How do you limit the impact of stress on your Thanksgiving gathering – and your health?

By their very nature, holidays create stress — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Anticipating the arrival of loved ones and the exhilaration of getting everything on the table at the same time stimulate a stress reaction in your body – that quick zing is a welcome part of enjoying the day.

Stress isn’t good or bad; it is simply your body’s reaction to the environment.

Anticipating uncomfortable conversations, experiencing delayed flights, or feeling pressured to present a perfect meal continuously triggers stress and creates anxiety, distraction, and even anger.

Here are 4 tips to Stress-Proof Your Holiday:

  1. Celebrate All Victories: It is easy to let the lovely moments slip by unnoticed in a rush to get everything accomplished. Whether you are hosting, juggling multiple obligations for the day, or managing to stay civil with the family member who gets under your skin, keep an eye out for kindnesses, milestones, and genuine affection. Did your aunt remember to leave the marshmallows off a corner of the sweet potato casserole for you? Did you see your grandchild helping set the table for the first time? Did you catch your cousin’s eye as he acknowledged your humor even though nobody else got it? Did you manage not to leave the green beans in the microwave this year? Woo Hoo! Those are all victories. Savor those moments.
  2. Remember it is just a Thursday in November: This Thanksgiving may look and feel different than last year or Thanksgivings of the past. Will there be more people around your table or fewer? Maybe a new marriage or the birth of a baby has changed who can travel this year. Perhaps you are missing someone who has passed away. Or perhaps, your relationships have changed because of distance, COVID isolation, or the state of politics. You don’t have to solve the world’s problems or resolve every dispute to sit down with people, enjoy a meal, and be civil for a few hours. In addition, remember:
    • Perfect meals don’t exist. Enjoy what you have – it isn’t a cooking competition show.
    • Perfect families don’t exist either. Enjoy (or tolerate) who you have. There isn’t a prize for winning Thanksgiving.
    • Perfect people also do not exist; try to maintain your sense of humor. In 3 weeks, nobody will remember if you left the green beans in the microwave. (Unless it becomes a running joke like it has in our house – and then enjoy that!!)
  3. Adjust your expectations: Set yourself up for success by defining what will make this Thanksgiving successful for you. Over the years, I’ve learned to set two or three goals for a gathering to enjoy myself and feel like the investment of time and energy was worth it. Whether you are hosting or a guest, what two or three things will make this Thanksgiving a success? Do you want to have a conversation with your sister that lasts more than 10 minutes about something other than the meal you are preparing? Will you feel good about the day if you can be in your PJs by 7 pm? Do you need a walk outside after the meal? Do you need to protect time to get yourself dressed and ready before people arrive so you don’t feel dowdy and stressed? Prioritizing a few needs can make Thanksgiving feel more like a celebration.
  4. Let Go: Sometimes, we bring more to the table than pumpkin pie. Family gatherings are often emotionally complicated. What do you do when other people, or their behaviors or decisions, are the cause of your stress? I’ve found these three questions are the key to letting go of the stress and hard feelings to maintain relationships:
    • What if this is the best they can do? Whew, this is a tough one!! I can sit in my arrogance of rightness and truly believe my way is the right way. This belief causes intense judgment and usually a healthy (or really quite unhealthy) dose of anger. But what if you take a breath and consider that maybe this is the best decision they can make right now? Even if it doesn’t seem right to you, can you let go of your rightness and give them a bit of space and grace?
    • What if there is something I don’t understand? We all bring different life experiences, beliefs, world views, and histories to any situation. What if there is something about their experience that doesn’t fit your view of the world?
    • What if it isn’t about me? Other people’s choices and behavior can feel very personal. It can feel like they are consciously deciding to hurt you – or even choosing not to consider your feelings of wellbeing. But what if you aren’t even part of their consideration? The burden of hard feelings can chill relationships – and the unfortunate part is when family rifts are created when one person feels alienated by behavior that had nothing to do with how the other feels about them. We all make choices for ourselves – and truthfully, we don’t spend tons of time thinking about how it will impact each of the people in our lives. Maybe, just maybe – we should give each other the grace of believing our decisions are not meant to be hurtful, unkind, or selfish.
    • One note: I’m not advocating against drawing boundaries for yourself or accepting behavior that causes you anxiety or makes you feel unsafe.
    • You can find more about these questions in this video: https://elizgreene.com/blog/are-other-people-or-their-behavior-causing-your-stress/ 

I hope these tips bring you a more enjoyable, stress-proof Thanksgiving!

2 Comments

  1. Wonderful suggestions. My dilemma this year is family that isn’t vaccinated. I’m very immuno-compromised. I have trouble understanding their hesitancy around the vaccine. To each his own!!

    Wishing you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas season.

    • Thanks Sydney – yes, I believe there are many families in this dilemma this year!

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