While some people relish the thought of gathering around a table with family and friends this Thanksgiving, for others this holiday can be fraught with anxiety and tension stemming from strained relationships, travel fatigue or even political differences. If you fall into the latter category, here are some expert tips to make Thanksgiving less stressful and more enjoyable:
• Family triggers. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist based in New York City and the director of Comprehend the Mind, recommends preparing a list of the ways our loved ones provoke negative feelings and thoughts. Discuss your notes with a trusted friend or mental health professional and rehearse how you can respond without provoking a combative conversation. Practice having an “attitude of gratitude.”
• For the host. Cooking and serving a holiday meal is stressful for most people, but especially today when so many guests have dietary restrictions. Discuss these issues in advance or ask that the guest brings a dish that is appropriate for their diet. “Be firm about an RSVP list,” says Hafeez. “Delegate tasks for family members and have them arrive a little early to assist.”
• Travel anxiety. Be prepared for long delays and traffic if you are traveling this Thanksgiving. Before leaving the house, listen to a meditation tape and pack extra food, drinks, toiletries, and chargers. If you are a fearful flyer, make sure you have inflight entertainment to keep you distracted.
• If you are watching your weight. Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, author of From Fatigued to Fantastic, says that if you are going to a buffet dinner this Thanksgiving, opt for fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. “Fill your plate halfway with the idea that you can return for seconds 20 minutes later,” he says. “If you eat slowly and enjoy each bite, you may find that smaller portions are more than adequate to make you feel full. Be aware that satiety kicks in after 20 minutes so pace yourself and you may not need a second plate.”
• Social anxiety. This can be a huge issue for many people. Hafeez says you can ask your host to seat you next to someone you feel comfortable with, or ask if there’s something you can do to assist. Helping in the kitchen or passing drinks during the cocktail hour can ease social discomfort by filling in the time. “Try to change your thinking into ‘I’m excited’ instead of ‘I’m anxious.’ Our feelings are a byproduct of the ‘tape’ we play in our head,” says the expert.
• If you are alone. Hafeez says it is “incredibly depressing to scroll through social media and see happy families together if you are eating dinner for one. Stay off Facebook and Instagram during Thanksgiving.” Instead, stream movies or read books that have nothing to do with the holiday and pretend it is an evening like any other, knowing that in the morning it will be all over. Also, remind yourself that just because people are getting together for the holiday, it doesn’t mean they are as blissful as they appear on social media, says Hafeez. “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,” she adds. “You would often be surprised at the kindness of others to be inclusive.”
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