Planning to confront your Trump-supporting uncle this Thanksgiving? Just walked out of an angry exchange with a sexist relative? You’re doing the good work, friend! Unfortunately, doing the good work doesn’t always mean you walk away feeling inspired and empowered—in fact, any confrontation with a person with questionable views will probably leave you feeling at least a little bit shaken, perhaps enduringly furious, or just despondent about the state of the humanity. It’s okay. We’re right there with you.
Thanksgiving gatherings can bring together relatives and others who disagree strongly on politics, which can lead to some downright horrifying moments at the dinner table. If you find yourself thrust into a difficult exchange, here are a few ideas from the experts on how to pick yourself back up and recover from those heated Thanksgiving conversations.
“First, take a few minutes to yourself if needed and use that time to take several calming breaths,” says therapist and social worker Maria C. Inoa. “As a general rule to calm yourself, breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for three seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth for another four seconds.”
Take a walk to the bathroom and repeat this breathing exercise as many times as needed.
2Gas yourself up.
“Keep a positive inner dialogue,” Inoa says. “Pat yourself on the back for sharing your viewpoint.”
You can’t fix all the world’s problems in one conversation, she reminds us, but every individual conversation adds water to the bucket. Making your views known, especially to the people closest to you, is a vital step toward progress. The more people are exposed to viewpoints outside their own, the more open-minded they’ll become. Congrats to you for being brave and doing your part, even when it’s hard. No matter how well you think the conversation went, allow yourself to feel proud for staying firm and standing up when you needed to.
3Skip the booze and grab a calming beverage.
You probably deserve a beer after what you just experienced—or, frankly, a nice shot of whiskey—but if you’re looking to recover and clear out the stress, psychologist Dr. Danielle Dowling suggests avoiding the alcohol for about 30 minutes.
“Make some tea,” she recommends. “Tea can have a very calming effect on the body. Some teas like chamomile are actually effective muscle relaxers.”
If nothing else, pop in a stick of gum: “Chewing gum can help calm anxiety and promote rational thinking.”
Don’t stop with that one conversation. Release the negative energy that isn’t contributing to your well-being—but do stay energized, furious, and engaged. If you walked away feeling like your relative isn’t going to change their mind very much, it’s all the more reason to turn your anger into action.
“To help you feel energized and empowered again, try making a donation,” suggests Dr. Dinorah Nieves, Ph.D., a counselor, behavioral scientist, and author of the new book Love YOU: 12 Ways to Be Who You Love & Love Who You Are. “Make a donation in the moment, to the cause you were fighting for. Putting your money where your mouth was will help you feel productive and powerful.”
If that’s not financially possible for you right now, consider looking into volunteering opportunities happening in the immediate future—or even just “post an article on social media that covers the topic from various factual angles, to help educate others,” Dr. Nieves recommends.
For every harmful thing your family may have said over dinner, balance it out with one tangible contribution to the cause of your choice. Use this incident as fuel, and keep that fire burning.