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MISS CONDUCT

Advice: I’m heading to QAnon country for Christmas. How do I keep my cool?

My family lives in a place where conspiracy theories are rampant, and I’ll need to keep my mouth shut.

Need some help with a family situation? Send your questions to Miss Conduct.

My parents live in a state that has gone way off the QAnon rails, though they’re not at all like that themselves. When I visit for Christmas, we will not go out much, but when we do how, can I keep my cool? I’ll be surrounded by maskless, angry, armed jerks (open carry is popular there) and absolutely need to keep my mouth shut. Any advice?

M.P. / Somerville

Any advice? Many advice! For not only you — with whom I deeply sympathize — but for anyone suffering from holiday travel anxiety for any reason.

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Before you leave, make some after-Christmas plans to give yourself something to focus on and look forward to. A party, a protest, a project — something self-caring and restorative, something that makes you feel like you again and reminds you of the kind of world you want to live in. And ask your friends for whatever kind of support you need, whether that’s an audience for your travelogue rants and photos, forgiveness for radio silence, escapist distractions, whatever.

While you’re there, see if you can get a couple of concrete tasks accomplished for your folks. Hostile environments make us feel reactive and helpless. Accomplishing something, anything — look at those clean gutters, just look at them! — can reaffirm your self-image as a person who can take action in the world. And don’t read/watch/listen to any anxiety-producing news at all while you are there.

Then do what you can to hack your brain to block the Flight or Fight Channel from broadcasting 24/7. Meditation is wonderful and helpful at any dosage or level of expertise (look up “Herbert Benson relaxation response” for an easy technique). Exercise as much as you can, but don’t go out until you’ve cooled down and are no longer adrenalized. If you don’t have dependence issues, this may be a time for better living through chemistry — but not for chemical experiments. Stick with tried-and-true remedies, whether that’s Xanax, rosé, or special gummies (if they’re legal where you’re heading).

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Here’s a particularly odd tip, but there’s science behind it: Put your inner monologue in the third person. Narrate to yourself what’s going on as if you were in a novel. (“She frowned at the keyboard. Would the readers understand her point?”) This One Weird Grammatical Trick makes people calmer and gives perspective on emotional issues.

Also, tap into whatever spiritual tradition, cultural history, or pop culture fandom gives you strength. Somewhere, in the stories that are meaningful to you, there is a person who handled the situation you will be in with grace and dignity. Be that person. No one can tell you’re playing “Captain of the Away Team on a Hostile Planet” make-believe, and if it gets you through a difficult encounter? Engage!

And for you in particular, stay outside as much as possible. Green space is calming and good for brains. It’s a lower risk of transmission, so you can go maskless more safely, if you’re in a place where wearing a mask brings its own level of risk. You’ve got room to get away if anything turns ugly.


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.