How To Care For Yourself This Thanksgiving

Apparently this is the most stress filled Thanksgiving ever.  The Boston Globe even has a term for it: The Thankspocalypse.  

"TV anchors are urging people to remain calm. Therapists are adding office hours to accommodate the panicky. Doctors are warning diabetics and heart patients about elevated health risks. Motorists are being advised to plan for hurricane-evacuation-level traffic jams. Pet owners have been put on alert.

The threat? Thanksgiving."

They go on to point out that we do actually have real crises on our hands, aka our country imploding. That is very, very real, of which I'm reminded by daily as I drive by Roy Moore signs in my state, as well as the constant stream of tragedy and bad news. So our national, community, and individual psyches are beat down. Not to mention the very real daily lives we are all still living: the illnesses and deadlines and births and deaths, and also did you give the dog her insulin? 

The Boston Globe story also talks about people needed intense pre-and post-holiday therapy. Family dynamics! Traffic! And apparently we're still into cooking the "perfect" holiday meal (let's get back to that in a moment, shall we?). They quote a therapist: 

"Carney, who is Skyping with out-of-town patients who need a holiday booster shot, says people start talking about Thanksgiving anxiety in October, and then spend post-turkey sessions discussing who said what to whom. 'The debrief is a big part of the therapy, 'he said."

First, mental health is a very real thing all year round, and holidays bring an additional level of challenge.  It's vital to take care of your mental health and call upon every therapist, priest, rabbi, and support system you may have.  For those dealing with grief, illness, recovery (drug/alcohol and or food), it packs additional layers. If you need help, reach out to a trusted source -- please. 

This is my third holiday season sober. The first two were incredibly difficult (see: having to leave the family dinner table to weep and call my sponsor). But two holiday seasons sober has taught me:

I have the power to do things that I don’t want to do.

And so do you.  

That's right: you are a decision maker. And you do have the power to respond differently to the things you do have control over. This includes the holidays. 



Some thoughts:

  • If it's so stressful to do these holiday things you've always done, don't do them. As in draw some boundaries and stay home. What is really going to happen? Are you going out of fear and obligation? Look, I get that. I know you might hear, "But this could be grandma/Fluffy/ my last ________." That's guilt. That's fear and shame based. And yes I know that's how family can roll. But you can also respond differently. 

Do you care about your family? Do you make time for them at other times during the year? Do you actually enjoy spending time with them? If the answer is no, then seriously, doesn't it sound nicer to stay home on your couch, or spend the day in nature, or serving someone in need? 

Maybe at the holidays you are trying to build a bridge. Trying to repair strained relationships. Trying. I get that. But miracles can and do happen all year round. And they happen when they happen. It might not happen during the window between Thanksgiving and December. OK. 

Brene Brown says adults should be able to give ourselves "permission slips," the way teachers give kids. Like give yourself a permission slip to do whatever you want. She actually says you should write them down, and if that works, go to town.

  • If you decide to go (again, you have the choice) and can't bear to hear your crazy Uncle Walter (yes that's a Ben Folds reference) go on and on about how noble our deranged president is, don't. As in, you actually don't need to have conversations you don't want to have. I'm not saying throw eggnog in his face, but why can't we say, "You know what, Uncle Water? I'd prefer not to discuss that. Please pass the green beans". Boundaries? Oh, your family doesn't do those well? That's because it's hard work. And not everyone has done, will do, or is doing the work. And if you really feel yours are being compromised, or you are going to leave agitated or down, circle back to my first point.


  • A note on food: I mean that is a huge part of the stress, right? Try to find a lifestyle publication that doesn't have a headline about "Stress Less Thanksgivng ______." I dare you. (Sure, I'll stress less as I'm walking through the woods picking up foliage to weave a custom centerpiece or searching for small batch single origin cranberries.) Maybe you like to cook and entertain. Maybe you don't. Maybe it changes year to year and based on the circumstances of your life that holiday.

Here comes that radical thought again: if you don't want to cook, don't. If you do, wonderful! Nourishing your family and friends over a communal table is a beautiful and time honored thing. Guess what: I'm not doing it. In fact, this year even heating up the pre-prepared meal from Whole Foods was too much for my family, so we will go out for a lovely meal. Yes there might be some grumbles about the menu selection or lack of leftovers. Oh well.

My mom has chronic and disabling illnesses that really do make day to day challenging. She expressed some sadness that we’re not doing a big at-home spread. I told her I literally don’t care what we eat, just that we’re together. (I know, I like my family a lot so you might not take advice from me.)

No one should have to. I am going to create space put their health, sanity, or well-being at risk to create a meal that's going to be inhaled in 20 minutes. Again, if you find great delight in doing things, if it's life-giving and brings you pleasure and honors your family traditions in a way that brings you joy: wonderful. But if not: why are you doing it? 

Why are we still feeding into the notion of this “perfect Thanksgiving” concept. Like the world is literally on fire. So why aren’t we minimizing the stresses that we can? Why aren’t we standing up for ourselves and using our voices and just saying what we want? And doing that, knowing that in doing so, we’ll be better protecting ourselves for experiences that we choose. For celebrations we want. For this marathon of life.