In general, the commercials, the photos, the cards for Thanksgiving all depict the same kinds of scenes. Lots of food and family all smiling and happy and thankful. While this is true for many, for some Thanksgiving is a very stressful time of year for a wide variety of reasons.
Unresolved family trauma is a very real thing that rears its ugly head at the holidays. Long held beliefs about where one fits or doesn’t fit into their family come to the surface. Continued abuse either emotional, verbal, or physical find their way out during the holidays. Sometimes, just being in the same room with someone is more than many people can bear.
Grief and loss affect Thanksgiving for many others. The holidays are powerful reminders of those we have lost either through death or the end of relationships. The waves of grief can be too much to surf with a room full of people expecting you to interact and have conversations.
Some people don’t have families. There are circumstances that can leave people alone. Truly alone. Feeling that and being bombarded with the images of Thanksgiving as this happy family holiday can be overwhelming for many of these people.
So how can one weather the Thanksgiving holiday if our lives do not resemble the “happy family Thanksgiving” presented to us on a daily basis? The focus must be on doing what is best for you, not what is expected.
* Do not feel pressured to attend any event. This can be very difficult with families due to the possible judgment (real or imagined) that can occur. You do not have to go at all. However, if you do go, you do not have to stay very long. Don’t go early. Possibly present yourself for the meal only and after it is over find a way to leave quietly. If the event is with friends but you are not feeling up to it for whatever reason (grief, loss, illness, etc.) you do not have to go.
* Be aware of your own feelings. If a Thanksgiving gathering makes you anxious, sad, depressed, overwhelmed or any other negative emotion notice it, acknowledge it, and if you feel you need to leave for your emotional health – leave.
* Limit alcohol consumption. At many Thanksgiving gatherings, alcohol is part of the event. When we are feeling anxious, sad, depressed, grieving, or emotions from the past come up, we can think that drinking more alcohol can dull those emotions. Many time it can have the opposite effect increasing them and also lessening inhibitions that can cause us to act or say things in ways we would not if we were sober. This can lead to arguments, fighting, and even physical confrontations.
* Avoid the drama. Don’t take the bait of judgmental comments made by others. Redirect conversations that are critical, political, or confrontational. Enforce and reinforce your own boundaries politely but firmly. If things get too heated or make you very uncomfortable, leave.
* Give to others. If a gathering of family or friends is not something you are looking forward to, maybe finding a way to give to others would be better for you. Help collect and distribute Thanksgiving meals or turkeys to those who don’t have them. Volunteer to serve Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter or other facility for those without families or homeless. Visit a nursing home to spend time with some older folks who may not have family.
* Self-Care. Whether you spend time with family, friends, others, or alone for Thanksgiving, find time for your own self-care. Do something you enjoy. Something that you find relaxing. Go for a walk, meditate, write, paint, take a bath, get some exercise, put on your pajamas and watch football or a favorite movie. Invest time in letting go of any stress that has built up throughout the day or the several days of the holiday (shopping can be stressful too). Take care of you.
Whatever your Thanksgiving holiday contains, I do hope that you find a way to recognize the things you have to be thankful for. If it is family and friends be thankful for that. If it is for pajamas and watching football be thankful for that. If it is for helping others and giving of yourself be thankful for that. If it is for opening your eyes to another day be thankful for that. Find your thanks where ever it is. It is okay, Thanksgiving isn’t for everyone, but being thankful is.
Until next time,