How to Ease Thanksgiving Anxiety: Tips for All Areas of Holiday Stress by Dr. Sanam Hafeez
Thanksgiving is just around the corner. For some, this is a day they look forward to with eager anticipation to reunite with loved ones and eat delicious food. For others, it’s a day fraught with tension and anxiety that may stem from strained relationships, travel, preparations, personality clashes, eating disorders or even political differences.
How can you make this holiday less stressful and more enjoyable if you are in the latter group? Here's some help.
- Prepare a list of ways your loved ones provoke negative feelings or thoughts.
- Discuss these feelings with a trusted friend or mental health professional prior to the holiday and how you will respond.
- Find a way to disengage politely from combative conversations.
- Pledge to yourself to practice an “attitude of gratitude.”
For the Host
Cooking and serving is stressful for most people, especially when people have dietary restrictions or you feel you are being held to a certain standard like a meal your grandmother used to prepare. Plan early. Find out dietary restrictions in advance. Be firm about an RSVP list. Delegate certain family members to assist and have them at your home before guests arrive.
People on Diets
Be sure to eat a healthy breakfast. Don’t starve yourself to “store up” for those calories later on. Fill your plate with vegetables and turkey and skip the mashed potatoes and gravy. If you do “cheat,” remember it’s only one day, and you can restart your diet the next day. Don’t beat yourself up, holidays are meant for indulging.
Asking your host to be seated next to someone you feel comfortable with can be helpful. If there is a cocktail hour, perhaps you can ask the host if they can give you a “job” to keep your mind active such as prepping items in the kitchen so there is not as much empty social time for you to fill. Try to change your thinking into “I’m excited” instead of “I’m anxious." Our feelings are often a by-product of the “tape” we play in our heads.
Some people fear air travel and others feel stressed by long lines or road traffic. Listen to meditations pre-flight or the night before to help calm your nerves. There are bound to be delays if you are traveling during peak times. Pack extra food, drinks, basic toiletries, chargers, and if you are a fearful flyer, make sure you have inflight entertainment to keep you distracted.
Struggles With Eating Disorders
Few holidays are as stressful for someone with ED as a holiday that revolves around food. Set boundaries for yourself before the day. These might include moving your seat if a particular person is a trigger. Saying no to someone pushing food that makes you uncomfortable, changing the topic away from food/weight or shortening how long you stay. Prior to this holiday, it would be helpful to seek coping tools from a mental health professional or a recovery-based community.
For Those Who are Alone
It is incredibly depressing to scroll through social media and see “happy” families together if you are eating dinner for one. Stay off Instagram and Facebook during Thanksgiving and network TV. Stream movies or read books that have nothing to do with the holiday and pretend it’s an evening like any other, knowing that it will all be over in the morning. Remind yourself that just because others are together does not mean that they are as blissful as they might appear on social media. If you can’t cope with being alone on Thanksgiving, reach out to synagogues or churches in your area and see if they have anything open to the community. On Facebook there are often neighborhood groups where people say they will be alone and ask if they can join someone’s table. You would often be surprised at the kindness of others to be inclusive.
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