July 4: Mental health experts offer advice on how to navigate difficult conversations at holiday gatherings


SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) — If your Fourth of July celebration involves reuniting with friends and family, chances are your conversations will include current events. Recent hot issues can certainly lead to heated debates.

Grilling won’t be the only things to heat up for the Independence Day holiday. Mental health experts predict conversations will be too.

According to the American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” ​​study, high levels of stress lead to problematic behaviors.

“People, like their heads, are exploding with stress,” Santa Clara University psychology professor Dr. Thomas Plante told ABC7 News. “And when you have that, you have frustration which often leads to aggression when under stress.”

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Dr. Plante explained that this summer there are certainly additional tensions and deeply contentious issues being debated across the country.

“Whether it’s Roe versus Wade, whether it’s politics, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s COVID,” he named a few. “Whether it’s racism or discrimination. All of these issues can really be hot issues.”

Others pointed to the fight over gun rights, frustration over gas prices – the whole gamut.

“No one has all the answers on everything. You have to approach people with a certain humility,” Dr. Plante said. “I would say we have to approach people with the expectation of goodness. We may not agree with them, but they may have something in there that makes sense.”

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Also, during the pandemic, distancing was necessary. The younger generation did not want to expose older relatives to COVID-19 and stayed away.

“Family is the ecology. It’s where traditions are passed on, morals are learned, values ​​are accepted or rejected,” said Dr. Lisa Hill, a licensed marriage and family therapist and columnist for Courageous Conversations. “But because there was this separation, people got their values ​​and their ideas from other sources.”

However, Dr Hill argued that the situation should provide an opportunity to reconnect – a chance to restore family beliefs and practice respect for those who do not reflect our own.

“Not all debates are bad. Debates and arguments only come from at least two sides wanting the other person to side with them,” she continued. “That’s really what it’s all about.”

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Dr Hill referred to his book, ‘Keeping Kids in the Home and Out of the System’ and said: ‘The final chapter of this book are courageous conversations about how families – when relationships have been strained , how to apologize, how to acknowledge.”

Continue to talk about the intricacies of family dynamics.

“We all come back to the horse for social communication, breathe,” clinical psychologist and Cal State East Bay psychology professor Dr. Michael Stanton told ABC7 News.

As part of his advice, he encourages us to be kind to ourselves, courteous to others, and to work hard to keep the 4th of July fireworks in the sky.

“There’s plenty of room to walk away from the conversation. And that’s okay,” Dr. Stanton reassured. “You know, you’d rather have that than say something you’ll regret later.”

He acknowledged that it’s difficult, given that there are parts of people’s identities that they are proud of and don’t want to change.

“90% of our communication is non-verbal. It’s not the words we use, but it’s the way we talk to someone. Seeing through their eyes, right? Seeing their expressions , his hand movements, his gestures,” Dr. Stanton explained. “Being respectful means spending time and giving people your time, listening to what they have to say. So that’s a good place to start… Just listen.”

Dr. Plante suggested, “If you present something with respect and compassion, most of the time people can hear it.

“Of course, humor is always a good thing. You know, if you can say, ‘Wow, you know, you’ve been in quarantine for so long, I really get the whole story here!’ You can use humor,” he continued. “You can try to be very compassionate, respectful — give people corrective feedback on how they present themselves or whatever. And that goes a long way.”

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