Right now, we’re living in a time that will be documented in history.
This is difficult. Everyone has different feelings about this pandemic, from depressed to frustrated to confused to calm. And while social and emotional boundaries have always been a concern, the outbreak of COVID-19 across the world has intensified the need to exercise these boundaries in our daily lives. With the multitude of emotions that we are all experiencing, it is more important than ever to know our own boundaries and needs— and be empowered to share and expect them from others. Here are a few things to say to friends, family, coworkers, or even just acquaintances to be clear about your personal boundaries and protect your mental well-being as we all battle this pandemic.
Here’s how to respond when…
1. Someone asks you to hang out, but you’re committed to practicing social distancing
“Thank you so much for asking me to hang out today! I really miss you and I want to be here for you, but I’m currently committed to minimizing my contact with others to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Is there any way we could connect on *insert social media platform* today or routinely instead, to make sure we’re still able to spend some time together?”
2. Someone keeps sending you news links about COVID-19, and seeing constant articles about it is difficult
“Hey! I really appreciate you sending this link, but I’m actually trying to limit my news consumption in light of recent events. I know it helps you and I want to respect that, but I’ve been watching/reading way too much news and it’s started to take a toll on my mental health. Could we shift the focus of our conversation?”
3. Someone gives you unsolicited (and unwelcome) advice about the situation or how to cope
“Thank you for caring about me. I’m really grateful to have you here, but right now, I just need to learn how to navigate this on my own. I know that *insert coping mechanism* helps you a lot, but this situation is really difficult for me right now, and I still need time to process.”
4. Someone keeps bringing up the coronavirus in conversation unnecessarily
“I know the coronavirus is a really big deal right now, but it actually makes me really *insert emotion here* to talk about it. I realize it’s hard not to address it, but could we try to talk about something else?”
5. Someone wants to talk or spend time with you, but you are feeling anxious or depressed due to the situation and would like to spend time alone
“I would love to hang out with you, but I need time to process. Honestly, this whole coronavirus situation has had a pretty negative impact on my mental health and right now I’m feeling emotionally overwhelmed. I think it will help me to spend some time alone. Can I connect with you later when I feel ready?”
6. Someone is ignoring the COVID-19 situation or arguing that you are overreacting
“I know we share two really different viewpoints on this situation, so we just have to agree to disagree. This is hard for everyone, and I’m just doing what has been recommended by the government and health officials to keep myself safe and protect those around me. We can talk about something else or take a break and connect another time.”
7. Someone tries to cheer you up about the situation or be optimistic, but it feels diminishing
“I know you’re just trying to be positive, and I love that, but right now positivity hasn’t been helpful for me. I’m very grateful to be healthy and I know that my situation could be worse, but I’m still struggling. This situation has been traumatic, and I feel very *insert emotion here*. I apologize if my attitude is coming off as negative, but I would like some space to experience my emotions and cope on my own.”
Clearly, these responses are pretty specific and lengthy, so personalize them as you wish! Ultimately, though, it’s just important to be direct. It’s hard to understand each other perfectly right now, and rather than making people read between the lines, the best thing to do is be honest with each other and be clear about our own needs. In any scenario, it’s best to 1) address the other person’s perspective, 2) tell how you are feeling, 3) communicate how the other person’s actions are impacting you, and 4) suggest what you would like to change or modify about your interaction. These responses are designed to target all of those 4 goals.
Remember, everyone is struggling in their own way. It’s important to be here for each other, but also to give each other space when we need it. Maintaining relationships while still finding a way to stay in touch with ourselves and our feelings individually is critical in such an unprecedented time.