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March 31, 2020

Social distancing is a phrase regularly used in our vocabulary now. You’ve followed the recommended precautions, but a family member deems this order unnecessary. Here are tips to have an honest conversation with your loved one.

How do you handle someone in your family who's not taking "social distancing" seriously?

Dealing with family members who may not be taking the current pandemic seriously, including the importance of social distancing, can be very frustrating for many. One way to maintain calm is to be mindful that people have different responses to stress. Some may panic, which leads to behaviors that can be worrisome. We've seen a lot of panic in recent days. 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 towards even as we cannot condone dangerous behavior.

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. 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.

In relating to family and others who may minimize or deny the importance of COVID-19, having compassion while also holding your firm boundaries, is paramount. 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. Practicing mindfulness, we can bring awareness to our thoughts, feelings, and emotions as they arise, and practice kindness towards 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.

Answers provided by Laura Salazar-Hopps, MDiv., BCC, Supportive Medicine Chaplain at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center.

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