Has the polarizing election stressed you out and strained friendships?

Experts share advice on how to move forward

It’s been a contentious election season, and throughout the course of the presidential campaign many in Central Texas and beyond have been feeling the stress.

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, Republican and Democrat voters are now further apart ideologically than they’ve been in the last 25 years. And 7 percent of voters, according to a recent Politico poll, have ended a friendship over the election.

When we asked if the presidential election was wreaking havoc on friendships, marriages or other relationships, we heard from numerous readers who have been navigating opposing viewpoints in their own circle of friends or family in different ways.

“They threaten to unfriend me (on Facebook), ask me to delete them and randomly resort to name calling,” American-Statesman reader Carolyn Liles wrote on the newspaper’s Facebook page. “I just laugh at the immaturity and keep supporting Trump/Pence!”

Austinite JoAnn Moran Furner, 60, says she’s been disappointed after some friends and family have turned to personal attacks when they disagree with her on political issues. As a retired librarian, Furner says research and fact-finding are her expertise. When she’d point out inaccurate information, she says some in her circles would get upset at her.

“I noticed the resistance to factual information,” she says. “My conclusion is that (this election is) emotional and some people automatically reject anything that disagrees with what they’ve decided.”

The long election season coupled with the surprising twists and turns along the way have been a recipe for wearing people out, according to author and stress expert Genella Macintyre.

“Under stress, we do not operate from our best self, but are primed (literally) to react,” says Macintyre, who wrote the book “Five Steps to Reducing Stress: Recognizing What Works.” “The fight or flight stress response is triggered every time we hear about, and disagree with, what is happening on the campaign trail.”

After Election Day, though, once all the ballots have been counted and a president declared, can a strained relationship caused by a polarizing political season survive?

Part of maintaining perspective, says David Blackburn, a psychologist at Baylor Scott & White Health, is understanding that even though we don’t like it when we don’t get our way, we can’t control how other people vote. “The only thing we can control is our response,” he says.

Shifting the focus forward starts with yourself, Macintyre says. “If your candidate won, avoid putting salt in an open wound. In other words, avoid the ‘I told you so’ approach.”

Many Americans will be put to the test soon with holiday gatherings that will bring together relatives and friends, including those with opposing viewpoints.

Blackburn suggests managing expectations and perspective before coming together. “Some people anticipate the hallmark perfect Christmas or Thanksgiving, which adds increased levels of stress,” he says. If heated political discussions come up during a gathering, Blackburn says it helps if you and your family have discussed a plan. “Do you have an exit strategy?” he says. “Do you need to limit the time you are there?”

Moran Furner says she has realized that although some of her strained friendships are not worth saving after this election, there are others she’d like to re-evaluate. When thinking about whether to repair some of these strained friendships, Blackburn suggests asking yourself, “Can we still have a relationship even if we disagree politically? Maybe a 10th or less of your friendship is politics, and 99 percent is everything else you enjoy and have in common.”

Macintyre says it’s OK to acknowledge that each of you feels passionately about your political views. It’s also fine to acknowledge there has been tension, she says. But if you’re both choosing to move forward, she suggests, it’s best to “agree to let it go and agree to disagree.”

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