What to do when friends and family aren't taking COVID-19 seriously
A therapist shares tips for coping if people around you don't agree on what's safe as the country slowly reopens.
Mercey LivingstonCNET Contributor
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She's written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
As more people get vaccinated and the country slowly reopens, everyone's idea of "being COVID-19-safe" could look different. When it comes to COVID-19 safety, in an ideal world, everyone in your life would be on the same page. But, sadly, that is often not the case. You may feel like you're safe because you and your friends or family are vaccinated, but what happens when you bring other, unvaccinated people into the mix? Things can get messy, depending on your comfort level.
You might be butting heads with people in the same household because you don't see eye to eye on face masks, social distancing, vaccines or other issues. Or maybe you have friends and family pressuring you to travel or go to events when that doesn't feel safe for you.
Either way, in the current state of the world you're bound to have someone in your life who is just not taking the virus (and the precautions necessary to slow the spread of it) seriously. And while you might feel like you have to avoid them or cut them out of your life until the pandemic is over, there are a few things you can try before resorting to more extreme measures.
Since this is a problem all too many of us (myself included) are dealing with, I asked psychologist and integrative mental health expert Roseann Capanna-Hodge for advice on how to manage this stressful dynamic. Keep reading for her tips on what to do when people around you are not taking the virus seriously.
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Especially if you live with people who have disagreements on COVID-19 safety, setting boundaries is essential for your mental and physical well-being. You can set boundaries for what you will talk about and engage with, and what you are willing to physically do with someone who is not taking things seriously.
"Setting a boundary with family members may feel uncomfortable at first, but it is a healthy way to let others know what they can expect from you. When it comes to safety measures, let family members know what your expectations are at your home and when they are around you," Capanna-Hodge says.
When you let friends and family members know your expectations, it's likely they will feel confused or even upset at first. But it's important to communicate your needs and expectations in a way that is respectful but firm.
If you don't want to spend time around people who don't want to get the vaccine or don't wear masks in public, tell that person that you really value them in your life and want to spend time with them, but in order to continue doing that you either need them to wear a mask or you'll only connect with them over Zoom call if they won't. Or, if you live with family members who aren't wearing masks in public, tell them you will keep your distance from them (to the extent you can) while you are both at home.
"You can only control yourself... you can't control others, so establishing those boundaries helps to protect your mental health and reduce your stress. You don't have to take responsibility for educating family members on safety measures, and you can take that energy and time and use it for self-care activities such as exercise, breath work, meditation, etc.," Capanna-Hodge says.
Leave out the criticism in your conversations
Again, it's not your responsibility to educate your family members, friends or roommates on safety measures. But if you do want to share information with them or discuss safety measures, you can do so in a way that communicates your concern without criticism.
"When speaking with a loved family member about concerns such as COVID-19, their blood pressure, exercise regime or any health-related topic, it is always best to start from a place of love and support. Ask what you can do to help instead of criticize," Capanna-Hodge says. When was the last time you felt like doing something someone asked you to if it was delivered in a tone that was condescending or negative?
"Your mom hearing, 'Mom, would you like me to get you a bunch of disposable masks or a few cloth ones?' feels a lot better than, 'You're going to die if you don't wear a mask,'" she says.
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It's also helpful to use "I" statements when talking to friends and family so they understand where you're coming from. For instance, saying, "Dad, I am worried about your health and so I don't want to potentially expose you to the virus if I come over," or, "Hey, I'd love to come to your baby shower, but I don't want to take the risk that I might get you or someone else sick."
Remember that some people, especially older people, are resistant to change. So know when it's time to stop pushing them. "It isn't your job to preach to others about what they should be doing; you can only control what you are doing," Capanna-Hodge says. With that in mind, if you still are not comfortable with how your family or friends are dealing with things, you can respectfully decline to spend time with them physically until things are better.
Let them know what you are and aren't comfortable with, and if that means holding a Zoom call instead of an in-person dinner party, tell them. If they really respect you and want to spend time with you, they will do what it takes to see you -- even if it's not IRL.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.