DOWNTOWN — Thanksgiving is all about coming together as a family to celebrate … except when it’s about coming together to argue about President Donald Trump and the midterms.
Chicago social worker Thomas Colley, who works with men with anger problems, said during the holidays he sees more people struggling with their mental health because of the high expectations to be happy.
Some people are saying recent holiday seasons are even more stressful than usual, though, as they dread Thanksgiving Day political arguments with relatives.
Block Club spoke to the pros to learn how to make this Thanksgiving a bit more bearable:
1. Just don’t talk about the election
Eric Herman, a communications wiz and managing director at Kivvit, said people dreading arguments should stick to conversation topics that won’t be as controversial as, say, the election.
Small talk about the weather and sports can help. You can also steer a heated conversation toward something more neutral, like, “Who was the better Darren on ‘Bewitched’?” Herman said.
Of course, not every awkward family conversation will revolve around the election. If you’ve got one of those relatives who’s always asking when you’ll get married or have kids, you can say, “I don’t know. Time will tell,” and mention that you’re more focused on something else, like your career. That’ll give you an in to start talking about something positive.
2. Pivot, pivot, pivot
If that doesn’t work and people keep bringing up things you’re uncomfortable with, Herman said you can pivot.
When it comes to pivoting on Thanksgiving, food is your friend. If someone says something that makes you uncomfortable, don’t directly respond but instead pivot and compliment the chef, Herman said.
One of Herman’s suggested replies: “Well, I don’t know about that, but this turkey leg sure is making America great again.” Another possible response: “That’s a great question. Can you please pass the stuffing?” and start stuffing your mouth so you can’t answer the question.
You can also say you’re too busy eating to answer, Herman said.
3. Come up with a new conversation
Direct the conversation so it focuses on areas where people agree, like music, Herman said.
You can prep before Thanksgiving and think of positive things you want to talk about so you’re ready when the politics talk begins. Tell relatives about a class you’re taking or a hobby you’re working on, Herman said.
Be ready to “build out” on that new topic, though — you’re going to need to say more than one sentence about that class or hobby to get your family going on a new conversation, Herman said.
4. Join the debate, but watch people’s emotions
If you don’t want to avoid awkward conversations then you can participate in them, and activists have encouraged people to talk with relatives about Trump’s controversial policies on immigration and LGBTQ rights if those relatives voted for him.
If you do have potentially difficult conversations, you should remind everyone to be polite, try to keep a cool head and monitor people’s emotions, said Colley, the social worker. If someone gets upset, be comforting, calming and supportive; if you get upset, excuse yourself and leave, Colley said.
One way of doing that: Tell everyone, “This is a little too intense for me so I’m going to go in the other room and cool off,” Colley said.
Don’t repress your feelings or concerns, Colley said, but find someone you’re close to and can trust. Talk with them.
Herman said the most important thing is to be respectful. If there’s a disagreement that can’t be bridged, you can say something like, “You know, I don’t think you and I are ever going to agree on that one, but I love you anyway. By the way, where’s the beer?”
5. Embarrass yourself
If that doesn’t work, you can always drop a “strategically placed embarrassing revelation,” Herman said.
Make sure it’s a “real whopper” — something that will “stop everybody in their tracks,” he said. What that is will be up to you.
6. Just don’t go to Thanksgiving dinner
Don’t want to pivot? Don’t trust yourself to walk out of the room and calm yourself? Not enough beer in the world to deal with that one particular uncle?
Maybe it’s just a good idea to say you’re spending this year with your in-laws or have a nasty flu. We won’t tell.
This story was originally published by DNAinfo Chicago in 2016. Block Club Chicago has updated it.