Health and Wellness

Covid conversations are harder than ever now—these 3 expert tips can help


Maybe you're going to a packed bar every Friday night. Or, maybe you're still avoiding crowded spaces and keeping a mask on outside the house.

Now more than ever, people's attitudes toward Covid comfort and risk are changing, experts say. That means it's harder than ever to find two people with the same approach toward the virus, and it's making our relationships harder to manage.

The reason: Many people are now more focused on their own risk than the risk they pose to others, says Virginia Tech epidemiologist Lisa Lee. Someone up-to-date on their Covid vaccines might attend a large party these days, without considering the risk of potentially spreading the virus to high-risk loved ones.

That's a near-complete reversal from the pandemic's beginning, when "we were all afraid and much more willing to do things to protect each other against the new disease," Lee tells CNBC Make It.

People today are also just tired of living in the pandemic, she adds: "Many of us want to get back to some relatively normal social interaction. For some, I think that pandemic fatigue has really overtaken this idea of being afraid of Covid."

Of course, some people are more fatigued than others, potentially straining your relationships with even your closest friends and family members.

Here are four experts' tips for dealing with those who have a different Covid comfort level than you do.

Directly communicate your boundaries, and be respectful of theirs

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not being direct with others about your Covid comfort level, says Jessica Borelli, a psychological science professor at UC Irvine.

A clear understanding of each other's boundaries can ensure that no one is accidentally placed in an uncomfortable situation, and inform the decisions you make when you see each other, she says.

Share both your preferences and the reasoning behind them, Borelli recommends. You might say you're uncomfortable going to a party because you live with an elderly family member, or you are comfortable going because socializing seems to help your mental health.

Be transparent about your Covid safety status, too: how up-to-date you are on your vaccines and whether you've been exposed to the virus recently, Borelli adds.

Never assume other people's comfort levels and safety statuses, she says. Instead, you can always ask them directly, even if it feels awkward to do so.

Even if you find yourself on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, be respectful and accepting of their preferences, says Kendra Knight, an associate communication studies professor at DePaul University who specializes in work and family communication and conflict management. Resist the urge to criticize them or attempt to change their mind.

"They're entitled to express and have their own preferences, and so are you," Knight says.

Find potential accommodations

Once you know someone's Covid comfort level, you can figure out potential accommodations to make.

That doesn't mean canceling your birthday party because of one friend who's concerned about Covid, or attending a mass gathering despite your high risk of severe illness. It means identifying ways everyone can participate without feeling uncomfortable.

"It's trying to find that sweet spot where you can show up and participate in a way that you feel good about. You can do that without asking someone to change the entire way they planned an event," says Dr. Alexandra Solomon, a clinical assistant psychology professor at Northwestern University and host of the "Reimagining Love" podcast.

If you're worried about the risk of Covid transmission at your friend's party, you might attend but wear a mask the entire time.

Or, you could ask your friend to make "small tweaks" for you, Solomon says: Request open windows for more ventilation, or ask to eat outdoors rather than indoors.

Don't be afraid to decline, and prepare for potential disagreements

Accommodations can sometimes be difficult, and you might not find a way to make an event completely comfortable for everyone involved, especially if it sacrifices your own safety standards.

If you're still uncomfortable with a situation, don't be afraid to decline an invitation. Make the reason for your decision clear so they're not left guessing, and emphasize how much you still value your relationship with the other person, Borelli says.

"You can tell them you really value spending time with them, but are also thinking about your safety," she explains. "It's like a bit of a buffer from any rejection they might feel."

You can even offer alternate plans to communicate that "you really do want to see them," Borelli says. If you don't feel safe attending a party, try scheduling a one-on-one hangout in a more comfortable setting.

Not everyone will be receptive. If someone criticizes you for your preferences, Solomon recommends stepping away from the conversation and resisting the urge to argue.

"Debate runs the risk of people pointing fingers at each other and going back and forth," she says.

If the disrespect lingers, consider "putting a pause" on that particular relationship so you can both heal and revisit the issue again later, Borelli says.

To do that, she recommends saying something like: "I need to prioritize my own health to feel safe, so I'm going to have to stop seeing you. I want you to know I value you a lot as a friend and hope we can feel comfortable seeing each other again in the future."

Want to earn more and work less? Register for the free CNBC Make It: Your Money virtual event on Dec. 13 at 12 p.m. ET to learn from money masters like Kevin O'Leary how you can increase your earning power.

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