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Family Political Stress

Managing Family and Politic Stress over the Holidays

How to Cope with Arguments, Tension and Discomfort this Holiday Season

By Sofia Alvarez, Psy.D

family stress holiday gathering - new directions relationship blogWe are aware and recognize this holiday season will be different. Many families cannot meet due to health and safety concerns. Others choose not to meet out of respect for a health care worker. Conversely, others feel the pull to gather due to their isolation or wanting a sense of normalcy. If you do choose to gather in-person or online over the holiday, please read our political stress tips below.

It might be the elephant in the room during the holidays: a politically divided family that parallels a politically divided nation. This season family political stress is inevitable. We as a nation have felt the sentiment of “Us vs. Them” that has reverberated to the point where family gatherings can become contentious. You may be dreading the holidays, anticipating arguments, tension, contempt, discomfort, or disappointment as your family, much like this nation, is asked to come together. Our politics are deeply personal and often reflect deeply held values. However, during such uncertain, hyper-partisan, and controversial times, it is easy to cling to these values and put them above all else. However, what happens when you value family and politics and these values seem to be at odds?

It can be difficult to reconcile your love for your family and their political opinions.

Here are some helpful family political stress tips:

political holiday stress - new directions stress blogLet Politics Come Naturally

  • Purposely mentioning political hot buttons will inevitably cause stress. It’s unlikely anyone will change their political views during a single conversation. Trying to “help someone see the light” can be perceived as condescending and unappreciated on both sides. Don’t let your desire to stir the pot get in the way of the need of others for connection and joy. If political issues arise, acknowledge that other people want to have a pleasant gathering and connect with family in a meaningful way. Consider addressing the issues at a different time.

Check With Yourself

  • If you decide you want bring up politics, ask yourself: What are your intentions? Can you have a positive back and forth conversation? Can you reserve your judgement?
  • Before engaging in a political dialogue, set personal ground rules: How long should this go? Can I make this light-hearted? What areas am I likely to get upset about? How can I ask for clarification?
  • Can I find common ground while stating my perspective?
  • Recognize when political discourse is not productive, helpful, or even getting hostile. Create an exit strategy for yourself.

Set Boundaries

  • You can be yourself and own your values, all else will shift accordingly.
  • You can love someone and not tolerate their maltreatment.
  • A good way to set boundaries is being firm and warm. You can utilize “I-statements,” which allow you to convey your feelings in a way that won’t put others in a defensive mode. Try to focus on owning feelings instead of stating perceptions as truths.
  • Emphasize the behavior when you set a boundary rather than attacking someone’s character.
  • Set some ground rules or make a truce upon arrival (or beforehand). If you’re hosting a gathering, you can put out a humorous sign that says “no politics zone.”
  • Take a break. You can go for a walk, help out in the kitchen, and remove yourself from a situation that is unpleasant.


If a family member broaches the subject of politics, you might feel the urge to engage or flee. You may want to stay out of it all together or help diffuse a potentially heated conversation. Try these ideas:

  • Change the subject
  • Ask for someone to pass you something
  • Start a much more interesting or funny conversation with someone else near you, giving others an out.
  • Compliment the food/ chef(s). Flattery works at disarming people.
  • Use humor

Remember, this is a stressful time for all of us. We are in a grieving mode which creates irritability, denial, and sadness. Look for opportunities to connect, engage, and find familiar faces of encouragement.

Happy Holidays!