How to Healthfully Navigate Political Talk Over the Thanksgiving Table
By Alyssa Dorland
As you prepare to converse with extended family members, ease the strain on your mental health by using the following tips from professionals in the field of psychology.
The meal is set. Your grandmother shuffles to a chair at the head of the table where Aunt Rachel is waiting to help her sit down. The cousins gather at the opposite end and everyone joins hands.
Uncle Earl begins the Thanksgiving prayer. “Father, we thank you for the many blessings you have given us this year. Despite the state of our nation…” You feel the hand next to you grip a little tighter, bracing for what comes next.
If your family doesn’t see eye-to-eye on political matters, this may be a prayer you’ve already anticipated. No matter where Uncle Earl takes the prayer, there is going to be tension. The thought of facing aunts, uncles, cousins, or grandparents who feel differently than you is starting to elevate your anxiety.
It can be scary to have vulnerable conversations at a time when values, ethics, and agendas are in heated debate. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to traverse these tense conversations.
Alexandra Solomon, a licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University and assistant professor of psychology for Northwestern’s Department of Psychology, shares in an interview with journalism forum Newswise several helpful tips for navigating discussions this holiday season.
The first thing Solomon recommends is making a plan with your family. Before everyone gathers, start a group chat to determine what works best for everyone regarding political and pandemic talk. 
Solomon says, “Some families I know… are agreeing to place a moratorium on election talk for now. Rather than being a strategy of avoidance… a temporary moratorium is a way of honoring the need to feel connected and close during this upsetting time.” 
If talking politics is unavoidable, be sure to set conversational boundaries and be specific about what needs each family member has. Replacing divisive and combative language with probing questions and respectful terms is a good place to begin when setting boundaries.
Another recommendation from Alexandra Solomon is to keep your perspective focused on the long term. Do not be afraid to admit that the future seems uncertain and that you do not know all the answers. She says, “Naming that fact—we are dealing with so much uncertainty—invites compassion…with ourselves and with each other.” 
Focus on understanding each other and building constructive conversations rather than on who is winning in family debates. For discussions to be growth-oriented, both sides must listen and aim to learn about the other’s perspective.
The intensity of debating politics and pandemic, even in constructive ways, may still be overwhelming, so taking time for yourself is important. Solomon encourages listening to one’s body and mind. 
She says to “take a break if and when you feel… too angry or sad or afraid to stay engaged” in conversations.  During that break, Solomon suggests trying deep breathing exercises, getting fresh air and exercise, or any other activity that brings you peace. 
Take care of yourself as you head home for the holidays and keep kindness and respect in the forefront of your interactions. Though they cannot solve everything, they are a good place to begin when dealing with the “turkeys” in your own families.
1. Northwestern University. (2020, November 16). How to navigate politics at Thanksgiving. Newswise. https://bit.ly/3eW1GXm.