In these uncertain times, it is easy to feel intensely anxious and stressed. Will I lose my job? Are grocery stores safe? Will my relationships suffer? What if I get sick? Some find themselves projecting their fears far into the future and assuming the worst. Many are now afraid to leave their homes at all. That being said, what do we do when we live with someone who does not feel the same sense of urgency to stay home, or who may not be taking COVID-19 mandates seriously? What can we do when our roommates “add to the stress”?
If a roommate is irresponsibly operating like everything is still normal (going out, socializing, using public transportation, not maintaining vigilance about hygiene…), the first step may be to have a direct conversation. Explaining to roommates what their behavior means to you and how it impacts you may enable them to see your perspective. Saying things like: “It means a lot to me to have a safe, clean space. I feel anxious knowing that there is a chance the virus could find its way in here. How could we work together so that we are both comfortable during this time?” can be a friendly way to encourage team-effort. Roommates may become defensive. They may cast you as an excessive worrier, or make you feel like you are overreacting. If that is the case, the next step is to find a way to compromise. Saying something like, “I see we are on different pages in terms of how we deal with COVID-19. I think we will both need to compromise,” will show your roommate that the impetus is on everyone to sacrifice and make change, which takes the pressure off any one person. If your roommate ultimately begins to understand your point of view, you can find ways to make the situation more fun. Planning fun activities in the apartment (movie nights, spa nights, game nights, cocktail making nights, baking, having music on, etc…) will show your roommate that you are trying to make your home a more pleasant atmosphere, and will likely encourage your roommate to spend less time outside and more time in the apartment with you. If you do not feel comfortable engaging in activities with your roommate, giving each other space as best you can within the space is also an option. There is no pressure to force friendship, even in these circumstances.
If your roommate is resistant to meeting you halfway, and you see that you are unable to encourage change, it may be the case that you will only be able to manage your space, belongings, and self. Everyone copes with stress differently, and we must try to attend to our needs, regardless of what a roommate might do. Meditation, keeping a sense of order within our personal space, sticking to a routine, using your inner strength, organizing what we can and staying connected to loved ones through phone or video chat can help us regain a sense of balance and control in these uncertain times.
By Dahlia Mayerson, LMSW