All is calm at the holiday dinner table, until your Aunt Susie sits down and brings up one of those hot political topics. Mashed potatoes start flying and tensions begin to rise. It’s time for the holiday discussions most college students dread. 

Most students won’t experience food flinging, but they will certainly deal with tension. When a family meets together there is a collection of multiple generations, backgrounds, and ways of thinking. This can lead to tension, arguments or even fights.

“Recently covid has obviously been a very prevalent issue,” says Ani Gueyikian, a freshman at Saint Joseph’s University. Some of her family did not feel comfortable coming over during her last holiday season. “It created a very heated discussion at the dinner table.” 

If you choose to “just stay out of it” like Ani or if you want to participate, it is important to use self care to reduce stress.

Here are five tips to handle difficult conversations with family over the holidays:

1. Be prepared.

Understand there is a possibility for a stressful conversation and mentally prepare yourself is a good first step. Preparing as a whole family can be helpful as well. An agenda to follow for group activities can limit the time for argument. 

2. Set boundaries.

Establishing boundaries can limit political or other difficult conversations. A family conversation about everyone’s willingness to participate in conversations can help create a less stressful environment. 

3. Remain calm instead of becoming defensive. 

It is easy to become angry, flustered, or burnt out over these dividing issues. A need to stand your ground in a conflict is fine, but the best way to create a productive conversation is to remain calm. Becoming defensive can create further tension and heat up the entire discussion.

4. Disengage.

If an argument erupts between family members, you always have the option to stop participating. You can physically remove yourself from the situation. It is important to communicate to the people around you know that you need some time to destress. Another method of disengagement is to end your line of argument or change the topic entirely. 

5. Take time to yourself.

Participating in family activities can take a toll on anyone’s mental, emotional, and physical energy. Make sure to take the time you need to destress. You can contact your support systems outside of who you are spending time with over the break, take a walk, listen to music, or do other activities that you enjoy.