Keep the Peace and Pass on the Politics this Holiday Season

4 stress-reducing strategies to help you avoid political divides that may escalate back and neck pain.

The tree is twinkling. The turkey is golden. The family has come together from near and far around a beautifully set table to celebrate another holiday season. Then it happens. Uncle George makes a not-so-subtle remark about a certain political candidate, and cousin Greg snaps back. Aunt Judy chimes in, and suddenly a blissful family gathering disintegrates into a cacophony of arguing. You clench your teeth, your spine stiffens, and stress washes over you.

happy people eating together at a table

Sometimes, politics and family don’t mix. In fact, families across the country are feeling elevated levels of stress and anxiety this year related to the election. Fifty-two percent of American adults report that the 2016 election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA). Those results don’t bode well for upcoming holiday gatherings. It’s also bad news for your spine, as stress can cause back and neck pain.

While your uncle and cousin may never see eye-to-eye, you can help keep the peace and reduce your stress with these tips.

#1Lay Some Ground Rules
If you’re hosting the family gathering, make it known how you expect people to act in your home. If you have certain family members who seem to always invite conflict, reach out to them before the event and kindly express your desire to not talk about politics at the family get-together. Be careful not to be too direct in your approach—you don’t want your family member(s) to feel targeted. Emphasize that you expect the whole family to keep politics out of the conversation.  

#2Change the Subject Before Things Erupt
Don’t wait for a full-blown argument to ensue before putting the kibosh on a brewing hot-button conversation. Have some topics in the back of your mind that highlight what your family has in common or a happy event. Get the positive energy flowing by bringing up your daughter’s recent job promotion, congratulating your grandfather on his healthy recovery from spine surgery, or changing the subject to the family’s universal love for the Green Bay Packers. Highlighting topics that the whole family can agree on will not only lighten the mood but also remind everyone that they aren’t as different as their political beliefs make it seem.

negative thinking will never make your life positive

#3Stay Off Social Media
If you think this year’s election stress is worse than, say, 12 years ago, you might be on to something. Social media has added fuel to a flaming hot political divide, giving people a platform to share their political leanings in ways not available before the dawn of Facebook and Twitter.

  • The APA’s survey of 2016 election stress found 38 percent of adults say that political and cultural discussions on social media stress them out.
  • Plus, 54% of adults who use social media believe the election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, compared to 45% of adults not on social media. 

Ask your guests to save Facebook and other social media scoping for the car ride home. And, while you’re at it, turn off the TV and radio, too. Savor the face-to-face time with your family, and don’t let media spark a heated and divisive argument.

#4When All Else Fails, Focus on You
While you can’t control every family interaction, you can maintain your own healthy perspective to keep stress at bay. If, despite your best efforts, a family battle erupts, do your best to relax, do not blame yourself, and understand that this, too, will pass. After the family leaves, take time to decompress and focus on what makes you feel good, whether that’s running a bath, saving the dishes for tomorrow, or simply taking a deep breath. These arguments are not worth the back and neck pain that can result from high stress. If you focus on taking care of yourself, you’ll achieve inner peace even during the most tumultuous election years.

Updated on: 12/21/17
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