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

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Friday, July 1, 2022
Experts explain how to handle difficult conversations this holiday
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Whether it's Roe v. Wade, climate change, supreme court, or gun laws, experts share advice on how to handle heated debates at July 4th gatherings.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- If your July 4th celebration involves catching up with friends and family, chances are your conversations might include current events. Recent hot button issues can certainly lead to heated debates.

Grills won't be the only things heating up for the Independence Day holiday. Mental health experts anticipate conversations will too.

According to the American Psychological Association's "Stress in America" study, high stress levels are leading to problematic behavior.

"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've got frustration that often leads to aggression under stress."

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Dr. Plante explained, this summer, there's certainly added tension and deeply divisive issues being debated across the country.

"Whether it's Roe v. Wade, whether it's politics, whether it's climate change, whether it's COVID," he named a few. "Whether it's racism and discrimination. All these issues can really be hot button issues."

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

"Nobody has all the answers about everything. We have to approach people with a certain degree of humility," Dr. Plante said. "I'd 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 kind of makes sense."

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Additionally, during the pandemic, distance was necessary. The younger generation didn't want to expose older relatives to COVID-19 and stayed away.

"The family is the ecology. That's where traditions are passed down, morals are learned, values are accepted or rejected," Licensed marriage and family therapist and Courageous Conversations column writer, Dr. Lisa Hill said. "But because there's been this separation, people have gotten their values and ideas from other sources."

However, Dr. Hill maintained the situation should provide an opportunity to reconnect- a chance to reestablish familial beliefs and to practice respect for those that don't reflect our own.

"All debates are not bad. Debates and arguments only come from at least two sides wanting the other person to come to their side," she continued. "That's really what it's about."

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Dr. Hill referenced her book, "Keeping Kids in the Home and Out of the System" and said, "The final chapter of that book are courageous conversations about how families- when relationships have been strained, how to apologize, how to acknowledge."

Continuing on to talk about the intricacies of family dynamics.

"We're all getting back on the horse for social communication, breathe," Clinical psychologist and Cal State East Bay Psychology Professor Dr. Michael Stanton shared with ABC7 News.

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

"There's a lot 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 that you'd regret later."

He acknowledged it's tough, considering there are parts of peoples' identities that they're proud of- that they don't want to change.

"90% of our communication is nonverbal. It's not the words we use, but it's how we talk to someone. See through their eyes, right? See their expressions, their hand movements, their gestures," Dr. Stanton shared. "Being respectful means spending time and giving people your time, listening to what they have to say. So, that's a great place to start... Just listen."

Dr. Plante suggested, "If you present something with respect and compassion, for the most part, people can hear it."

"Of course, humor is always a great thing. You know, if you can say, 'Wow, you know, you've been in quarantine for so long, I'm really getting the whole story here!' You can use humor," he continued. "You can try to be very compassionate, respectful- give people corrective feedback about how they're coming across or whatever. And that goes a long way."

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