Healthy Relationships

Dealing with Peer Pressure as an Adult

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Peer pressure is something we most often associate with school-aged kids. Whether it’s feeling pressured to drink a beer or join the football team, it’s easy to spot in young people. Peer pressure between adults, on the other hand, tends to be more insidious.

“Just like kids, adults might be pressured to have a drink, engage in an unhealthy behavior or purchase a product they don’t need,” says Philip J. Lanzisera, Ph.D., a psychologist at Henry Ford Health System. “The issue is the same: Is this person giving me permission to do something I want to do that conflicts with my goals and values?”

While succumbing to peer pressure can have obvious physical consequences – a diabetic who is coerced into a second helping of dessert or an alcoholic who is shamed into having a drink, for example – it can also wreak havoc on your emotional health. Give in, and you might feel guilty or disappointed in yourself. Stick to your guns and you’ll probably feel like you don’t fit in or that you may have offended someone.

Worries about being accepted plague all age groups. Here are five tips to divert the pressure and keep the peace:

  1. Know yourself. To effectively escape peer pressure, it’s important to have a clear view of your goals and values. That way, when you’re faced with a decision that challenges them, you can check in and better determine whether the choice you’re making feels right to you.
  1. Spend time with people who lift you up – not those who bring you down. Surround yourself with people you can count on to support you in your goals and who help you become your best self. “The more time you spend with people who share your goals and values, the less likely you are to experience pressure,” Dr. Lanzisera explains. Better yet, align yourself with people you admire and respect, particularly those who possess a lot of self-discipline. Not only will they help you maintain your own healthy habits, they may help you feel good about yourself, too.
  1. Keep your distance from people who pressure you. It’s not uncommon to encounter pushback from peers when you decide to make a positive life change, such as quitting smoking, losing weight or starting an exercise program. Instead of feeling guilt or shame, vow to spend less time with people who routinely pressure you.
  1. Plan ahead. Anticipate when you’re likely to experience pressure and be prepared for it, Dr. Lanzisera says. Determine how you’ll stand up for yourself. You can even rehearse a script for what you might say or come up with a broken-record statement you can repeat.
  1. Come up with an exit strategy. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to exit the situation entirely. If you start to feel pressured by a friend or co-worker, tell the person someone needs you at home, you have an important meeting to attend or simply say, “I have to go.” The key is to remove yourself from the situation – and the pressure – so you can preserve your health.

While it’s important to surround yourself with like-minded folks, there will be times you have to interact with people who have different values, of course. “Instead of viewing these people as evil or bad, remind yourself of your own values and goals and plan how you’re going to stick to them,” Dr. Lanzisera says.

Feeling pressure from friends and family? Not sure what you really want for yourself or your family? It may help to talk to a professional. To find a doctor or mental health professional at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Philip J. Lanzisera is a pyschologist who specializes in treating patients with anxiety and depression, trauma-related disorders and pain-related disorders. He sees patients at Henry Ford locations in Detroit, Dearborn, Troy and Novi.

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