Picture this, you might not even have to, it might have already happened many times. Imagine you are speaking with a colleague about the current state of the world and our country’s response, and discover major differing beliefs and opinions around COVID precautions.
You disagree with them. You notice feelings of annoyance, shock or frustration. How could they be so limited in their view? That awkward moment. The shock horror realising you’ve got very different beliefs regarding public health… when you thought they were like you.
What is it about that moment that makes us feel so unnerved?
We all have our own bias and methods of coping when confronted with adversity, like a pandemic. The data suggests that those who fear COVID, and experience anxiety are more likely to have interpersonal conflict regarding the topic. Those who are concerned about COVID see a greater risk than others around them and can feel marginalised by the perceived complacency of others. The health belief model can explain this in theory. Put simply, the greater our perceived risk and susceptibility, the more we engage in health behaviours (like mask wearing and washing hands). Likewise, the higher the perceived benefits of engaging in a health behaviour (I.e. the belief that getting vaccinated can lead to more freedom) the more an individual will comply.
In contrast, if the health behaviour is seen to be un-workable a person will be less likely to engage. A call to action by the government generally will not be entirely effective for people who perceive a lockdown to have a greater cost compared to the potential risk of a spread of COVID. Whereas those who see the spread of COVID as a bigger risk than the consequences of a lockdown, are more likely to comply and follow directives.
So, what happens when two people with different needs are communicating about such a sore point?
We disagree, feel invalidated and we experience feelings that can be hard to process. The other person cannot see the risk we do, they cannot experience the same fear (theoretically, a small business owner doesn’t want a lockdown due to financial ruin, whereas an immunocompromised person might fear catching COVID and therefore complies to a lockdown).
Importantly, we are unlikely to change anybody’s beliefs (that would require an adjustment of risk vs benefit). We can however be self-compassionate, normalise the frustration and set a healthy boundry around this topic. When we recognise that we have unmet need in this moment (feeling validated, heard and supported) we can self soothe to cope. This is likely going to be more helpful than attempting to radically change the beliefs of others.
Servidio, R., Bartolo, M. G., Palermiti, A. L., & Costabile, A. (2021). Fear of COVID-19, depression, anxiety, and their association with Internet addiction disorder in a sample of Italian students. Journal of Affective Disorders Reports, 4, 100097.
Murphy, K., Williamson, H., Sargeant, E., & McCarthy, M. (2020). Why people comply with COVID-19 social distancing restrictions: Self-interest or duty?. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 53(4), 477-496.