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Sharp Health News

How to stop politics from ruining holiday celebrations

Nov. 26, 2019

How to stop politics from ruining holiday celebrations
The holidays are a time for family gatherings, office parties and celebrations with friends. Food and drink will be shared, gifts will be exchanged, and conversations will be held in front of fireplaces and around dinner tables across the country. However, some of these events have the potential to be marred by the current state of politics in the U.S. and the divisiveness that comes with it.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), close to 60% of Americans reported that the 2016 election was a significant source of stress. Unfortunately, that political stress does not seem to have been resolved since then. In fact, a recent survey found that politics not only created stress in a majority of participants’ lives, but also led to:
  • Loss of sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Increased anger and frustration
  • Damaged relationships
Dr. Gary Levinson, a board-certified internal medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, says that stress of any kind — political or otherwise — affects our physical health in many ways.

He cautions that stress can lead to:
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Worsened control of diabetes — the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol raise blood sugar
  • Increased risk of heart attack, stroke and arrhythmia
  • Increased abdominal pain, spasm and irritable bowel flare-ups
  • Heartburn and peptic ulcers
Stress can also affect our mental health and lead to social isolation, the opposite of what one hopes to experience during the holidays.

“People are very polarized and take matters personally,” Dr. Levinson says. “Also, the excessive media coverage, immediacy of social media platforms and the prevalence of ‘always on’ news from smartphones and other personal devices creates 24-hour exposure to politics, which can be overwhelming.”

While divisive political beliefs and actions may have increased stress, they don’t have to negatively affect your holidays. There are steps that you can take to care for yourself and ensure that your seasonal gatherings are not upended by political disagreements.

The APA offers these eight tips to manage political strife and stress during holiday celebrations:

  1. Plan ahead if you’re concerned about the potential for difficult conversations to develop. Schedule fun activities and outings that keep attendees occupied and connected.

  2. Set ground rules about topics everyone is comfortable discussing before you gather and commit to them. Perhaps a family discussion about religion is OK, but talking about politics is not.

  3. When discussing politics or other sensitive subjects, try to understand others’ points of view and how they came to them. Seek out areas where you agree.

  4. If a discussion escalates, fight fair — stick to one issue at a time, offer facts, remain calm, do not attack or accuse, and actively listen.

  5. Always be kind and respectful. Conversations about politics are an opportunity to share your views, not always change someone else’s.

  6. Avoid catastrophizing or all-or-nothing thinking — “Your beliefs are going to lead to total ruin of this country” or “This relationship is over and can never be salvaged” — and maintain a balanced perspective.

  7. Recognize if the conversation has become too volatile or is upsetting others around you. Change the topic, excuse yourself or suggest that you resume the conversation another time so that you can enjoy the holidays together.

  8. Take time for yourself away from the activity and others to rest and recharge as needed.
Remember, the holidays are meant to bring people together. Learning to manage your own political stress and conducting yourself with kindness, civility and respect will help keep the spirit of the season alive and ensure your holidays are truly happy.

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