Tip #1: Practice in a Safe Setting
Preparing to do the near-impossible (e.g. arguing Trump vs. Hillary without losing your cool) calls for practice. Just as people prepare to give a speech by saying it in front of family members and friends, you can prepare to discuss politics by talking about various political topics in a safe zone. Select people who you know will not start acting like a rabid dog when you disagree with them, so that you can practice without feeling like you’re about to get bit. To start, try a few topics where your opinion is either neutral or at least does not make you want to throat-punch people. That way, you can develop some confidence in your ability to talk through minor disagreements without anticipating angry debate or personal attacks.
You probably already know that anxiety heightens your fight-or-fight reflex, where you’re more likely to perceive a situation as dangerous. With this understanding, you can cultivate a sense of the other factors that increase this state of physiological or emotional arousal. The more aroused your body gets in relation to a situation you find stressful, the more the discussion may start to resemble a public forum comments section. Controlling your comfort helps you retain control over your behavior. You can choose to pursue a political discussion while you are feeling:
- cool (not uncomfortably warm)
- neither hungry nor too full
- rested and alert
Tip #3: Build Your Escape Pod
There is a reason Mark Twain said, “In matters concerning religion and politics, a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.” Unlike many topics, politics provokes stress and anger in people who could otherwise be perfectly calm all the time. The infection rate is worse than Zika. This means that in political conversations, everyone could benefit from knowing their limits and when to jettison the debate. If you are headed to someone else’s house and you know politics will come up, scope out a way to escape, even for a short time. If you take short-acting medications in rescue situations bring them with just in case. Define your personal limit and find your break space if you hit it. There, you can practice your mindfulness strategies, repeat useful mantras, or even just get a few minutes of peace from the blowhards in the other room.
Perhaps the best thing to remember is that discussing politics is a struggle for virtually everyone. If you keep this in mind, you can recognize that you can participate without being perfect. And who knows, you may surprise yourself in your ability to keep calm while others lose it.
Holly Smith is a freelance writer from Sandy, Utah. She has a Bachelors in Women's Studies and a Masters in History from San Diego State University. She has an extensive background in college debate and enjoys intellectual discourse. She's also an avid cook and baker focusing on great tasting natural foods.