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State of Mind: Expert gives tips on how to avoid anxiety-inducing political arguments

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A Pew Research poll shows 35 percent of Americans say few or no family members share their political views. (WWMT/Matt Loughrin)

The holidays are meant to be a happy time filled with friends and family, but often they can be stressful and anxiety inducing.

According to Scott Gaynor, professor of psychology at Western Michigan University, much of that anxiety can come from impending arguments with family. The most common argument is over politics.

More than half of Americans say they expect to discuss politics during the holidays, but they’re not always happy about it. A third of millennials say they get anxiety from talking about politics with different thinking family members.

While Thanksgiving dinner may be over, with several more holidays are on their way, you may have to see your politically-different family again.

A Pew Research poll shows 35% of Americans say few or no family members share their political views.

Of those who say almost no one in their family shares their views, 70% also say they try to avoid political discussions.

Gaynor said people don’t necessarily need to avoid talking politics to avoid stressful arguments.

He said the idea is to ask yourself what the goal of the argument would entail.

“Is your goal to score political points, is your goal to try to persuade another person, or is your goal to maintain relationships and maintain your self-respect?” he said. “Your goals are most likely to maintain the relationships you have in the family and also maintain your own integrity.”

Gaynor said that means ensure you’re actually listening to what the other person is saying and not formulating your own argument in your head.

Being respectful and feeling respected are key in maintaining the peace.

“What you initiate then it's sort of an attack-defend cycle, so it may be sort of an aggressive statement, you then feel like you need to defend your position, and we have this sort of ratcheting up effect that then leads to arguments leads to bad blood,” he said.

Gaynor said everyone knows their family best, so if a fight is inevitable, it’s a good idea to make a rule banning political discussions.

Even if it seems like there won’t be any problems heading into the holidays, he says you should have a few topics of conversation in your back pocket, like memories of a family event or the shared frustration of watching the Detroit Lions on their way to yet another disappointing season.