6 Tips for Navigating Political Discussions at the Holiday Table

As families gear up to celebrate the winter holiday season together, a course of politics is likely their least favorite topic to dish up at the dinner table.

But two University of Nevada, Las Vegas professors say requests to pass the salt don’t have to quickly escalate into spirited debates over climate change, impeachment or immigration reform.

Katherine M. Hertlein, a professor with the Couple and Family Therapy Program in UNLV’s School of Medicine, works with clients to process their feelings and figure out how to tactfully parse through opposing views on a variety of sensitive issues — skills that may be particularly handy during the holiday season. Emma Frances Bloomfield, an assistant professor of communication studies at UNLV, has researched how people can better tailor their communication strategies when engaging on issues of the environment and climate change.

Below, they offer a few strategies for navigating potential political discord at this year’s family table.

Have realistic expectations

One of the aspects of family conversation that dysregulates us is the unrealistic expectation that family members will share our viewpoints. Part of reducing your reactivity to your family is to recognize what you can reasonably expect rather than setting yourself up for disappointment in expecting something unrealistic.

Don’t start the conversation from a point of contention

You don’t want to view your dialogue partner as inferior. It can be problematic when environmentalists or climate scientists are dismissive, or potentially patronizing to climate skeptics. That kind of dialogue can lead to climate skeptics feeling isolated and silenced. You may not agree with the skeptic, but you should still respect the person who holds the beliefs. We must listen, not just for a talking point to jump in on, but to understand the perspective they’re coming from, and what values or identities they feel are threatened by environmentalism.

Go into the conversation with a knowledge-gaining mindset, rather than a persuasive goal.

Adopt a stance of curiosity

Most people expressing their views are not doing so to purposely cause harm. Be curious about one’s stance and ask questions to fully understand their view rather than making statements yourself to keep the conversation going. This will enable you to find areas of commonality, agreement, and potential for feeling and expressing empathy.

We must listen, not just for a talking point to jump in on, but to understand the perspective they’re coming from.

Buy yourself some time

When people express views contradictory to your own, we may have a tendency to respond from an emotional rather than a balanced position. Phrases such as “I need some time to think about that; I’ll get back to you” provide you a chance to reflect on how to communicate your message in a balanced and respectful way.

Recognize the value system from which the comments originate

Part of what bonds a family is the shared set of values. While the people around the table may not agree about the way in which something should proceed, you may find that their rationale for their decision is rooted in a shared value, such as concern for children, concern for health care, etc. It may also help to consider the motivation behind one’s statements, recognizing that they are not likely intended to create harm but instead reflect good intention.

When in doubt, find a way out

If you anticipate a conversation will move you away from building a relationship and you are unable to maintain a level of psychological distance, consider using physical distance. Develop an exit plan prior to any conversation where you may anticipate difficulties. Having a plan ahead of time that you may or may not choose to use returns you to feeling like you are in a sense of control, and reduces the likelihood that you will seek to obtain control through increasing the volume or intensity of your voice.

Holiday Depression and Our Elderly

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When we think of the holiday’s we often think of joyful times with family and friends but for some of our elderly it can be a time of sadness, isolation and loneliness. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is prevalent during the holidays and winter season due to issues such as being confined indoors, missing loved ones (living or deceased) or chronic illness/pain.

Depression in the elderly looks different than the younger generations as it can mask itself as health related issues which often causes the depression to go on untreated. For example, symptoms like decreased or no appetite, sleep disturbances, incontinence, chronic pain, memory loss/confusion, mood disturbances and fatigue can be signs physical illness like diabetes or an urinary tract infection but they are also signs of depression.

According to the Center for Disease Control ) approximately 6 million elderly seniors suffer from depression and have the highest rate of suicide because as only 10% get treated for it. If you suspect that your loved one may be suffering from depression express concerns to their doctor as soon as possible. You may also ask for a referral to a psychiatrist for a second opinion.

Signs of depression are sadness, fatigue, loss of interest in socializing, poor appetite, sleep disturbances, loss of self-worth, feelings of hopelessness and increased use of alcohol/drugs and fixation on death.

OTHER RED FLAGS TO LOOK FOR

Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains

Anxiety and worries

Memory problems

Lack of motivation and energy

Slowed movement and speech

Irritability

Neglecting personal care

WHAT TO DO WHEN SOMEONE IS IN IMMINENT DANGER?

Call 911 for emergency services

Go to nearest hospital emergency room

Call National Suicide Hotline toll-free, 1-800-273-8255 or TTY 1-800-799-4889

Call your doctor

What to do when someone is not in immediate danger?

Acknowledge that their pain is legitimate and offer to work together on getting help.

WHERE TO GET HELP?

Family physicians, clinics and health organizations: Can provide treatment or referrals

to mental health specialists.

Mental health specialists: psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and social workers.

Psychiatrists can prescribe medications as they are actual doctors but the therapist

and social workers work together with doctors to make sure seniors are getting medications and care they need.

Community mental health centers: provide treatment based on ability to pay, and usually have a variety of mental health specialists.

Hospitals and university medical schools: May have research centers that study and treat depression.

DomesticShelters.org – New Resource for Those Experiencing Domestic Violence

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Though it may be the most wonderful time of the year, the Holiday season can be dangerous for individuals and families impacted by domestic violence.  Those who work in this field explains that the increase of incidences during the holidays is exacerbated by the build up of anger and stress, which accompanies the season.  The holiday season also marks the time of year when children experience domestic violence at the highest rates seen.  It may be a joyous celebration for many of us; however, we cannot forget or fail to protect and assist those who are enduring brutal, and sadly, potential life-ending, abuse.

A few weeks ago, I came across an article spotlighting a new tool to assist in finding shelter and support for individuals and families experiencing domestic violence.  Being that I wrote an article on this subject in October discussing the prevalence of disabled women and domestic violence, I knew that I had to take a more detailed look at this tool.

DomesticShelters.org – A New Website Seeking to Close the Information Gap

In late August, the National Coalition of Domestic Violence (NCADV) and the Theresa’s Fund partnered and developed a comprehensive tool that identified 3,001 domestic violence provider organizations throughout the United States, and gathered 156 data points on each entity.  Their collaborative efforts created the largest database of its kind ever established, and its existence allows visitors to Domestic Shelters to input their location, language, and service preferences with just the click of a mouse.  The search results yield proximate, relevant opportunities for users to receive the most appropriate assistance pertaining to their specific need(s) and situation(s).

My Test Drive of DomesticShelters.org

Being that I only share and spotlight online tools that I have personally reviewed, I thought that I would definitely do this for Domestic Shelters.  I went on the website, and was impressed with how colorful and eye-catching the graphic design layout was.  The bright colors created an inviting presence for users who are seeking this pertinent information.  (Click image to enlarge for better viewing.)

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The website’s usage ability is very simple:  enter your zip code, and if needed, select a language and service preferences.  When I entered the Columbia, SC zip code, 29201, the following organizations came up:  Sistercare and Women’s Shelter.  Since I am more familiar with Sistercare due to the active advocacy presence the organization has within the Midlands area, I decided to select Sistercare as the organization I wanted to learn about.

The information provided for Sistercare is crucial for those seeking its services.  Key points for me were the hotline number; TTY/TDD number for those who are hearing impaired; toll free number; and languages spoken, which is important to note for our ethnically diverse community.

The only information that was not included in Sistercare’s profile was whether the facility was wheelchair accessible, which is important for disabled South Carolinian women and families to know if they required such access.  (The lack of accessibility within domestic violence shelters and disability training for staff are incredible barriers that negatively impacts one’s ability to fully utilize these facilities.)

Overall, I was very pleased with how user-friendly Domestic Shelters was.  The “Leave SIte” button (which connected to the Weather Channel’s website when I selected it) allowed users to promptly leave the webpage for safety reasons.  I have seen a few domestic violence focused organizations with this feature, so it is considered a standard safety measure to ensure that those seeking or inquiring about assistance can do so without fear of their abusers knowing.

Final Thoughts

The Domestic Shelters website is an empowering game-changer for survivors, helping professionals, and community members who want to arm themselves with knowledge about the organizations that focus on serving and advocating for this particular population.  Domestic Shelters has an undeniable potential to close the information gap for those desiring to leave abusive situations and find their strength and voice with the aid of these organizations.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of NCADV.  Screenshot is my own.)

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