By Elaine Ducharme, PhD, ABPP (Clinical Psychologist)
The holidays have always been a time of emotion and increased stress. People assume everyone else has a perfect family or is having the perfect meal. Loved ones come together. Other loved ones are missed.
This year, Thanksgiving is arriving on the heels of an extraordinarily controversial presidential election. Rarely have we seen this level of anxiety and stress during an election cycle. The country became more polarized than ever. Friendships and romantic relationships were taxed and some even severed. And now, these same friends and families are wondering how they are ever going to have civil conversations again let alone sit down and share Thanksgiving together.
Many families will share the holiday this year with at least one person with a different political view. It is easy to get caught up in our differences. It is important to recognize that as families and friends, we share many things as well. Here are suggestions for families and friends to navigate these holidays.
In some cases, it may be better to avoid political conversation. Consider telling guests ahead of time that political opinions will be checked at the door or outside of the dining area. Then talk about anything else — food, kids, plans for the holidays, etc. Anyone that brings up a controversial topic can be gently reminded of the policy.
If this policy doesn’t work for you, or if issues related to the election are raised anyway, remember the importance of listening. You do not have to respond. All of us like to feel we are heard. We don’t have to agree. But acknowledging feelings can go a long way. This sets a great example for the younger guests at your table.
Focus on areas of agreement if you can. Do you share similar concerns about your family, health care or your job?
Mitch Albom, a journalist and -best-selling author, noted in the Detroit Free Press, that we need to remember that many things in the news that were and continue to be reported as near facts proved to be massively incorrect. So remind yourself and each other that maybe we need to wait and see. Then comment. But not predict.
Know when to walk away from the conversation. If you find yourself getting upset by the conversation, take a personal time out, head for the kitchen and start to clean up, go entertain the kids, or even take a trip to the bathroom.
Suggest ideas to work together for the good of your community.
Remember: These are your friends and family. You can have different opinions and still love one another.
And finally, reflect on the fact that we are better together and as Americans we have a great deal to be thankful for. Additional information on managing anxiety and stress can be found at APA’s Help Center.
Elaine Ducharme, PhD, ABPP has specialized in the treatment of trauma and abuse for over 30 years. She is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Glastonbury, Connecticut and is an adjunct professor at the University of Hartford. Dr. Ducharme is the author of Must I Turn the Other Cheek, a book about the effects of premature forgiveness on recovery from sexual abuse and Assessment and Treatment of Dissociative Identity Disorder. She has lectured locally and nationally, and is a frequent guest on both radio and television. Her weekly blog on WRCH, where she is a monthly guest on their morning FM radio show, provides information on a variety of mental health issues. As Public Education Coordinator for the Connecticut Psychological Association she is a frequent contributor to local and national magazine and newspaper articles. Dr. Ducharme is often called upon to provide expert testimony to the courts on issues related to sexual trauma.