How to Prepare for Thanksgiving
The holidays are often a time to reflect and celebrate on personal growth and success, as well as the relationships that we have maintained and developed over the past year. And of course, there is often plenty of delicious food. We might give gifts to let people know how much we've appreciated their love and support over the year (maybe, especially this year). And though the lead-up to the planning and preparation can cause stress, we arrange ourselves around the table with those who are most important to us and give thanks. Our spiritual health, for the moment, is good.
This is the ideal, isn't it? Unfortunately, for many, Thanksgiving instead marks the beginning of the stressful season. A time of physical, emotional, financial, and familial challenges. A time that is often marked more by discomfort than by thanks and hope. If you are someone who experiences these challenges, here are some things that you can do to prepare, cope, and survive the beginning of the holiday season:
There's the turkey. The stuffing. The mashed potatoes, of course. Depending on your family's tradition, there's also grandma's classic green bean recipe, corn, dinner rolls, and cranberry sauce – and all of it smothered in gravy. Don't forget the pumpkin pie (with whipped cream). And after all that eating, still thankful, we are full. Too full. We crash. We groan. We accept that this feeling is how things will be over the holidays. Our diet may go out the window, but hey, it's the holidays!
This isn't to say a few big meals during festive times are going to do significant damage to your physical and mental health. Still, during the holiday season, which seems to go from Thanksgiving to the New Year, it is worth checking with our overall health: what we eat, when we eat, how we eat, and even why we eat. Research has shown that good dietary habits reduce the physical stress on our body associated with things like increased sodium/sugar intake and weight gain. In addition, these habits can also support good mental health as poor diets, even in the short term, have been associated with increased anxiety, depression, and decreased resilience, self-esteem, and body image.
So, try smaller portions, reduce alcohol intake, and don't skip Grandma's green beans when they're passed to you! Consider making light exercise part of the heavier consumption days – an after-dinner walk perhaps, which will not only help with digestion but provide an opportunity for a family activity beyond the dinner table!
But what about interpersonal stress? While Thanksgiving traditionally marks the beginning of getting together with family, for many, that prospect is not the idyllic scene of family gathering around the table, bearing gifts, and giving thanks. Getting together with family can be particularly difficult when it presents an opportunity for conflict of values and ideals. In these cases, it is essential to be mindful of boundaries and conflict triggers.
Ultimately, an essential factor to conflict management is managing your fears and staying engaged. Managing your anxiety requires you to let go of the judgments and expectations of yourself and your family members. Finding a resolution is typically a collaborative effort, so stay present and open to identifying solutions to deep-seated conflict (but acknowledge that Thanksgiving might not be the right time to do this work given the expectations and stresses inherent to these events). For more on conflict resolution, visit our Lotic Learn: Conflict Resolution.
In the end, if the prospect of getting together with family is too much to handle and you don't think you can maintain boundaries (or fear yours won't be respected), consider sitting this year out. Take your own vacation. Go on a retreat. Or, perhaps it's your year to host your own Thanksgiving with your immediate family at-home or even a "chosen family" of friends that you are confident will celebrate one another in a safer space, with boundaries acknowledged and conflict reduced.
The holiday season can bring up many past traumas and unresolved issues surrounding negative experiences and memories. Especially with a holiday that is often associated with family and gratitude, it is understandable that you may feel triggered. It's okay to acknowledge this while taking steps to process it through, for example, talking to a therapist or journaling. Self-care and compassion during this time are more critical than ever.
Self-care exercises can be physical, intellectual, or even spiritual with the intent to be relaxing or calming. At its core, self-care involves checking in with yourself and asking how you are doing and what your body needs at a given moment. As you become more aware of feelings of holiday-related tension or stress in your body, you can proactively use skills like exercise, breathing, or meditation to release the tension and relax. In doing so, you can avoid emotional reactions and stay in control of yourself. For more on developing a self-care routine, visit our Lotic Learn: Self Care.
Thanksgiving can be a time of great joy and a time of great stress. But at its core, same as it ever was, it's a time to give thanks. So this Thanksgiving, try to reflect on what you can be grateful for. A success you've had. An obstacle you've overcome. How far you've come since last year or a goal you've set going forward. Because a little gratitude is just like those green beans: good for you.