How to respond to heightened emotions when talking about the COVID-19 vaccine
By Diana Tikasz, Resilience Integration Specialist at Hamilton Health Sciences
Opinions about the COVID-19 vaccine have become polarized, in part because of the accumulated stress of the pandemic, as well as other personal reasons people may be struggling with. It’s common to experience strong emotions as a result of conversations about the vaccine.
Emotions are contagious.
When someone says or does something you may not agree with, negative feelings may arise automatically. While we can’t control negative thoughts that pop in our heads, we can notice them and make a commitment to not be consumed by them. They will only serve to agitate us and elevate our stress hormones.
The good news is that calm and positive emotions are as contagious as angry and negative ones, so as we calm ourselves, the other person can “catch” our calm.
Check in with yourself
It’s important to take care of yourself first. If you are about to enter into a potentially difficult conversation about vaccines, notice how you feel. You may wish to ask yourself whether you are in the green, yellow, orange or red zone of what is known as the Mental Health Continuum to determine what’s next.
If you are in the green zone, proceed with the interaction.
If you are in the yellow zone, proceed with caution, perhaps taking a few moments to:
- breathe deeply and center yourself.
- ground yourself by feeling your feet on the floor or being supported by the chair you are sitting in, noticing all the physical points of contact as you connect with the floor or chair.
- remind yourself that all people are struggling in differing degrees.
If you are in the orange or red zone, remove yourself from the situation. Use a neutral pausing statement such as “I need to step out for a moment. I’ll be right back” or a boundary setting statement such as “I am not going to discuss this right now.” Take some time to calm yourself as you know best before deciding if you want to engage in this conversation.
Fear is often at the root
We can only show compassion and curiosity when we remain calm and are not stuck in judgement. Remember to keep monitoring your own reaction level and tending to yourself as you continue the conversation. You may end the conversation if at any time it feels it is getting confrontational.
When speaking with a person who passionately expresses another point of view, remember that their upset may be directed at you, but it is not about you. Remember that fear is most often at the root of strong opinions and emotions and perhaps recognize the extreme fear the other person may be feeling.
Answer questions to the best of your ability and direct them to reputable sources. If the person would like more information, it might be helpful to provide a list of resources such as COVID Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions resource from Hamilton Public Health.
Set a boundary. If the conversation gets too overwhelming or steers away from the reason you connected in the first place, use phrases such as:
“I see this issue is very important to you, however we really need to focus on [state original purpose of conversation if it wasn’t meant to be about vaccines – discussing mom’s health, finding our son’s childcare, etc.]. Let’s move on to talking about that.”
Following the difficult conversation, it can be very helpful to discuss and get support from someone you trust. This can be a crucial step to alleviate stress, decrease a sense of isolation or self-judgement that may arise, and help us move on from the encounter.