What Do I Do if My Friends and Family Are Not Taking COVID-19 Seriously?
COVID-19 is exhausting. The social distancing, staying home, and taking extra precautions all take a huge mental and physical toll. It can be difficult to follow all of this, but it is imperative that we do our best. But what do you do when close friends or family are not taking COVID-19 seriously? What do you say when they refuse to wear a mask or want to hold large gatherings without social distancing? There are ways to approach the problem in a respectful but assertive manner.
First and foremost, collect your thoughts and manage your emotions. Consider exactly what it is that this person is doing and why it angers you. As much as you may want to criticize or even shout at them, it is important to realize that this often does not lead to much good. A more productive approach is to find the best words to articulate your concerns in a way that is supportive but at the same time gets your point across. If the family member has a tendency to be more emotional, a heated argument will get you nowhere, and a heart-to-heart conversation could be more productive. If your friend has a strong interest in science or data, focus on evidence and research in your discussions with them. The way you go about talking to them can matter as much as what you have to say.
It can be extremely difficult for people to change their ways, particularly in a year when our lives were upended suddenly and dramatically. If someone in your life is not making those necessary changes, ask them questions about why that is case. By getting inside their head, you can approach them with greater empathy and have a better chance of getting through. Focus on your own experiences. Make it clear that you are talking to them out of concern for their safety and the safety of others. Use “I” more often than “you” in order to prevent a hostile reaction. But be realistic in your expectations, as changing someone’s mind is always a demanding task. By planting some seeds in their head about masks, social distancing, and the benefits of taking precautions, they could start doing some more research and reflection on their own and change their behaviours in the near future.
There is a good chance you will be unsuccessful. Your friends may place too great an importance on socializing or being skeptical of COVID-19 to want to listen to you. At that point, it is important for you to establish boundaries. These disagreements could quickly lead to arguments that end friendships; hopefully, they lead to a situation where you can maintain that relationship but create the distance needed to remain emotionally and physically healthy. Let them know how much you value having them in your life. However, make it clear you will only talk with them on the phone or Zoom for the time being and not meet with them in person. You do not have to let go of this person from your life, but you may not be as close or connected to them while the pandemic is ongoing.
Disagreements with friends and family are always a challenge. The stresses of COVID-19 only multiply these difficulties further. It is important for your safety and for the safety of others around you to speak up when your friends and family are not taking the pandemic seriously. Collect your thoughts, be forthcoming with your concerns in an empathetic way, and be prepared to possibly lose a friend or not be as close as you once were. Ultimately, you only have control over your own actions and behaviours. Lead by example, and you could help those you love and care about make changes in their own behaviours that can save lives.
Livingston, Mercey. “What to do when friends and family aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously.” CNET. https://www.cnet.com/health/what-to-do-when-friends-and-family-arent-taking-covid-19-seriously/
Savage, Maddy. “What to do with friends who don’t social distance.” BBC. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200604-what-to-do-with-friends-who-dont-social-distance
Trudon, Taylor. “How to Talk to Friends Who Aren’t Taking COVID-19 Seriously.” Glamour. https://www.glamour.com/story/how-to-talk-to-friends-who-arent-taking-covid-19-seriously