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Thanksgiving with a Side of Politics (How to Survive the Holidays Post-Election)

November 22, 2020

Written by Jennifer Sheriff, Intern/Practicum Student 

Autumn is a beautiful season with the amazing colors, cooler temperatures, sweaters and jeans, with Thanksgiving closing the deal before the Christmas trees, Kinaras, and Menorahs come out. Some of us have a spring in our step after the election, and some of us have a heavy heart. We try to be grateful for what we have and who is in our lives, and yet, sometimes we do not look forward to the one event on our calendar that is supposed to bring loved ones together as well as our most thankful thoughts.

You are not alone if you dread having turkey with a side of politics. Add alcohol (not necessarily your use) and a mask and the anxiety bubbles up even more. There are ways in which you can effectively enjoy Thanksgiving with its turkey-induced tryptophan rather than a stressful dose of cortisol.

Before we get political, however, it is important to mention that this year is different from any other because of Covid-19. The Center for Disease Control has recommendations if you are hosting or attending an in-person Thanksgiving event.

Whether you are celebrating Thanksgiving in person or online with a platform like Zoom, you may be dreading the political conversation that often occurs. Saturday Night Live had an appropriate segment after the 2016 election that seems relevant today. During a contentious dinner conversation about politics, the only thing that everyone can agree on is how great Adele is. If you haven’t seen it, or would like to watch again, you can watch here:

Although Adele may have offered a solution in sketch comedy, the real situations we face are not as simple to solve. Whether in-person or on Zoom, here are some tips on how to handle Thanksgiving in a year that embodies stress.

Tip 1: Prepare Yourself

If you know with certainty that family members or friends have strong views that are different from your own, it might be a good idea to have strategies at the ready.

  • Try some mindfulness techniques such as breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you inhale count to four and as you exhale count to eight.
  • Have some neutral topics ready to casually change the subject. Netflix series (Cobra Kai, The Vow, Tiger King), favorite movies, football, or places we would like to travel to and why.
  • Download a family game app on your phone. Charades, Heads Up, Family Feud (the irony is not lost on me), and Akinator are fun games a group can play together.

Tip 2: Pick your Battles

When someone brings up a hot topic, decide whether or not you engage in the conversation. Think about your intention. Is it to change someone’s mind, to feel vindicated, or is it to educate them?

  • In our current partisan climate, it is unlikely that you will change the minds of others. People are set in their views and, for now, are not always interested in hearing opposing opinions.
  • If you feel strongly about it and are well-versed on the subject, calmly state your facts. If you do not think you can discuss calmly, or if you disagree but do not know enough factual information to prove your point, you might want to sit out on the discussion. The last thing you want is to support the opposing opinion by not having data to back up your view. You do not want your credibility to dissipate.

Tip 3: Take a Break

  • If there is a dog to walk, let that be your escape. No dog? Walking before and/or after dinner will help you in two ways: It gives you a break from combative conversation and is good for your mental health. Mindfulness trick: Pay attention to the sounds and smells in the air, feeling the warm sun or cool breeze on your face, the crunch of leaves on the ground, and focus on your breath.
  • Excuse yourself. Besides taking a walk, you can refill your beverage, help in the kitchen, or reach out to a friend. A quick text exchange may help reset your focus on what you are thankful for.

Tip 4: Be Respectful

  • If you decide to jump into the discourse, use “I” rather than “you” statements. How do each of these statements make you feel?

“You can’t seem to understand that my candidate is trying to help people”
“I believe that my candidate is genuinely trying to help people.”

My guess is that the “you” statement left you feeling defensive. “I” statements offer a way to share your opinion without pushing it onto the other person, or posing blame and judgement.

  • If someone makes a good point, let them know. A statement like, “While I don’t agree with a lot of what you are saying, I understand your take on this.” A touch of civility goes a long way.
  • Agree to disagree. This can be done with a simple statement. “Looks like we both see this differently. I hope we can agree to disagree and move forward.”

Hopefully these tips are helpful for Thanksgiving 2020 and into this holiday season. Relationships with family and friends can be complicated. This year adds another layer of complexity. Take a deep breath, and try to focus on the things you can be thankful for. And it might not hurt to have Adele at the ready.

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Jennfier Sheriff representing how our Hinsdale therapists can help you with a variety of life issues.

Written by Jennifer Sheriff, Intern Therapist

Jennifer is our masters-level intern. She specializes in working with adults with mood disorders or who are going through life transitions.

Click here for more information about working with Jennifer.


Thanksgiving with a side of politics pinterest graphic representing how our Hinsdale therapists can help you through the holidays.


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