Imagine you are sitting at the outrageously decorated holiday table that your sister spent all morning setting. Your most loved relatives are sitting around you, chatting, laughing, and grazing. Your uncle starts up a conversation with your husband about politics from across the table. He makes a comment about an immigration policy and you completely disagree with him. You begin to feel agitated, your heart rate is increasing and your hands start to sweat. On top of the agitation you are experiencing, your anxiety level starts to rise. What is your husband thinking? How much longer should you wait to hear your uncle out before you chime in with your opinion? Should you chime in?
Conflict is bound to happen at family gatherings. The beauty of human nature is that we are all different, with varying opinions. We each have unique experiences that shape who we are. People are always evolving and holidays are a perfect time to witness the different perspectives our siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, etc. have grown into.
America is a melting pot of different ideas, races, religions, political beliefs, you name it. Embrace the miraculous tension of your family gathering to remind you of the privilege you have to live in a country where we can openly express our differing opinions. Of course, with that being said, things are always easier said than done. If you find yourself struggling to keep your head above it all, try these quick tips to relax at the dinner table:
- Remember to breathe. If you feel your anger level rising, take a minute to control your breathing. The extra oxygen will help you level your feelings and the extra time will help you level your thoughts.
- Listen to understand, not to respond. You will set a great example for your other relatives if you listen to understand. If you only listen to respond, you are bound to jump to conclusions. This is because you are listening to the parts you want to hear, rather than to understand the other side of the argument. Ask questions, create healthy communication, don’t jump to conclusions.
- Plan an escape. Briefly stepping away from a situation that makes you uncomfortable is a great coping mechanism. Separating yourself from the situation will give you time to calm down and collect your thoughts. Once you have reminded yourself why you are there, you can join your loved ones back at the table.
Take this holiday season one step at a time. Remember, you don’t have to agree with everyone, but family is about acceptance, regardless of our differences. Ground yourself in your values, so you can establish the family table as a safe space for everyone. The holiday season is a perfect time to remind ourselves of the love we have for one another.