The holiday season should be a time to reconnect with friends and family, forge stronger personal relationships and generally have a good time. But being in the same room with certain relatives or acquaintances can be anything but soothing. Thanks to the extremely polarized political climate we’re current mired in, it often seems like every discussion turns into an argument, and too many people harbor bad feelings as a result.
This year, remember that your holiday dinner doesn’t have to turn into a fight. Instead, it can be an opportunity to get beyond politics and opinions, and strengthen the bonds that have always been there. In the end, it’s also the best thing for your mental health. So, the next time a relative or acquaintance tries to bait you into an argument, keep the following in mind.
Be Bigger Than Your Opinions
It may be tempting to dismiss someone entirely because of their stance on an issue, especially when ignoring them is usually as easy as clicking ‘unfollow.’ But we are individuals, and our personalities go way beyond the political platform we choose to support.
As they say, blood is thicker than water. Your grandparent or aunt has been a part of your life for as long as you can remember, and hopefully that relationship will continue long after the latest topic of the day has stagnated. True friendships are likewise forged over time, and new ones take even more effort to solidify.
Even if the people in your life don’t share a similar world view, chances are, they still love you and respect you. Offer them that same level of respect, and treat them as more than just a political punching bag.
Be Aware of Others’ Anxiety
It can be easy to forget, but remember that you may not be the only person who experiences anxiety at family gatherings. That relative who appears to be instigating a fight may just be as squeamish as you are.
Keep in mind that it’s not necessary to discuss controversial subjects at holiday get-togethers. In fact, there are plenty of pleasant things to talk about. Stick to friendly, upbeat topics, and your friends and relatives will be grateful for the lack of tension and anxiety.
Participate in Traditions
Although they may or may not be important to you, the traditions we establish at the holidays can mean a lot to friends and family—from eating at a certain place and time to taking turns reading aloud from a religious (or secular) text or even dressing a certain way. Before you refuse to participate, think about how it might affect others. Traditions help reinforce family bonds, whether you notice them or not.
At the end of the day, if you’re attending a holiday get-together, you’re already more fortunate than the people who don’t have a place to go. Every face at the table represents years of interaction, love and support, something many people will be lacking this holiday season. Try to be mindful that your loved ones are people who want to be loved, valued and respected. Odds are, they think the same of you.
If the thought of that holiday dinner still makes you anxious, think about these points. Remember that you are more than your opinions, and that you share a mutual respect with your friends and family.
Still not sure? Then you might want to pass on that second cup of eggnog.
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street Columbus, OH 43206 or by phone at 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.