How to Mentally Prep for Thanksgiving
It’s that time of year again: seemingly back-to-back holidays, tons of food, and a lot of family time. And for many reasons, this can be a wonderful time of year. It’s a time of fun, of love, of thanks, and of spending time with others.
But for many, there can be bad sides to the holidays at well. One of the biggest offenders here is Thanksgiving, as awkward family dinners and tense situations can cause people a lot of stress.
Personally, we don’t really like to celebrate Thanksgiving. But we recognize that many people do, and it’s important to prepare for it. So let’s talk about some ways that you can mentally prepare yourself for this holiday, in order to enjoy it more and spend a little less time worrying.
There are many reasons why Thanksgiving may be a tough holiday. For some people, remembering the troubling origins of the holiday can be depressing, and they may not want to celebrate. Others feel a lot of pressure to be cheerful and kind 24/7, and that can lead to feelings of disappointment or worry. It also coincides with the time when many people start experiencing seasonal depression, so it can be a rough time of year in general.
But the most common difficulty people have with Thanksgiving is family. It is a time when families are expected to gather together and celebrate. For some people, especially those with family-centric trauma, this can be a very triggering time.
Or perhaps you just have a difficult family. It could be that certain people don’t get along, or too many people try to take control. Then there’s that racist aunt that you never enjoy seeing. And, for LGBTQ+ people, dealing with homophobia and heteronormativity can be especially challenging.
Whether it’s depression, trauma, dysfunctional family, or something else, there are many reasons you may struggle around Thanksgiving, and all of them are valid. Of course, not celebrating the holiday, or avoiding family, could work great— but if that is not an option, or you want to celebrate it, there are some other ways you can mentally prep for Thanksgiving.
Ways to cope
No matter how you choose to celebrate, if it all, the most important thing is to take care of your mental health. Though it may be hard, don’t let your self care lapse during this time. If you see a therapist, continue talking to them about how to cope with all the stress. And if you think you might benefit from seeing one, now is a great time to find one.
If you know that there will be parts of Thanksgiving that make you feel bad, acknowledge that now. Say to yourself “I know this is going to happen, and that’s ok.” Once you accept that these negative feelings will come up, you can figure out how to prepare for them and work around them, rather than pushing them down. This kind of reframing of your mindset is helpful for all aspects of your mental health.
A good place to start is with creating new traditions and memories. Think of ways to celebrate that you will really enjoy. This could be a specific food that you want to make, a type of decoration to get, a shopping trip, or anything else.
Setting new traditions helps you take control over how you celebrate Thanksgiving. It also gives you something to look forward to each year. This is especially helpful if you have bad experiences surrounding the holiday. What you are doing is creating new, happy memories to replace the old ones. The bad memories will never go away, but they will get easier to handle with every positive memory you make.
If you don’t want to celebrate with your family, you could do a sort of “friendsgiving”. Invite over friends, and even certain family members, that you know you would enjoy spending time with. This allows you to spend time with your chosen family, and can make the experience a lot better for you.
If you are stuck with family members, or want to see them but they can be difficult, there are some things you can do to prepare for that, which we will talk about shortly.
Alcohol is a common thing around holidays. It’s a way for people to celebrate and have fun. But be careful around it, and think about your mental health before taking a drink.
For those who suffer from anxiety around Thanksgiving, it might be a good idea to avoid alcohol. It has a tendency to worsen the effects of anxiety, and the last thing you want is to throw gas on the fire. The same can be said for depression.
Keep an eye on any medications you take. Many medicines, especially antidepressants, can actually react negatively with alcohol. Consult your doctor or psychiatrist to make sure it is safe to drink. And lastly, drink responsibly.
Dealing with dysfunctional family
This is the hardest part of prepping for Thanksgiving. Difficult family members, discrimination, shaming, and arguing can be devastating on your mental health. But there are a few things you can do to make the experience a little less difficult.
One possible option is to bring along a “buffer”. This could be a date, partner, friend, or even coworker. The important thing is that it be someone who is not in your family.
As you probably know, family members tend to be on their best (or at least better) behavior when outsiders are around. So bringing along a buffer can reduce the amount of dysfunction and arguing that occurs.
Another benefit of this is that you have someone who is there just for you. They can provide any support and comfort that you may need, and you know you can turn to them if you need a way out. If it’s an option for you, bringing a guest to the family Thanksgiving could really help.
When it comes to conflict, you can try your best to diffuse it and avoid confrontation. One of the best ways to do this is what’s called “I statements”. For example, instead of saying “you’re being really rude right now”, you could say “I feel like the things you are saying are upsetting.” Using I statements makes the other party feel less attacked, and more open to hearing what you have to say.
For especially proud or overbearing relatives, you can also do what I call the “ego trick”: Give them a job to do— it could be something simple like setting the table or making a certain dish— and make it sound really, really important. This will boost their ego and turn their mind away from negative thoughts they have, getting them off your back at least for a little while.
Lastly, pick your battles carefully. It really sucks when your uncle says something incredibly racist, and yes, he should be called out. But before you do that, take stock of the situation. Is it safe to do so? Would other people be on your side? Can you emotionally handle the confrontation it will cause?
If you answer no to any of those, you probably shouldn’t do it. Although it sucks, it is ok to let these things slide if it means keeping yourself safe, both physically and mentally. Persist to fight another day.
All this isn’t to say that Thanksgiving will be terrible. It can really be a great holiday, if you are able to make it into something you love and avoid some of the worse parts. So if you celebrate, by all means, look forward to it and hope for the best!
But if you know that parts of it will be difficult for you, it’s important to prepare for that. Do whatever you can to make the holiday more enjoyable for you, or avoid celebrating it altogether if that’s what you wish. Once you prep for Thanksgiving, hopefully you will have a lot of fun and create some great memories!
Do you have any other tips for Thanksgiving prep, or something you really like about the holiday? Let us know by leaving a comment below! And if you like what you read and want to read more, subscribe to receive an email every time we make a new post.