- Current political tensions could make some conversations harder than usual at your next holiday gathering.
- Feeling angry or anxious about a dialogue can affect you both mentally and physically.
- Whether you’re a guest or hosting an event, having a plan in place can help you and others avoid potential friction and keep holiday spirits high.
While the idea of all things jolly during the holidays is comforting, the reality of getting together with friends and family can sometimes include figuring out how to navigate less-joyful topics of conversation.
With the current divisive political climate, this season may be particularly packed with tense talk at your next gathering — potentially putting a damper on your holiday celebration.
“The problem, especially when we talk about politics, is that people take it so personally. They make part of their identity the political ideology or the person. So if you so strongly identify with the president of the United States, and someone says something bad about him, then you feel like you’re being attacked personally,” Patrick Wanis, PhD, a human behavior expert, told Healthline.
“If you identify with a particular political ideology and someone attacks that, then you feel like you’re being attacked personally,” he added.
However, for some people, spirited talks are healthy if they involve a dialogue where both people are genuinely interested in understanding the other’s position rather than trying to get them to buy into theirs, said Karen Ruskin, PsyD, a relationship and human behavior expert in Gilbert, Arizona.
“If you’re trying to sell your perspective, then that creates disharmony and discomfort and friction and misunderstanding and not feeling like your voice is heard,” Dr. Ruskin told Healthline.
She explained that the political debate between family and friends is not just about politics.
“It becomes about feeling not understood and not heard and when we as humans don’t feel understood and heard, especially by the people we care about most… it hurts us. That’s why talking about something that can be such [a] difference of opinion can be harmful for the relationship,” Ruskin said.
However, the following tips may be able to help you navigate difficult conversations that crop up at your next holiday gathering:
Jacob Z. Goldsmith, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, said that while it takes practice, setting boundaries is the best way to navigate difficult conversations.
“People think of boundaries as inherently problematic, as if the healthiest relationships would be ones with no boundaries. Healthy relationships definitely involve boundary setting. If someone is unwilling to respect your boundaries, it’s a really good sign that that’s not a healthy relationship,” Dr. Goldsmith told Healthline.
He advised people think of setting boundaries in terms of communicating with and managing people.
“Ideally, we want to communicate with people. We want to say, ‘I love you and we need to stop talking about this right now’ or ‘I’m happy to have a conversation about this, not at the dinner table in front of everyone else. Let’s have a cup of coffee tomorrow and hash this out,’” Goldsmith said.
Telling those in the discussion that you’re overwhelmed and need to take a time out is another communication approach he recommended.
If communicating doesn’t work, going into management mode is needed, which involves leaving the table during a heated discussion or not attending a family gathering to avoid a person.
“I’ll acknowledge that in some families that’s necessary, if you have a really toxic family member. But the first choice is to openly communicate,” said Goldsmith.
Dr. Wanis said the biggest sign that boundaries have been crossed is when personal attacks are made.
“It’s fine if people debate passionately about something they believe in. The problem isn’t when it’s conflict, it’s the type of conflict and it’s when conflict becomes a personal attack,” he said.
Other signs that a conversation should end include:
- body shaking
- feeling anxious
- feeling angry
- feeling bitter
- an inability to express yourself
- loss of control
- violent thoughts
If setting boundaries is difficult around a person who intentionally pushes your buttons, Wanis said recognizing the reason why the person aims to argue with you can be helpful.
He explained the following are usually the main reasons why:
- It’s the only way they believe they can connect with you.
- They like to have power over you.
- They’re a bully.
- Convincing you to agree with them validates their beliefs.
Once you understand their motivation, Wanis said it can be easier to not react to their provocations.
“It’s learning to detach yourself from an outcome. If you want this person to approve or validate [you] then they have control over you,” he said.
“You hear the words and you don’t react because you don’t have to prove anything,” he continued. “The moment you believe you have to prove something or that you have to convince someone of something is when you’re going to get yourself in trouble.”
Wanis pointed out that another strategy is to ask questions.
“Say, ‘Why do you like President Trump so much?’ or ‘Why do you not like President Trump so much?’ And if you are just willing to listen, not only will you learn something, but you might learn something about the person and might get a greater insight into their core values, and you might realize they are probably not that different than you,” he said.
If you need to change the subject, he advised saying something along the lines of, “If President Trump bothers you so much, don’t think about him.” And then ask the person to tell you about what they’re most passionate about in life to change the subject.
When you’re the host, so much goes into making sure your guests feel comfortable and welcome. If you anticipate heated discussions at your party, here are a few ways to set the tone:
Be direct on your invite
Include a simple statement on the invitation, such as, “To ensure a fun time is had by all, please respect that there will be no political discussions.”
If you want to allow the discussion, Wanis says to set the ground rules and tell your guests upfront, “‘I’m happy for you all to be at my table, and to discuss and debate, but the moment there is a personal attack on someone, I will ask you to leave,’” he said.
Make it clear at the door
“If it’s a dynamic going on within the family or with friends, then there is humor and seriousness to this. Put a sign on your front door that says, ‘Leave the attitude at home,’” Ruskin said.
Talk to the instigator
If you know there’s someone who tends to be really provocative, talk to them ahead of time or pull that person aside when they arrive and tell them to leave the politics, religion, and other hot topics aside.
“It’s harder when there is a power dynamic, so if you’re a young adult and hosting and it’s your parent or grandparent or aunt or uncle, you may not feel comfortable pulling that person aside and saying, ‘Hey, you tend to antagonize people when you talk about politics,’ so then you need to tell someone else to [speak with them]. If it’s a grandparent, ask a parent to talk to them,” Goldsmith said.
If you want to avoid sitting around and talking all night, Ruskin said it’s a good idea to plan activities or games throughout the night.
“Pace the games, too. Maybe plan a game before the meal to set the tone, and after the meal to [break up dinner conversations],” she said.
If you’re the one bringing up a difficult topic, be prepared
If there’s a topic you want to discuss with family and friends over the holidays, Goldsmith said to prepare your thoughts and know when it’s time to stop talking.
“Before the holidays, think about what your [goal is], because if you want to have a difficult conversation you can’t just jump into it particularly after everyone has had two or three drinks in the middle of Christmas dinner. It’s going to feel like a gotcha moment and the alcohol doesn’t help,” he said.
Goldsmith suggests asking yourself how you want to feel at the end of the talk. Avoid going into the talk with the goal of convincing people to think or believe a certain way.
“When you think about it that way, you are able to take radical responsibility for your own behavior and own experience. Doing that allows you to insert a pause where you’re not just impulsively or reactively jumping in, but rather moving in a mindful and committed way,” he said.
Once you share your thoughts, be prepared to listen and be empathic of what other people are saying — even if you don’t agree.
“The hallmark of really deep conversation is empathic listening, which doesn’t mean you have to agree, but that you have to step into the other person’s shoes long enough to understand how and why they feel what they feel,” Goldsmith said.
When we experience tension, we experience tension emotionally and physiologically because they’re connected, Ruskin explained.
“We don’t compartmentalize our emotions and our brains from our body,” she said.
For instance, if you’re feeling angry or anxious about a dialogue, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode.
“Your heart rate will go up and if your heart starts to pound, the brain thinks, ‘Alert. Something is wrong,’ because the brain doesn’t know the distinct difference between why the heart rate [is increasing], it just thinks there’s a problem, and now the brain isn’t as calm as it was because you’re not getting as much oxygen to the brain [when] you’re feeling tense,” Ruskin said.
Goldsmith agreed, noting that research shows being under enormous amounts of stress has both physical and mental side effects.
However, he said, there’s a balance because being able to express yourself with loved ones has mental health benefits, too.
“Many people don’t feel mentally healthy when they are holding inside a lot of things. It’s important for a lot of people to feel close to their family and the holidays are a time for a lot of people to get their one shot at getting a break being away from work and relaxing for a little while, so to have that taken away if there is tension can feel really lousy,” he said.
“In the short term, it’s more stressful to talk about this stuff, but in the long term it can feel way better to develop relationships in which you can actually talk about these things,” Goldsmith said.
Cathy Cassata is a freelance writer who specializes in stories around health, mental health, and human behavior. She has a knack for writing with emotion and connecting with readers in an insightful and engaging way. Read more of her work here.
Trump Says FDA Is Playing Politics With COVID-19 Vaccine – NPR
President Trump on Wednesday decried reported health agency efforts to issue stricter guidelines for evaluating a vaccine against COVID-19, accusing the Food and Drug Administration of playing politics.
Trump was apparently reacting to a Tuesday report in the New York Times that said the agency will soon move to tighten requirements for emergency authorization of any coronavirus vaccine to better ensure its safety and effectiveness.
“That has to be approved by the White House. We may or may not approve it. That sounds like a political move,” Trump said during a press briefing at the White House.
“I think that was a political move more than anything else,” he said.
The timing of a vaccine has been an issue of contention between the president and health experts.
Trump has directly contradicted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield on an estimate for widespread release of a vaccine, saying that such distribution of a vaccine would happen before the end of the year. Trump has also said that “every American” will have access to a vaccine by April.
Redfield has testified to Congress that a vaccine would likely not be widely available until next spring or summer.
Multiple potential vaccines are undergoing testing. Top health officials vowed in a hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday that a COVID-19 vaccine would not be approved until it met “vigorous expectations” for safety and effectiveness.
Good Vaccine Progress, Bad Politics – The Wall Street Journal
Johnson & Johnson
announced Wednesday that its vaccine candidate for Covid-19 will enter Phase 3 trials, the fourth to do so. The speed of vaccine development is remarkable, and credit goes to scientific advances and some smart government decisions.
The shame is that this good news has been swamped by the politicization of vaccines, like everything else about Covid-19. Democrats say the Trump Administration is compromising safety by rushing out a vaccine before the election, while Mr. Trump is playing into their hands by overpromising and trolling regulators. “Big news. Numerous great companies are seeing fantastic results. @FDA must move quickly!” he tweeted Wednesday.
There’s no evidence the Food and Drug Administration or vaccine makers are cutting corners in clinical trials, and they have no incentive to do so. But by sowing distrust in the process, politicians may make it harder to convince Americans to get inoculated once a vaccine proves to be safe and effective.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield last week wisely tamped down hope that a vaccine could be available next month.
has said it could seek regulatory approval for its vaccine as soon as October if early data from its Phase 3 trial are strong.
But initial doses would likely be reserved for health-care workers, nursing-home residents and high-risk individuals. The FDA is also planning to issue guidance this week that manufacturers should track participants in Phase 3 trials for at least two months after their second shot before seeking emergency authorization. This makes it unlikely that a vaccine would be approved before Election Day.
Phase 3 trials test for efficacy and safety in some 30,000 people and are crucial because vaccines must generate antibodies that prevent illness in the real world. Rare side effects can also appear in larger populations, though these usually occur within 40 or so days of inoculation.
Politics aside, the Covid vaccine project looks so far like a private-public success story. Vaccines typically take a decade to develop, and the Covid-19 genome was deciphered only nine months ago. Companies are benefiting from years of investment in vaccine platforms for other diseases and advances in genetic sequencing. The FDA has helped by providing regular, nearly real time, feedback on their protocols and data analysis.
But manufacturers and the FDA aren’t sacrificing safety for speed. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn has promised to allow an outside panel of experts to review trial results. While companies are understandably reluctant to disclose their protocols for competitive reasons, Pfizer, Moderna and
have done so—which still hasn’t pleased the
carpers who fear Mr. Trump might get some credit if a vaccine is approved before the election.
AstraZeneca this month halted its trial enrollment when a healthy 37-year-old volunteer developed transverse myelitis, a rare disease that causes spinal inflammation. The patient is recovering and the company has resumed enrollment in the U.K. after determining the disorder was not likely caused by the vaccine.
Other side effects may occur as trials continue. An estimated 10 individuals per million who received the swine flu vaccine in 1976 developed Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which the immune system attacks nerves. But about 80 to 160 new Guillain-Barré cases occur each week in the U.S., and the disorder has been linked to viruses including the flu.
If severe reactions emerge in trials, the public will have to keep perspective. Covid has also been found to cause long-term damage in previously healthy individuals, and regulators will have to weigh the overall public-health risks and benefits.
The good news is that Health and Human Services has invested in a portfolio of six vaccine candidates, lest some fail or prove less effective. It has also signed contracts with companies to produce hundreds of millions of doses in advance so they can be rolled out quickly upon FDA approval. This is a financial risk well worth taking.
The Administration is coordinating with
retail pharmacies and others to distribute vaccines. If one or more vaccines are approved this year, they could be widely available to most Americans in the spring. If that happens, the credit will go to drug-company innovation combined with government cash and coordination.
Wonder Land: Today we call Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork back from 1987 as witness to what has happened to American politics, and why we’re going to war over Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement. Image: AP/AFP via Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly
Campaigniacs podcast- Episode 2: Women in Sask. politics – Regina Leader-Post
Saskatchewan voters will go to the polls on Oct. 26 to choose a provincial government. Join the Campaigniacs — a team of journalists from the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix — in a podcast series that will follow along with the election campaign.
This week, the team is joined by CBC Saskatchewan’s Morning Edition host Stefani Langenegger to discuss the role federal politics are playing in the provincial election. Also in this episode, Lindsay Brumwell from Equal Voice and retiring NDP MLA Danielle Chartier on how to get more women involved in provincial politics. Listen to Campaigniacs on the Leader-Post and StarPhoenix websites or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify,Google Podcasts and Stitcher.
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