Life in lockdown: How to cope with pressure from loved ones to break rules

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Be it friends insisting you meet up, a parent saying, ‘Oh it’s fine, just come in for a cup of tea,’ or a sibling whose definition of ‘social distancing’ involves going in for a hug without warning, almost all of us have encountered a scenario in the last year where our feelings around pandemic restrictions have clashed with someone else’s.

Such moments can cause everything from mild confusion to upset, annoyance or all-out anger, and lead to arguments, guilt and complicated conversations.

“I don’t think anybody’s been prepared for much of the fallout from this,” says Relate counsellor Holly Roberts. “I’ve never known such a divisive thing to be causing friendships that break and families to have rifts, it’s really difficult.”

So what can you do to minimise the impact of friends and family putting pressure on you to bend rules, or step beyond what you’re comfortable with?

Prioritise your needs

Peer pressure is tough, even when there isn’t a pandemic on, and dealing with friends or family needling you to “relax” and stop being a “goody two shoes” about Covid can be very stressful.

Ms Roberts says repeating mantras to yourself – like, “I am not a goody two shoes, because I’m doing this; I’m doing this because I want to; I’m doing this because I think it is a good idea; someone is suggesting this, but I’m taking those thoughts on board and I’m actively deciding to do this” – can help strengthen your resolve, but she admits it is “tricky”.

“It’s about having confidence in your own opinion,” she adds.

Know it’s OK to disagree

Making your position clear and saying no to someone can be awkward and uncomfortable.

However, Ms Roberts says: “Knowing ‘this is my opinion, which might differ from yours’ may help you legitimise your own opinion.

“To know it’s OK to have a different opinion from somebody else – something in that process might help you feel more able to follow your thoughts, without feeling you have to bend to their request just because that’s what they want to do.

“That can help you feel more confident in your stance, and a little more able to challenge somebody else. If you don’t feel comfortable doing something they want you to do, it may give you a voice to say, ‘No, I don’t want to do this,’ or to take a stand.”

“It depends how you’re both feeling,” says Ms Robert, on whether confronting a loved one – over their interpretation of the rules, or their demands on you – is practical. “If it seems like it’s a calm situation and both of you are feeling quite rational, and you’re not overly emotional about things, then yes, absolutely (have a discussion), because that’s the only way you’ll be able to understand what the other person is going through.

“If you can create an environment where you can have a calm conversation, that gives you the opportunity to be able to see the other person’s point of view – and hopefully it works vice-versa. If you can create that level of empathy between you, that may lessen any antagonism.”

However, if things are getting controversial and combative, “then I would say, perhaps not have that conversation”, adds Ms Roberts. “It’s only going to escalate and create more arguments, and perhaps leave you feeling worse than you might have done to start off with.”

Side-step defensiveness

These kinds of conversations – if you decide to have them – can quite easily lead to defensiveness on both sides. “Think about how you can put across, ‘I’m feeling this, I’m feeling that’ – using ‘I’ words really helps things become less accusatory,” suggests Ms Roberts.

“(Telling someone) ‘You’re doing the wrong thing, you shouldn’t be doing this, you’re a bad person’ – that’s not going to be particularly helpful.

“If everyone can stick to their own thoughts and feelings, it becomes much more of an exploration about what you both think and feel rather than an angry argument about, ‘You’re doing the wrong thing!’ So you don’t have to be defensive, because you’re simply explaining how you feel.”

You can show your concern

When a family member or friend is encouraging you to bend the rules, it’s valid to be worried about the situations they’re putting themselves in. Raising that can be useful, notes Ms Roberts.

“Saying, ‘I’m concerned about you because I love you. I want the best for you, I don’t want you to get poorly,’ those phrases can be really helpful,” she says. “The other person hopefully will be able to receive that, to hear that that’s coming from a place of goodness, not a critical place.”

That in turn, she says, may help “lessen tensions and conflict” if they arise.

Remember things change

With restrictions and guidelines changing, and vaccines being rolled out, we’re living through an evolving, frequently confusing situation. How you feel about certain situations is likely to fluctuate too. For instance, at one point you may not have even entertained the idea of going on a socially distanced walk, but are now going stir crazy and are keen to, says Roberts.

“It’s having that kindness to yourself, that you don’t have to stay rigidly in this fixed position, and understanding that things change over time,” says Ms Roberts. “Communicate that to friends and family, say, ‘This is how I feel right now, I might feel differently at some point in time. But right now, this is how I am.’”

Look to the future

What it can come down to, says Ms Roberts, is considering “can we still keep this friendship going despite this difference of opinion?”

“We just have to hope that there are other aspects of friendships and families that keep us tied together, that we can manage this (pressure and these conversations) in the background and hopefully, when the vaccine is with everyone, this will hopefully die down.”

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