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A recipe for a conflict-free Thanksgiving

a Thanksgiving table with pumpkin pie
Element 5 Digital

The holidays can be a happy time, but gathering family members around the Thanksgiving table can also resurrect tensions and old resentments.

This year, people are reacting to the aftermath of the election. Some are jubilant, others are fearful or angry.

It’s not hard to envision people eyeing each other suspiciously across the Thanksgiving turkey.

Psychiatrist Dr. Farha Abbasi joined us today to share some ideas for turning down the conflict.

“We definitely are all recovering from the … toxic demagoguery of the recent election,” she said. “It almost feels like we have reaped this harvest of hate and we are inventors of our discontent.”

To defuse tensions, Abbasi told us it’s important to understand the nature of conflict.

She explained that conflict is always deeper than just a disagreement.

“It is very deep-seated. Both parties feel or perceive a threat to their wellbeing and survival,” Abbasi said. “People tend to feel guarded, react emotionally … and invariably hurting each other more.”

... the first step to enjoying a conflict-free Thanksgiving is to practice mindfulness.

“Thanksgiving is seeped into the tradition of sharing and love and harmony, but I always feel that even a meal prepared with a lot of love or care can taste like sawdust if the ambience surrounding it is … angry.”

According to Abbasi, the first step to enjoying a conflict-free Thanksgiving is to practice mindfulness.

“Mindfulness literally means being in the moment, focusing on the moment. Remember, everyone is there to share a meal and celebrate,” she said. “To me, arguments are like salt. A little bit of salt is always tasty, which is like having a healthy debate about something, but an excessive and uncontrolled amount makes you more sick.”

Abbasi told us it’s important to acknowledge one’s emotions, but warned us against impulsive, knee-jerk responses, likening them to sugar and carbohydrates.

“They feel sweet for a moment, but overindulgence can leave one with a lot of guilt and regret,” she said.

Additionally, she told us that smiles and laughter should be shared generously.

If you should find yourself in an argument this Thanksgiving, Abbasi encouraged us to focus on the argument itself rather than the person you’re having it with.

"Make it about the discussion, not the person."

“You need to focus on the words, not the person. Make it about the discussion, not the person,” she said.

“If you feel that things are getting out of hand, you need to step away from it and at least try and listen actively to what the other person is trying to bring, because I feel most of the time these arguments become heated because the other party is feeling completely invalidated or is feeling that their needs are not being met.”

Listen to our conversation above for more.

Minding Michigan is Stateside’s ongoing series that examines mental health issues in our state.

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