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How to handle differing beliefs about COVID-19 that are splitting relationships

A couple gazes over Lake Washington on March 14, 2020 in Kirkland, Washington. As the coronavirus pandemic has spread, officials have advised social distancing from crowds to avoid contracting COVID-19. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

With increased stress, anxiety, and uncertainty due to the COVID-19 crisis, some relationships are hitting a wall as the stay-at-home order extends.

There are politics and strong opinions circling on the outbreak, whether you wear a mask or not, if you think the virus is real or not. All of those arguments can take a huge toll on relationships with family, with friends, and on our own mental health.

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“I ask [my clients] to try to listen to one another,” Gigi Ishaq, owner and therapist at Balanced Living Therapy in Edmonds, told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “I think we feel anxiety and tension when we don’t feel validated. … Try to understand their perspective, which is equally as valid.”

There have been plenty of other crises, wars, and big events in our country’s history, but this crisis has brought its own challenges.

“We’re just at a loss,” Ishaq said. “I don’t think we’ve ever really experienced something like this here, where we’re told that we can’t leave our homes. We have to do social isolating, social distancing, and a lot of people are not used to staying in close, confined space for so long with their partners.”

This all can create friction in relationships.

“People are angry, misunderstanding each other, and I think it’s just leading to that kind of stressful environment, for sure,” she added.

Whether we have a different belief, value, moral dilemma, or political view from our partner or friends, these just add to the tense environment we find ourselves in now.

“I just think we have to remind ourselves that … we love our families and friends, and they’re very important to us,” Ishaq said. “It’s really easy to become derailed in a relationship when you have all of this outside stress with this COVID virus right now. And we have different political beliefs, but I think we have to remember that our people are not our enemy.”

“We have to try to focus on unity and similarities in our humanity, as opposed to thinking about the differences that we have,” she added.

If you can see that your partner or friend has a lot of anxiety over a particular situation, take a step back and ask why you’re feeling the need to hold so tight to your own opinion, Ishaq suggested. She recognized that it can be hard to set aside your pride, as we all like to be right, but it’s important to respect one another and our anxieties and hear each other out.

In addition to listening your partner’s opinions and keeping an open mind, practicing self-care is also critical during this time.

“I think of trying to maintain or get back to a sense of balance or center the equilibrium,” Ishaq said. “… Your self-care [is important], whatever that looks like, so say you’re not leaving your house now for your job, but … I have to put on my boots even if I’m staying at home. Maybe I have to put my makeup on just so I feel like I’m doing something that points more toward normalcy.”

She also recommends getting outside, gardening, trying to get enough sleep, eating healthy foods, taking walks, or doing yoga. She’s given journal exercises to a lot of her clients, but it all depends on the person and their own needs.

“Whatever you’re needing to continue with your mental health care is vital,” she said. “It’s really important. And I think that that also lowers the tension.”

“We’ll all get through it and it will look different for everyone, but do your best,” she added.

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Recognize what you need and what may be causing tension. For example, if reading the news is a source of stress for you, take a step back. If you’re on social media a lot, consider taking a break or thinking twice before you post.

“Since you’re not able to get out and use the normal support system that you’ve had in place with families or friends, I’m just telling [my clients] to limit the amount of news that they’re watching if it’s triggering and as far as activity on Facebook, I encourage people constantly to be mindful,” Ishaq said. “I encourage myself as well, to be mindful of what I’m sharing and avoid something that I know could be potentially harmful or triggering to someone else.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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