What to do when your loved one isn't taking COVID-19 seriously
You're doing everything you can to protect your family during the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: staying at home, washing your hands and cleaning surfaces regularly. You've done more virtual playdates and happy hours than you can count, and the family has a colorful array of cloth face coverings to use when leaving the house.
But even with all this preparation, you find yourself lying awake at night worrying. There are other family members and friends you know who refuse to stay home or follow physical distancing (also called social distancing). What will happen to them? Will they get someone else sick? How can you convince them to follow the guidelines and stay safe?
If you're facing late-night anxiety, you're not alone. People everywhere are stressed about loved ones who don't seem to take COVID-19 seriously.
If you're facing this kind of late-night anxiety, you're not alone. People everywhere are stressed about loved ones who don't seem to take COVID-19 seriously. In some cases, it's even starting to split up friendships and cause rifts between family members.
“When we start to dwell or overthink some of these things, particularly the things that are out of our control, we can get ourselves into cognitive traps where we think about the worst-case scenario or jump to conclusions,” says Ezekiel Sanders, a behavioral health provider at Providence Clackamas Clinic. “Instead, just try to focus on the moment and what you can control.”
Finding a way to engage your loved ones can be tricky, but don't give up yet. Here are some tips for communicating your concerns and finding a solution to help ease your anxieties.
Start with trusted resources
If the person you’re trying to convince is parent or grandparent, it can be especially challenging — no matter which way you slice it, you'll always be a generation (or more) younger. The relationship of caregiver and care recipient is hard to flip, and they may not be ready to accept advice from someone they raised.
It can also be hard to speak to a friend or co-worker who is the same age as you — they may not feel like they can take advice from someone their same age.
“One of the most important things you can do is educate yourself, so that you’re well informed with facts rather than arbitrary information. It can help to have a plan. If you prepare responses or things you want to say, it's going to go a lot better than when you wing it,” Sanders says.
When it comes time to talk about COVID-19, try referencing information from resources your loved one is more likely to trust.
When it comes time to talk about COVID-19, try referencing information from resources they are more likely to trust. Citing articles and statistics from the World Health Organization's (WHO) coronavirus hub is a good place to start. You can also reference a wealth of information from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If those sources aren’t cutting it, consider perusing your loved one's preferred news outlet — is there an article that might persuade them to stay home or a radio personality that has given advice to socially distance? While you may not agree with the publication's political leanings, it may be the resource you need to convince them to take it seriously and stay at home.
“Have a two-sided conversation. Be curious about other people’s perspectives while also feeling comfortable and confident in your own perspective,” says Sanders.
Encourage them to think of the greater good
How many times have you heard the argument, "I'm healthy, so I don't have to worry about getting sick from COVID-19."?
Instead of focusing on their health and safety, encourage your loved one to think about others. Staying home and maintaining physical distancing can help prevent the virus from spreading to someone who is more vulnerable to serious illness. Because COVID-19 can sometimes cause no symptoms (asymptomatic), someone can easily spread the virus without knowing it.
Try to think of someone your loved one knows who may be at risk — an older relative, a friend with diabetes, or a pregnant neighbor, for example. Explain that the simple action of staying home or wearing a face covering can help keep the relative, friend or neighbor safe.
If your loved one has concerns about face coverings, remind them that they don’t need to use a surgical mask or an N95 respirator — homemade face masks can still help in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
If they have concerns about face coverings, remind them that they don’t need to use a surgical mask or an N95 respirator — homemade face masks can still help in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Here’s a video from the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams demonstrating how to make a homemade face mask.
Source: CDC Face Covering Instruction
Share your fears
Being honest and sharing your fears can be an effective tool in getting your point across. Explain to your loved one the anxiety and anticipatory grief you're feeling about them, or others, getting seriously ill.
“Focus on communicating your feelings and beliefs, rather than on the other person’s experiences,” Sanders says. “The ‘I’ language versus the ‘you’ language decreases defensiveness.”
For example, instead of saying, “you’re putting the whole family in danger,” Sanders recommends saying, “I get really scared when you go to the store without a mask.”
For someone who lives far away, you could say, "If you get sick, I won't be able to come visit you or take care of you." You can also explain that if they die, you won't be there with them and may not be able to attend a funeral or memorial service.
Honesty can be harsh, but it can also be powerful. It gives a reason behind your concern — something more than just, "I told you so."
Soften your tone and listen
While you may be feeling frustrated or angry with your loved one, lecturing them probably won't get you very far. Remember to speak to them with kindness, affection and empathy. Show them that you care, and not that you're out to prove who is right and wrong.
While you may be feeling frustrated or angry with your loved one, lecturing them probably won't get you very far. Remember to speak to them with kindness, affection and empathy.
Take time to hear their side of the story, too. Have them share what they're feeling — good and bad — and learn more about why they need to go to the store every day or visit friends.
“It’s easy to go straight to anger and divisiveness,” says Josh Cutler, manager and clinical lead for the Providence Behavioral Health Concierge Service. “The better approach is to ask more questions and find common ground.”
Avoid statistic overload
The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise across the U.S., and while the statistics can be convincing, they can also be overwhelming and hard to grasp.
Instead of peppering your loved one with scary facts and figures, try using stories about real people. Is there a friend, relative or celebrity your parents know who was diagnosed with COVID-19? Putting a face to the pandemic may help them understand the reality of the virus and why they need to take it seriously.
Recognize when you need to move on
Even with all of these approaches, you may not be able to convince someone to stay home or practice physical distancing. If that’s the case, it’s okay to move on. Ultimately, they are responsible for their own health and actions.
If you're finding yourself angry or frustrated while talking to your loved one, take a step back. It may be best for your own mental wellness to break off communication for a little while.
If you're finding yourself angry or frustrated while talking to your loved one, take a step back. It may be best for your own mental wellness to break off communication for a little while. But when you're ready, don't be afraid to come back and offer support. Your friends or family members may be ignoring safety guidelines because they feel lonely or isolated, and providing some positive social engagement (at a safe distance) may convince them that they don't need to leave the house. For example:
- Try suggesting that you stay connected via phone or video chat. Schedule a call where you promise not to discuss COVID-19.
- If you live nearby, drop off a homemade treat or some groceries on their doorstep. If you live far away, send letters, email or have a gift delivered from an online retailer.
- Order them groceries, food or a meal kit for delivery with the offer to cook together over video chat one night.
Try to remove judgment from the equation — no single human is better; they just have different lenses.
“At the end of the day, we’re all humans — your friends and family are trying to live a healthy life and they just have different opinions on how to do that,” Cutler says. “Try to remove judgment from the equation — no single human is better; they just have different lenses.”
When it's time to move on, you'll probably find yourself — once again — lying awake, feeling scared and worried about what may happen to your loved one. Learning how to manage uncertainty and accept these feelings can be tough, but you don't have to manage them alone.
Talking to a professional can help you learn how to cope with your fears and anxieties about the future. Many behavioral health specialists, including those at Providence, are offering secure video visits that can be done in the comfort of your home.
Find a doctor
If you feel unwell and would like to consult your doctor, Providence Express Care Virtual connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory or search for one in your area.
You can also learn how your state's department of public health is responding to the situation:
Do you have a friend or loved one who doesn't seem to take #COVID19 seriously? Learn how to approach the topic and communicate your concerns effectively.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.