As the attack of a hostess at a New York City restaurant who simply asked for the required proof of vaccination attests, more and more adults are acting irrationally. If you are witnessing more of these temper tantrums – or in the case of the NYC incident, assaults ― during the pandemic, you are not alone. Not a day goes by without a news story of short-fused grownups acting like spoiled kids in restaurants, on airplanes and in other customer-service venues.
According to The Wall Street Journal, at home, at work and in public, people are having meltdowns during the grueling COVID-19 pandemic, which should have been improving instead of getting worse. Tempers are flaring and folks are taking out their frustration on anyone in their way.
“When you anticipate something is going to be temporary, you’re able to absorb a higher level of stress,” said Pauline Wallin, a licensed psychologist from Camp Hill, Pa. “When things don’t work out as expected it makes us more prone to be aggressive with ourselves and with one another.”
The Federal Aviation Administration has investigated more than 750 cases regarding unruly passengers so far this year, compared with 146 in the entire year of 2019. Over 80% of restaurant workers say they’ve witnessed hostile behavior from customers over COVID-19 safety measures. Reports of poor treatment range from rudeness to sexual harassment to fighting over mask policies, said Saru Jayarman, president of One Fair Wage and the director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Jayarman was the lead researcher of a May study that surveyed 2,000 workers about their treatment during the pandemic.
Brandi Felt Castellano, a restaurant owner in Brewster, Mass., said that her servers would encounter one rude customer a week prior to the pandemic so it was easier to bounce back, she told the WSJ. But she was forced to close for one day this summer after a tsunami of confrontations.
“It started affecting the way the staff feels — about themselves, about wanting to come to work,” she said. Castellano put up a sign: “If you cannot be kind, you cannot dine.”
Psychologist Vaile Wright says that while there is no excuse for bad behavior, it’s understandable that some people are having difficulty controlling their tempers.
“You just have a lot of people that are frustrated, that are angry,” the senior director of healthcare innovation at the American Psychological Association (APA), told CNN. “Those are the types of emotions that I think lead us to act out.” She added that even “non-jerks” can become jerks when under stress.
“Stress can lead somebody to be irritable, so can anxiety,” Wright explained. Coping with lost jobs and wages, dealing with the uncertainty now plaguing us with the Delta variant, possibly grief over a lost loved one, and other challenges of the pandemic can make even a normally calm person snap.
“Things that maybe before, if you felt emotionally in control, you would have a more measured behavioral response, right now that short fuse might make you jump into acting in ways that possibly you wouldn’t under more normal circumstances,” she said.
If you do find yourself ready to explode, Wright recommends that classic count-to-10 technique to reign in your temper. The APA offers these anger management techniques.
And if you encounter a pandemic jerk, keep your cool, says etiquette expert Lizzie Post, the great-great granddaughter of the matriarch of good manners, Emily Post.
“Safety is going to be what determines our appropriate behavior,” she advises, according to CNN, adding that it’s essential to react thoughtfully even when you see something you don’t like. “It doesn’t give us license to be rude.”
Wright adds that she hopes Americans take this difficult time to reflect upon their reactions and behavior.
“We don’t have to like that this current situation is happening, but it is happening,” she said.
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