Zoom family meeting on a laptop during Christmas
Zoom family meeting on a laptop during Christmas

Setting Your COVID-19 Boundaries

Setting Your COVID-19 Boundaries

7 Strategies to Effectively Communicate With Loved Ones

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many people to reassess their boundaries for in-person gatherings. While many people have returned to pre-pandemic get-togethers, you may still feel uneasy about gathering in a large group, especially if you are at high risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19.

It may not be easy communicating to others that you will be breaking tradition or holding a low-risk holiday celebration, especially if your loved ones are not on the same page as you. However, “setting clear boundaries around your personal space is very important,” says Danesh A. Alam, MD, medical director of Behavioral Health Services at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. “Direct conversations about safety, preventive measures and modeling your desired behavior can go a long way.”

Here are some strategies for establishing healthy boundaries with loved ones during the holiday season and beyond.

  1. Know Your Boundaries.

    You should first understand your own comfort level around social interaction. Do your research by checking the latest information and recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) around COVID-19 risk.If you choose to test before gathering, remember that a negative COVID-19 test only informs you of whether or not you were infected at the time the sample was collected.

    Establish your plan for interaction with others, and know that you can always modify your boundaries and alter your plans as circumstances change.

  2. Be Direct.

    “It is OK to disclose what and how you feel about COVID-19,” says Dr. Alam. Not everyone will be aware of your vulnerabilities, so be open and direct. If you choose to invite people over for a physically distanced gathering or plan to see people in any way with precautions in place, Dr. Alam suggests sending an email to guests ahead of time stating your boundaries and why they are important to you.

  3. Practice empathy through active listening.

    While communicating about boundaries with loved ones, differences in opinions are to be expected. Listen closely to understand those who disagree with you, validate their opinions and use language like “I feel” to explain your own opinions. For example, if your parents are upset that you will not be spending the holidays with them in person, validate their feelings by telling them that you understand why they are upset. Use language like, “We feel like we’re putting ourselves at risk,“ instead of, “You’re putting us at risk.“

  4. Lead With the Positive.

    By leading with a positive statement, the conversation may take a lighter tone. You can open the conversation by expressing your desire to get together in a different way and invite your loved ones to start a new holiday tradition this year. Avoid group settings when breaking news or confronting loved ones, as they may feel attacked if there is more than one voice disagreeing with their perspective.

  5. Focus on your comfort level instead of what’s "right" or "wrong".

    During a time with so many unknowns, there is not much benefit to establishing who is right or wrong. Focus on your core values. Do not get combative or try to persuade others to share your own core values. If a loved one’s behavior impacts your health, speak up and make the conversation about your concern for your own well-being.

  6. Avoid judgment.

    When discussing your concern or a change in plan, focus on the situation and the outcome of your conversation with matter-of-fact language. Do not use labels or offensive words to describe contradicting behavior or perspectives. Acknowledge varied beliefs and the emotions you are experiencing, such as disappointment. Try to pause any impulsive reactions, and speak to your loved ones with more mindfulness and patience.

  7. Find common ground.

    Remember that there is usually at least one commonality between two parties of a conversation. Reassure your family and friends that you love and care about them. Use this conversation as an opportunity to grow your relationships in new ways.