Tips from Catholic Relief Services on relieving holiday stress

By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald

With the holidays upon us, multiple gatherings of friends and family can also bring joy but also stress and even conflict when discussions about politics or other subjects come up. 

We spoke recently with Catholic Relief Services’ Nell Bolton about tactics people can use to avoid or diffuse a testy situation. Bolton lives in New Orleans but travels worldwide as a justice and peace-building expert.

Bolton sees division everywhere, including in our own “increasingly polarized society.”

She recently returned from a mission in Burkina Faso on the African continent, but said the peacebuilding work she does with people of different political or religious groups can easily be adapted to confrontational situations at everyday holiday gatherings.

Bolton jokes that in our American culture, people think we should never discuss politics and religion. That doesn’t really work, she said, because the conflict doesn’t go away. This same conclusion was drawn by NOLA Catholic Parenting columnists and bloggers along with the Archdiocese of New Orleans Catholic Counseling’s director Joey Pistorius on a podcast to air Dec. 24 on relieving holiday stress on

Bolton said we need to find constructive ways to talk about the issues that divide us. From her experience with peace-building practices all over the world, she’s come up with the three Bs – binding (skills that help cope with fear and violence); bonding (finding common ground); bridging to help people collaborate on projects of common interest – and offered five tips to help at any gathering:

1. Check in and know thyself. “Understand your own triggers and what causes you to erupt or respond in a healthful way,” Bolton said. “Use practices that help calm you down,” (using the first B, binding). Be honest with yourself of what you are trying to get out of the conversation.

2. Leave some room for complexity. “From a Catholic social teaching view, remember the common dignity we all share and find that common ground with the people you are talking to, even if their views are different than yours. We are all complex people.”

3. From a negotiation theory – “separate the person from the issue and the issue from your relationship with that person. Don’t let it diminish the love you have for that person.” Let your feelings for the person come into the issue being discussed.

4. Focus on interest rather than position, even when you want your voice to be heard. “Understand that you might be diametrically opposed to an opinion, but if you try to understand your values and life experiences and their values and experiences then you may find common ground or it at least humanizes the person.”

5. Focus on the listening rather than the telling. “Be okay with silence. You should be able to voice your thoughts, but ask questions that help others feel heard. This might diffuse a situation.”

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