Keeping your cool when political passions run hot


A volatile and contentious presidential election campaign has left many people feeling disheartened, frustrated, and even hostile. Our reactions to the presidential contest – and many issues in general – have become so polarized that attempts at discussion can quickly turn into confrontations. These conflicts can negatively impact both our emotional health and social relationships.

Most of us have been in this situation: a discussion over politics devolves into a hotbed of arguments among friends, whether around the dinner table or on social media. Relationships with friends are put under strain.

This can feel overwhelming, but there are steps we can take to bring the hostility down a notch, says Emanuel Maidenberg, clinical professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA’s Semel Institute and David Geffen School of Medicine.

Maidenberg suggests some ways to turn down the heat:

  • De-escalate when things get too personal. The purpose of such discussion is to express and exchange points of view – not to win. Be the first to de-escalate.
  • Show curiosity for others’ views. It can be difficult to show understanding when you strongly disagree with a friends’s view, especially if it upsets your sense of right and wrong. But asking questions about why they feel that way – rather than attacking – is worth the effort.
  • Remember that political views are personal. Political views alone don’t make a person who they are. Rather, they are only a small part of each of us.
  • Weigh pros and cons before sharing online. Take a moment to consider the implications before sharing a post on Facebook or Twitter. It’s important to remember that not every private experience is intended to be public.
  • Put the online world into perspective. If you get into an argument online, remind yourself that such virtual experiences are only one way to share and interact with others. In-person interactions are likely to be more satisfying and rewarding in the long run.
  • Minimize TV and other mass media exposure. There’s a difference between being informed and being overwhelmed.
  • Share your feelings with family or friends. It’s important to share your anxious feelings with others close to you. Chances are they are feeling the same way.

To find more of Maidenberg’s advice, check out his tips for dealing with arguments in The Atlantic.

When you find yourself weighed down by news of violence around the world or fiery debates about politics, remember that you’re not alone. There are steps each of us can take to manage the stress – and turn arguments back into discussions.

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