College Compass | Confronting COVID-19 when you’re nonconfrontational

College Compass is a bi-weekly blog that aims to help students navigate the highs and lows of college life.


By Ana Altchek, Staff Writer

I’ve never been one to shy away from confrontation — in fact, I view it as a rather cathartic practice and necessary aspect of life. But when it comes to COVID-19, even I’ll admit that it can feel uncomfortable to speak up when someone or something crosses my boundaries.

Even though it shouldn’t be uncomfortable, it is. When someone who you haven’t seen in months runs up and hugs you, it’s admittedly awkward to dodge them. When a friend of a friend reaches their hand out to shake yours, it feels weird to leave them hanging. And more importantly, when your designated pod constantly violates general guidelines, it can be a major source of tension to bring this up.

But even if citing COVID-19 restrictions kills the mood, getting COVID-19 could kill you. So here’s some tips that will help even the most nonconfrontational people feel more comfortable discussing their COVID-19 concerns.

Set your guidelines

Before you have any conversations with someone else, make sure you set your own guidelines. While you shouldn’t have to defend why you want to take certain precautions, you should at least know which ones you plan on following. By setting your own boundaries in advance, you’ll have a script ready and you’ll feel less inclined to bend the rules when you’re having a discussion with others.

Stick to your boundaries

The annoying part of COVID-19 guidelines is they only work if you’re following them 100% of the time. If you’re going to social distance, do the full 6 feet. And if you’re going to wear a mask when you see other people, make sure it covers your nose and you’re keeping it on the whole time. Plus, the more wishy-washy you are, the less people will take you seriously. If you make your boundaries clear and you stick to them, people will be less likely to challenge you.

Don’t avoid it

The more you avoid having a conversation with others, the more tension will build around the issue. When I first moved back to Pittsburgh, COVID-19 was somewhat a taboo topic in my household and made having a conversation way more difficult to initiate. At the end of the day, COVID-19 is a major part of all our lives at this point, and there’s no reason to pretend it’s not. The sooner you deal with this issue, the less discomfort you’ll feel.

Make it casual

It can definitely feel difficult to make something casual if it’s been a source of anxiety for you. But instead of viewing your COVID-19 concerns as a deal breaker in your friendships, look at it more as a social norm. Even if the people you surround yourself with aren’t careful about COVID-19, most people on Forbes Avenue have masks on. So when you bring up a concern, remember that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most media outlets and higher education institutions are preaching the same message. It shouldn’t be an argument — it’s more a personal preference that anyone should understand without explanation.

Practice with your family

If you feel really uncomfortable speaking up, there’s no harm in practicing in front of family or even in front of a mirror. Saying the words out loud may actually help with calming down your nerves about the entire situation. When I first moved back, I assumed it would be really awkward to bring up concerns to others. But after it played out, I realized how normal the conversation was. Even if it sounds scary in theory, when you actually say it out loud, it doesn’t sound abnormal or controversial at all.

In a time of constant paranoia and fear, discomfort doesn’t need to join the list of negative emotions. Instead of panicking in the moment and then feeling guilty about your silence, follow these steps for a more peaceful and comfortable fall semester.