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Mental Health Monday: Constructive conversations with family can improve Thanksgiving

The holidays are supposed to be a fun time with your family, but that’s not always the case. Here are some tips to avoid family quarrels at Thanksgiving dinner.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Thanksgiving dinner can be a recipe for disaster if we let petty arguments ruin a time where we’re supposed to be enjoying family and practicing gratefulness.

Remember that it is not an easy task to change someone’s mind about politics, and if someone does not agree with you, there are better times to attempt to change their minds than Thanksgiving.

“I think one of the things we have to remember is that we can't control other people,” local licensed clinical social worker Hope Reneau said. “If we're able to identify ways that we can control ourselves, that's where the real power is going to be.”

Reneau added if someone is persistent in trying to change your mind about something you completely disagree with and deflection won’t work, practice DEARMAN – an acronym for how to have effective conversations.

  • Describe the situation in a clear and concrete manner.
  • Express your own feelings, using phrases such as “I feel this way because…”
  • Assert yourself. Avoid saying “maybe” and “I don’t know.”
  • Reinforce your own position in a respectful manner.

Mindfulness in the moment can also help, by focusing on the issue at hand without bringing up problems from the past.

Appear confident by facing the person you’re talking to and keeping eye contact.

Negotiate. Be willing to give a little bit to get a little bit and people will hopefully meet you along the way.

Practicing DEARMAN and having constructive conversations can improve your relationships and improve your interactions with them in the future.

The holidays can also bring about anxiousness.

One way to mitigate those feelings is by keeping a gratitude journal.

Reneau recommends writing in that journal once in the morning and once at night.

“The most important thing is to embrace gratitude,” she said. “We do have things every single day, even little things, that we can be grateful for, and finding that within your family or your chosen family, just to validate them and to be grateful and thankful for goes a long way.”

Folks should also go in with a plan if you expect things to go awry.

Identifying your triggers before you go in can help so you know when you need a break.

Also don’t be afraid to excuse yourself, and the easiest way to do this is by driving separately, so you can control your own environment.