Over the last year, the pandemic has meant our time with loved ones has reduced significantly and for many increased our feelings of loneliness and isolation. We are by nature social creatures and thrive well in collaborative groups, enjoying activities together.

As lockdown restrictions start to lift, you may be feeling a range of emotions from excitement to get back out there, to anxiousness about the ‘new normal’.

When we think about peer pressure, we might think about our adolescence but adults experience peer pressure, too. It may not be as direct or intentional as the kind of peer pressure teenagers experience, but peer pressure in adulthood can be every bit as harmful, whilst also sometimes being helpful.

With life slowly resuming it can be tempting to try to return to ‘normal’ life as much as possible. As we all have different perceptions of risk it’s important that we keep communicating with each other, stay emotionally connected whilst not putting each other under pressure to do things we feel uncomfortable with. Everyone is dealing with the situation in their own way and we may not know what each persons’ personal risk factors are.

If you are feeling under pressure to do things you really don’t want to do here are some ways to help navigate the challenge…

How negative peer pressure affects your mental health

Good mental health requires the ability to make decisions for yourself based in part on the values you've developed through thinking independently, often with some influence from family, friends, and role models. When you behave in ways that contradict your core values, your self-esteem suffers, and you may lose feelings of autonomy and control over your life. This can easily lead to other poor choices that further negatively affect your physical and mental health.

Negative peer pressure can hold you back from realising your true potential, and resisting it is crucial for improving your self-esteem and enjoying life on your terms. There are a number of ways to help yourself deal with adult peer pressure:

How to navigate negative peer pressure

Learn the power of the pause, saying no would be the ideal, but if you never really have, it can be a steep learning curve.  The first step can be to create the space to think and find that no, by becoming a ‘pause person’.

This means asking for time to think when you are asked to do something. Given that those who pressure others often want quick answers, they might also move on to bother someone else and learn to leave you alone.

Be true to your own values and befriend yourself. Reflect on your inherent core values and think about what you want for yourself in the future based on them. Journaling and writing your thoughts down is a great way to identify what you want for your life.

Be assertive. If you can, make eye contact with your peers, and use phrases that start with "I," such as "I think" or "I want."

Have a wide range of friends. Be open-minded to enjoying time with people from all different ages and backgrounds. This helps widen our frame of reference and increases confidence.

Learn from your mistakes. The best way to avoid repeating a mistake is to learn from it. If you have been led astray due to peer pressure, consider what you might have done differently, and put it into practice next time. Use the art of self-reflection as a form of self-care.

Be mindful. What feels right to you? That's probably the direction you want to head. Stay mindful of your own thoughts and attitudes and decide if they contradict your core values.

Don't mind your critics. If you're acting in a way that's true to yourself, never mind the critics. Someone who criticises you may be mired in their own insecurities, and that's not your problem to solve.

Seek people who affirm your values. If you've outgrown certain relationships, let them go and try to surround yourself with people who appreciate your ideas, lifestyle and choices without judging them. This may be an ideal time to explore different ways of living life. When there are huge amounts of uncertainty to contend with there is also an opportunity to create and innovate.

And finally

Somewhere along the line you may have learned that your wants and needs don’t count. This can come from early life experiences where you may not have received the unconditional love and safety a young person needs to begin to develop their own identity. You may have learned you have to earn attention and love, and now do that as adult by trying to please others too much.  A therapist or a coach may provide an invaluable safe environment and sounding board for recognising and healing old ways of being that no longer serve you. Find out more about CABA’s emotional support.

Written by Kirsty Lilley, CABA’s Mental health specialist 

CABA provides free lifelong support to past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, ICAEW staff, and their close family members. 

If you’re worried about the impact of the pandemic on you and your family, find out how CABA can support you.