The phrase "social distancing" is a regular part of our vocabulary now. You've followed the recommended precautions, but what if a family member deems this order unnecessary? It's frustrating and potentially unsafe, but you might be unsure of how to start that conversation. Here are some tips from Laura Salazar-Hopps, supportive medicine chaplain at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center.
Put yourself in their shoes
Be mindful that people have different responses to stress. Some may panic — and we've seen a lot of panic in recent days — which leads to behaviors that can be worrisome. Others may have the opposite reaction, being in denial about the new reality we are living in, or choosing to minimize the risks and the need to protect themselves and others. This can lead to behaviors that put themselves and others at serious risk.
"Understanding that denial is also a defense mechanism is one component of maintaining calm and a compassionate attitude toward people, even as we cannot condone their dangerous behavior," says Salazar-Hopps.
Be firm in your own boundaries
While we can have compassion for our family members, we should also continue to be firm in our own boundaries and take all recommended precautions. For example, we can say: "I understand that you don't feel that social distancing is necessary right now, but I am taking all precautions so I will not be having visitors over right now. We will reschedule a time to visit when it is safe to do so."
Don't let family members or friends who are minimizing the risks of COVID-19 relax the precautions that health experts are recommending. That puts everyone at increased risk.
If family members are argumentative, you may want to agree to disagree and end the conversation compassionately by telling them, "I hear that you don't think that COVID-19 is a big deal, but I don't want to argue about it with you. It is important to me to take all recommended precautions to protect myself, my family, and people at risk."
There is a lot of stress and anxiety right now. Adding more to that by arguing with family members is likely to be counterproductive. "While we can encourage people to take precautions, ultimately we cannot control the behavior of others," says Salazar-Hopps. "With so many new stories circulating, some of which do not contain accurate information, it could also be helpful to refer family members to trustworthy sources for recommendations and updates, such as www.coronavirus.gov."
Control what you can
While we cannot control the actions of others, we can follow recommended precautions to the best of our ability, support others who are doing the same, share reputable news sources such as the CDC, and continue to practice self-care in order to manage anxiety.
"You can try deep breathing, prayer, mindfulness, journaling, reaching out to friends and family for support via phone, reading a good book, or any methods of self-care that help us feel grounded," says Salazar-Hopps. "Practicing mindfulness, we can bring awareness to our thoughts, feelings, and emotions as they arise, and practice kindness toward ourselves. Remember, it is natural to feel many emotions at a time like this.
As we navigate this new reality together, may we continue to be mindful of taking precautions to take care of ourselves and others, encouraging our loved ones to do the same, and practice self-care to take care of ourselves in body, mind, and spirit."
For more COVID-19 information and resources, visit memorialhermann.org/coronavirus.