Clinical psychologists are linking belligerent behaviour displayed by people all across British Columbia to chronic stress and gradual pandemic fatigue and suggest ways people can deal with their emotions.
Steven Taylor, a UBC professor and clinical psychologist, says severe pandemics like this one, tend to bring out extremes in people.
“The bad behaviour is due, in part, to people being highly stressed for a long time,” he tells Glacier Media.
“People have been living under chronic stress and some of the hardest things about pandemics is enduring the lockdowns, which are an unfortunate necessity for containing infection but they are very, very stressful on people.”
From belligerent behaviour to berating staff, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought some people to a boiling point. Some have voiced their frustrations. Others have acted on them.
From unmasked ferry passengers, an aggressive and violent takedown in a Canadian Tire, to a recent encounter at a Kitsilano restaurant where people shouted at a pair of health officials to leave; there have been many examples.
“Initially, people were anxious but now, people are more blue, and despondent, mildly depressed and irritable and stressed,” says Taylor.
“You take that as background and then you add in an important issue such as conflict over someone wearing a mask and those things just escalate.”
UBC clinical associate professor Dr. G Shimi Kaur Kang says she’s not surprised that people are stressed as pre-pandemic, people weren’t managing it well either.
“This is concerning and that is why it is so important to get the message out for people to understand how their brain works. This isn’t someone else’s fault. We are all in this together,” she says.
People are being fined for disobeying public health orders and are being charged for their behaviour, according to Kyla Lee, a lawyer with Acumen Law.
“These are not isolated incidents,” she says. “They are happening more and more and our courts are now seeing more and more cases of people committing criminal offences and being charged with criminal offences that flow from their frustration with the COVID-19 restrictions.”
If an individual decides not to wear a mask at their workplace, they could face consequences from the employer and, if they disobey the rules in a business, they could face fines for not following public health orders.
“If you become physically violent you can be charged with an offence of assault, which again itself can carry jail time and if you use a weapon or cause bodily harm then the consequences increase,” explains Lee. “For individuals who are engaged in belligerent behaviour or assaultive behaviour, the consequences can be very stiff.”
Lee says fines related to tickets for not wearing a mask or violating a social gathering order can lead to the suspension of your driving privileges or the refusal to issue vehicle insurance.
“Essentially, your ability to access provincial services and any type of provincially issued licence can be put on hold until those fines are paid,” Lee says. “All the fines and the revenue from them are collected by ICBC, so they have the power to say, 'Unless you pay up your debts, we are not going to give you a licence or insurance.'”
Kaur Kang, a UBC clinical associate professor and author, says people can control their reactions and stop this trend we are seeing.
“If you’re irritable about someone's mask... or standing too close or not standing far away enough — whatever it might be, if we can learn self-care practices,” she says.
These include practicing breathing, mindfulness, taking a moment to pause and moving out of that adrenaline stress response and into a relaxation response.
“I am saddened by it because I think the solutions are simple but don’t be fooled. Simple is not easy. Really, the basics of self-care: routine sleep, exercise, positive mental social stimulation,” she says.
Taylor recommends talking to a friend, family member or therapist about things that bother you.
“This explosive aggressive behaviour isn’t helpful at all. That just fuels anger and perpetuates the problem,” he says.