We’ve all done it this year: waltz carefree down the aisles of a supermarket, then realise we’ve missed what we needed and had to start the one-way system from the beginning. The normal reaction might be to sigh, or to tut and shake your head.
Very few of us have shouted at supermarket staff, then pulled dozens of bottles of wine from the shelves and smashed them all over the floor, like a woman captured in a widely-shared video taken in the Co-op in Lingfield, Surrey.
This is an extreme, but not isolated moment of coronavirus-fuelled rage we have seen in the past few months. There was a shouting match on a bus in Liverpool when a passenger boarded without a mask, scores of scuffles in queues outside supermarkets, and sharp elbows over the last packets of loo roll.
While we may not all go to extremes, a lot of us seem to have a lot of pent-up frustration at the moment. Which is not a surprise, says Mike Fisher, an anger management trainer and author of Beating Anger: The Eight-Point Plan for Coping with Rage: “These are perfect opportunities to lose your cool and act out”.
He has seen a lot of this happening in his work at the British Association of Anger Management, which has been the busiest since the financial crisis of 2008. They have had so much demand that they had to run additional courses in August, when they are usually on a summer break, and have had an “unprecedented” number of hits on their website.
But where does this anger come from, and what can be done about it?
Why coronavirus is making us angry
As Fisher sees it, there are a handful of core reasons for anger, many of which are being pressed constantly by the pandemic. The first is taking the moral high ground, something that is easy to do when the Government is encouraging us to rat on neighbours who aren’t taking the rules as seriously as we are. We feel self-righteous, and annoyed that not everyone can be as virtuous as we are.
This is not a good state to be in for the good of your relationships, says Fisher: “As soon as you do that they have zero capacity to be empathetic”.
Another core cause is having an obstacle in the way of your goals. This doesn’t bode well for our tempers this year, when almost nothing has gone to plan. “Covid-19 is a classic example of that,” he says. “We had dreams and desires and all of a sudden that won’t happen as you have to be in isolation.”
Thirdly, coronavirus is tripping our switches because our personal boundaries are constantly being invaded, says Fisher. In normal times, this might be if someone pushes past you to get on a crowded train. But now, many of us are much stricter about what we feel comfortable with than before, and someone coming within a metre of you in a supermarket might be enough to make you grind your teeth.
Is your anger hiding something else?
Anger is not always a primary concern, and can sometimes be a symptom of something else, says Nicholas Rose, a UKCP-registered psychotherapist. “In my work I’m noticing people have recently been relying on less healthy coping mechanisms like comfort eating and drinking”, he says.
This is making people feel drained and sluggish, he says: “When we are tired, any difficult situation will trigger our fight-flight-fright responses more easily”.
Rose thinks that we should sit down and think about the other emotions that are connected to the anger. “If it’s about powerlessness, what’s that from? A concern about job security maybe?” he says. “Once you identify that you can do something about it.”
You can over time train yourself to become less angry, says Fisher. He advises practising pausing before you react, giving you time to see the bigger picture, and that there is nothing wrong with people having different opinions.
With his clients, he encourages them to keep an anger journal to note down their feelings when they feel pent up. It might also be useful to find an anger buddy – someone you can openly talk to about your feelings, which will help you to feel less alone.
Finally, don’t take anything personally. If someone has been a little bit tetchy, try and work out the reasons why they might be feeling that way before assuming you have been wronged.
How do you deal with someone else’s coronavirus rage?
If you have a friend or family member who is violent or aggressive when angry, then your first priority is to protect yourself and take action, says Rose – whether that is by finding a safe place to stay or calling the police.
If they are not violent, then you could try talking to them about their anger. You should try following a set conversation structure, and only attempt this when they have already calmed down, says Rose.
“You need to tell them what you saw happen”, he says, as “in the heat of the moment they might not realise what they did, like slam a door”. Once you have informed them, you should tell them how that made you feel, then ask what you can do to help them.
“Avoid telling them that they’re bad, wrong, nasty people,” he says. “Anger is a natural reaction and their feelings are correct but something needs to be done to help them so they don’t react so much.”
Beating Anger: The Eight-Point Plan for Coping with Rage by Mike Fisher (Vintage Publishing, £9.99) is available from Telegraph Books