Handling Peer Pressure From Loved Ones After COVID-19

illustration of a woman outside a party

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

There's very little that could have prepared us for the COVID-19 pandemic, and the changes it would require us to make in our social, economic, and physical lives.

In addition to being responsible for the tragic loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, the pandemic has had significant effects on our mental health. Quarantine, social isolation, social distancing, losing loved ones, and more have contributed to spikes in anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and domestic abuse.

After a year of Zoom parties, FaceTime dates, and the occasional Netflix watch party, the introduction of the vaccines and the reopening of society may come with an avalanche of invites to in-person social events.

It's understandable that you may be eager to make up for all the time lost with family and friends. However, it's important for your safety and the safety of those you love to continue following the latest guidelines.

Additionally, attending every party and agreeing to every dinner invite could lead to added stress and burnout risk. After all, it's unlikely that you did so before the pandemic. Even if you're vaccinated, you may feel the need to ease back into a social life, or feel anxious or awkward about doing so right away.

Because we know turning down family and friends is easier said than done, we'll be sharing tips for the best ways to handle peer pressure as we approach a return to normalcy.

What Will Post-Pandemic Peer Pressure Look Like?

Peer pressure may be a word you more closely associate with bullying or recreational drug use—but this practice can sometimes rear its head in other unexpected places—like a post-pandemic world, for instance.

Pre-COVID, visiting crowded spaces or sitting and speaking closely with loved ones wouldn't have required much thought. This is why the promise of life returning to a semblance of normalcy—thanks to widespread vaccinations—has most people excited.

However, despite vaccinations offering significant protection, they are not 100% effective, and it's not yet clear to what degree vaccinated individuals can still transmit the virus, which is why you should still consider safety guidelines before getting back out there.

Family and  friends—aka, the hardest people to refuse—may encourage you to let loose and participate in activities that could be detrimental to your health if you're not vaccinated. Even if you are vaccinated, you may not yet feel comfortable being around lots of people. Or you may have family members—such as children—who are not vaccinated yet.

The peer pressure you might face can take many forms, some of which include the following.

Persuasion to Stop Wearing a Mask

We understand, masks aren't always the most comfortable device: they may fog up your glasses, they're not the easiest to breathe in, and speaking through the fabric can be frustrating.

When meeting with family and friends, you may be tempted to take off your mask and huddle in close to get in on the conversation. In this situation, peer-pressure may be overt, where you're asked point blank: "why do you still have a mask on?"

In other cases, you may feel like a sore thumb for being the only person still with a mask perched on their face. This can feel more than a little uncomfortable.

Many people have learned that masks help with environmental allergies, and help prevent non-COVID illnesses like regular cold and flu. As such, they may have decided to wear masks long-term in certain circumstances. This is a personal choice that is harmless to other people, which is important for all of us remember once masks in public are no longer the norm.

Current CDC guidelines say that vaccinated individuals can gather with other vaccinated individuals indoors without wearing a mask, and can gather outdoors without a mask except in certain crowded settings.

Encouraging Social Interactions in Crowded Public Spaces

If, like most people, you spent last summer, spring, and winter huddled at home in your pajamas, then you may understand the excitement at mixing with others in public.

This may cause friends and loved ones to disregard the risk of contracting and transmitting the virus in large gatherings, or in places where social distancing is not possible. Thinking over your fear of missing out, you may start to consider invitations to meet up in bars, crowded parks, clubs etc. This may not always be the safest route to go when considering the easy spread of the virus among the unvaccinated.

If you're fully vaccinated, you may still be working through some complicated feelings about returning to these activities. Just because you can resume some normal activities in relative safety, however, doesn't mean it will be good for your mental health to accept every invite and jump straight back into certain habits before you're comfortable.

Video conferencing, which will likely remain a big part of our lives going forward, is a great (and safe) option if you feel a certain in-person event may be too much to handle.

Ignoring Social Distancing Guidelines

While we aren't completely certain of every way the coronavirus may be transmitted, we do know that being in close quarters with a person with COVID-19 can increase the risk of contracting the disease.

With this in mind, normal signs of affection like hugs, high-fives, or mild tackles during excitable moments may not always be advisable. However, avoiding such interactions from loved ones you don’t live with isn't always easy. The impact of rejecting such contact from loved ones, no matter how well-intentioned may not only leave you feeling bad, but can have relegated to being an outsider in the group.

In other instances, physical meet-ups may be suggested by friends and family, when online hangouts would be just as effective.

Guidelines—and your tolerance for certain activities—will evolve with increased vaccination rates, as well as your personal vaccination status. Whenever it is safe for you to get back to a relative state of normalcy, make sure that you do so because it's your choice—not because others are pressuring you.

Jokes About Your Past or Current Adherence to Guidelines

There's very little to enjoy about  being the butt of a joke; even worse is getting made fun of for having the interest of others, as well as yourself, at heart.

If you have taken COVID guidelines and restrictions seriously during hangouts or meetings with your peers and loved ones, you may be the target of some light, or not-so lighthearted banter.

CDC Guidelines for COVID-19

To help us stay safe while the coronavirus is managed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put together certain guidelines to manage our interactions. Here’s a quick reminder (as noted above, guidelines have been adapted for those who are vaccinated):

  • Wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose
  • Stay six feet away from people who don’t reside with you
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated areas
  • Wash your hands with soap and water
  • Use sanitizers where soap and water are unavailable
  • Get the COVID-19 vaccine

How to Handle Peer-Pressure in a Post-COVID World

1. Remember the bigger picture

When faced with peer pressure, it's important to remember your priorities. For many, these include contributing to a COVID-free society, and maintaining your mental health.

This will help you stay grounded and level-headed when deciding on the best course of action to take in moments where it is hardest to follow safety guidelines or you feel pressured to immediately be social again as soon as you're vaccinated.

2. Have a conversation with your peers beforehand

Whether you're meeting up for a quick lunch, hanging out in someone's backyard, or having a fun day at the park, it's always important to gently inform friends or family that will be coming along, that you intend to follow the safety guidelines.

Particularly in groups that may include both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, remind them of the importance of observing social distancing recommendations, and how these benefit in reducing the spread of the virus. This should encourage them to observe the safety recommendations.

Taking on the role of teacher with people you feel the most relaxed with may not be the easiest task, but again, achieving the bigger goal can serve as motivation. And if you are vaccinated, make it clear that you will re-enter society on your own time, in a way that is both safe and beneficial to your mental health.

3. Have empathy

Even though watching your peers take risks can add to the pressure to break guidelines, it may sometimes be important to set your feelings aside, and understand where their actions stem from.

We're living in a world that we had very little preparation for, and making such big changes may not be as easy for others. Bearing this in mind as you make the decision to stay safe can help with managing pressures on all sides.

Other times, it may be important to note that not everyone employs the guidelines the same way. Some people might work in line with directives and steer clear of masks when moving alone away from others, or when out with people they interact with closely at home. Don't assume anything of others simply because they are—or are not—wearing a mask.

A Word From Verywell

It's been a long time since things have felt normal, and once you're vaccinated and restrictions are lifted, there may be a strong impulse to dive headfirst into all the social engagements you've missed in the last year.

Despite these pressures, you may prefer to ease back in, or make sure your circle of friends and family are fully vaccinated before meeting up again. And if you're not vaccinated, you are still at risk of becoming infected.

Fighting off peer-pressure isn't easy, but it's more than necessary in these times. Having honest conversations about the importance of safety requirements as well as your own mental health can help ease some of that pressure, while getting you and your peers on the same page.

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