The pandemic has caused division among the general population and likely polarization among loved ones and people you’re close to. Coping with differing opinions in any situation is difficult, but with anxiety being so high and pervasive during the pandemic, the thought of discussing COVID-19 with people you’re close to may incite anger, fear and feel off-limits. Although it would be nice if we could avoid the topic altogether, this type of discussion is necessary especially if someone you’re close to is living life carelessly as if the pandemic didn’t exist or is super strict to the point of complete isolation for over a year.
So, how can we deal with disagreements about COVID-19? Something to keep in mind is that people have differing levels of comfort when it comes to risk-exposure. When dealing with people you care about, try to accept that their opinion may not get swayed no matter how hard you try. Also, keep in mind that people might negatively interpret your attempts to find common ground, which is inevitable when discussing polarizing topics. Once you accept these potential outcomes, then utilizing some of the following strategies will be [a little] easier to practice:
- Set Boundaries and identify when it’s time to end a discussion about COVID-19. Instead of expending more energy into a discussion that’s getting heated and going nowhere, be proactive by cutting the conversation short and acknowledging that it’s okay to disagree. How do you know when it’s time to change topics? In the heat of the moment, we may say something we’ll regret. Therefore, a good indicator to be mindful of is when you start to get irritated, angry, tense, heart palpitations, short of breath, louder volume in your voice, etc.
- Define your comfort levels when it comes to social interactions, in addition to asking loved ones what they’re comfortable with. Acknowledging what your loved ones are comfortable with demonstrates that you care and want to be respectful of their boundaries.
- It’s okay to say no. Since you already know what you’re comfortable with, give yourself permission to say “no” when asked to partake in activities beyond your comfort zone. Your loved ones might get disappointed since they want to spend time with you, so be sure to communicate if you feel the same way. For example, you can say something like “I wish I could attend since I miss spending time with you, but I look forward to hanging out as soon as this is all over.” If they’re aware of your boundaries, they will understand.
- Stay connected in ways that don’t compromise your boundaries. Disagreements about COVID-19 have created rifts in many relationships, but simple ways to stay connected can show you care and that it’s okay to agree to disagree. Some ideas include ordering takeout for someone and having it delivered to their home, sending a gift when you miss a party, calling to check in, hosting an activity that follows guest’s guidelines, etc.
Living during a pandemic has been mentally challenging, but learning to set boundaries and finding ways to stay connected with loved ones during this difficult time are skills that will be useful even after the pandemic is over.
Vania Manipod, DO – Psychiatrist
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