Politics, Religion, and Now COVID Vaccines: How to Avoid Conversational Landmines at Holiday Gatherings


COVID-19 vaccine allows families to come together again this holiday season. And this is also one of the reasons why these encounters can become uncomfortable.

The COVID vaccine joins a long list of thorny topics – religion, politics, etc. – which have served as conversational landmines at holiday gatherings for decades (centuries?). It won’t be long before you share a wish with Uncle Bob or Aunt Alice as they share unsolicited opinions about Dr Anthony Fauci, Vaccination Warrants or Aaron Rodgers.

We spoke to two experts for their advice on the COVID vaccine label: Erin Osborn, Social Services Coordinator at UnityPoint’s Behavioral Health Service Line in Peoria; and Matt Mollenhauer, Bloomington Clinical Director Chestnut health systems.

Before you go: Are you vaccinated?

Before attending a family reunion, it’s “totally appropriate” to ask for the immunization status of your host or other attendees, Mollenhauer said.

“The unfortunate thing is that the second you ask the question, it’s labeled, it’s judged, it’s criticized. You must think I’m wrong if I’m right or the way I answer, ”he said. “I think it must be a fair topic. Who brings the farce? Who brings the pie? Who has the vaccine should be on this list of questions. He shouldn’t be treated any differently.

It all comes down to personal judgment, Mollenhauer said.

“We’re all at this point in the game making daily decisions about what we’re comfortable with. And the family dynamic adds a wrinkle to that, but it’s not much different from the decision to go to the grocery store, to the restaurant or to a children’s sporting event, ”he said.

Set limits

If you’re worried that the conversation will turn political (or vaccine), don’t leave it to chance. Set limits in advance. It could be as formal as a disclaimer before the gathering.

“It might be worth saying, ‘The following topics are prohibited during this event. We are not going to talk politics. We’re not going to talk about COVID, ”Mollenhauer said.

Or you could just be prepared yourself if the conversation takes a turn, like repeated responses, Osborn said.

“Or you can redirect the conversation and take it away from the sensitive topic at home. You might say, “Instead of talking about this, what have you done in the past year to stay fit, healthy, and calm? What’s on your to-do list for next year? ‘ Osborn said.

Why so serious?

A little empathy does a lot of good. It’s important to remember that people have been through a lot in the past 20 months and you might not be up to date with all of this, even if you are family.

A natural reaction to the trauma of the pandemic is for people to become self-defense – seeking to protect themselves and their families physically, Mollenhauer said. This defensive attitude also applies to the protection of their belief system.

“This is the trap we are all falling into right now,” he said. “What’s their perspective driving this?” When you take the time to figure it out, I think you will find that you don’t have to agree with it, but you understand why it is valid for this person. We are very quick to judge. We are very quick to politicize it, we all know that. The second you go down this road, it implies that the other party is wrong, inept, or lacking the facts. You’re not going to have a healthy turkey conversation with this mindset.

Be grateful

UnityPoint has seen an increase in mental health diagnoses, including depression and anxiety, with the pandemic. They have also seen psychosis with prolonged long-term COVID survivors.

“It was very difficult to find a balance when your world and structure that you were used to was thrown out the window,” Osborn said.

You should use this vacation to “surround yourself with love and uplift yourself,” she said.

“If anything I’ve learned from COVID, it’s that I’ve taken a lot of things for granted. So this holiday season it’s not something I want to take for granted. I want to spend it intentionally with you, connect with my loved ones, show my appreciation and say thank you. Thanks for sharing this. I know it was incredibly difficult. It has been a very difficult year, but I am so happy that you are here with me today. Be grateful, ”Osborn said.


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