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Holidays with family can be stressful regardless of what’s going on in the world. But in an election year (um, especially this election year), the stress can be magnified. We checked in with Dr. William M. Lopez, CPE, senior medical director for behavioral health at Cigna Healthcare, for tips on how to avoid a mid-dinner freak-out.

thanksgiving politics hero

Put Your Own Politics Aside (Just for One Day)
Chances are, at least one family member (ahem, Uncle Bob) has some ridiculous ideas about how this country should be run. But you’re not going to change his opinion in one day—or maybe ever. “Do your best to focus on what’s good about our country and what you have to be thankful for in your own life,” says Dr. Lopez. And no sneaking upstairs to vent on Facebook, either. “Take a holiday from social media so you can sit down and be present with your family.”

Call Your Loved Ones in Advance
Get ahead of the problem. If you anticipate politics coming up during dinner (and you would rather it not), call Mom and tell her you’re excited about the turkey-and-family part, but would prefer to avoid discussing the president-elect. According to Dr. Lopez, most people will be on the same page and appreciate your effort to be communicative. You’re likely not the only one who would prefer to avoid politics,” he says.

If Someone Does Bring Up the Election, Have a Response Ready
Despite your best efforts, Cousin Marie gets heated about Planned Parenthood. No biggie. Instead of getting flustered, prepare a firm but respectful response. Dr. Lopez suggests saying something like “We have very different opinions and worldviews, so let’s just accept that and move on. There’s really no point in arguing and ruining everyone’s holiday.”

If That Doesn’t Work, Try Humor
There’s nothing like a harmless joke to ease the tension. If Aunt Linda refuses to honor your request for a peaceful pumpkin-pie-eating experience, Dr. Lopez recommends lightening the mood with a mock threat: “The next person who brings up politics has to do the dishes.”

Repeat a Mantra 
In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to freak out and risk damaging your relationship with your loved ones for years to come. Instead, work on being patient and compassionate. Dr. Lopez suggests (silently) repeating a mantra to help stay centered. “Try saying to yourself, ‘I love my family no matter what. I will not let this upset me. I will stay calm, I will not yell.’”

If Someone Offends You, Stay Calm 
You have two options in this situation: First, don’t respond. But if you can’t let a comment slide, remain calm but clearly communicate that you’re frustrated. “Try, ‘You know what? That type of talk upsets me, so I’m going to step outside for a few minutes to get some fresh air,’” says Dr. Lopez. Leave the room and take a few cleansing breaths before returning to the table for a second helping of sweet potatoes.

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