share our opinion about COVID-19. You can put yourself in their shoes and think, “Yes, with those life experiences, and that current life situation, I might come to a similar conclusion.” This can help us separate facts from opinions, and realize that, while we do know more, we still don’t have all the facts. Instead of spreading hostility and anger, we can work on understanding our own “boat” and the “boats” of others.
Developing Opinions About Coronavirus
“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). An “infodemic” occurs when there’s excessive amounts of information about a topic. This makes it hard to filter what’s helpful from what’s not helpful, and even more concerning, what’s fact from fiction. Ghebreyesus says this misinformation can spread “faster and more easily than this virus.”
This is why WHO developed a team of “myth busters” to address commonly held, but misinformed beliefs, such as that the virus is spreading through 5G networks or that you may be safe from COVID-19 in hotter weather. WHO also works with social media platforms like Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and even Google to stop false information from reaching a wider audience.
There’s also a good bulk of information that’s neither true nor false — it’s speculation. This is when journalists, experts, or someone on your social media feed interprets data to guess at the future. They could be right, but they could also be wrong. As we read the opinions, guesses, and predictions of others, these suppositions may change our personal feelings. Engaging thoughtfully with data can be helpful as we all try to plan for the future, but it’s important to remember that what you’re reading may not be what someone else is reading. We all have our own “media diet,” especially in the age of social media, and our intake affects our output. Before you think that someone is being “dumb,” consider that they might have an entirely different diet that makes certain opinions less available or interesting to them.
Life Experiences That Influence Coronavirus Opinions
Based on our present and past life experiences, we are likely to have different anxieties in response to the pandemic. For example, we know that people with prior traumas are more likely to have a traumatic reaction triggered by COVID-19. People with prior health problems are more likely to fear getting sick, while those in precarious financial situations might be more worried about our economy. We also have different experiences with authority; lockdown measures might stir up childhood feelings of being controlled for some people. Others might feel more safe with restrictions in place.
By recognizing how these life experiences play a factor in opinions about coronavirus, we can work to build empathy for others. The first step is to explore your own thoughts and feelings. Put aside the notion that you’re objectively correct and consider, “What feelings are arising for me? Is this fear? Grief? Worry?” Then examine that feeling. When have you felt this way before the pandemic? Could these feelings be rooted in something else? It’s highly likely that these feelings are universal for all of us.
Once we can connect to our own truth within us, and see how our opinions are linked to our “core beliefs” about the world, we can more easily understand how other people have different perspectives. If you’re feeling frustrated by others, it can be a good exercise to imagine yourself in their shoes. If you had been through x, y and z — isn’t there a good chance you’d have opinions like theirs? When we seek to educate others about the facts, coming from a place of true empathy will be more effective than dismissing their ideas as wrong. Even if they are objectively wrong.
Know What You Can Control, and What You Can’t
This is a big one for mental health. Yes, we’re all in this together, but unfortunately you can’t control the actions of others. You also can’t control their opinions. Spending negative energy on things you can’t control will be detrimental for your health in the long run. You’ll even start to see the effects of high stress levels physically.
When your energy is limited and you’re already dealing with your own stress about the pandemic, you don’t want to needlessly add to it. Make a circle on a piece of paper and divide it up into pie pieces based on how often you think about certain topics. If you think about other people’s lack of responsibility or stupidness often, that’s a big pie slice. Look at what that’s taking away from — it’s time you could spend thinking about ways to help yourself and your community. The world is full of so many thoughts and ideas, and it’s possible that this might not be the best way to spend your time.
Because it can be unavoidable, try limiting this “frustration time.” Give yourself twenty minutes to record yourself speaking or journaling it out. Then, put those thoughts aside. Make sure you’re spending time on self-care activities that promote wellness for your body, mind, emotions and spirit. If this doesn’t feel manageable, speaking to a licensed therapist can be a helpful way of making sure frustrations and anger don’t take over your life.