Tips for a Stress-Free Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, the unofficial start of the winter holiday season, is meant to be a time for feasting, spending time with loved ones, and reflecting on good fortune. But for many people, Thanksgiving can also be incredibly stressful. It comes loaded with expectations that can create an enormous amount of pressure on any family – especially on the moms, who are often in charge of the food and the family organizing.

This year, don’t let Thanksgiving stress get you down. Following are a few major sources of stress, and some ways to navigate through it.

Stress about relatives:

Thanksgiving would be great if your in-laws would only stop criticizing, or if your Uncle Fred would stop drinking so much, or if your Aunt Gertrude would stop nagging the kids, or if…You get the picture. No family is perfect, and family gatherings are when everyone’s unfortunate quirks come out. If you’re hosting, you can keep some of the annoying relatives at bay by keeping them busy. Give everyone a task, even if it means sending Uncle Fred outside to collect more firewood. If you’re visiting, volunteer to help with dinner or dishes. Or find something that everyone can get excited about, whether it’s a starting a touch football game, rooting for your favorite team on TV, or taking dibs on the wishbone. Resolve to let hurtful or critical comments roll off your back. And remember, it’s only one day.

Stress about the dinner:

Sure, you remember your grandmother’s Thanksgiving dinners, where everything was delicious and made from scratch. But you shouldn’t hold yourself up to an impossible ideal of perfection. Ask everyone to contribute to the meal, even if you need to use a little flattery (“Cousin Edna, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without your special mincemeat pie!”). Use shortcuts if you need to, buying some or all of the dishes prepared or ready-to-serve from a restaurant or supermarket. You can even (gasp!) use Thanksgiving-themed paper plates instead of the good china if it will help get the whole production off the ground. In the end, what people will remember is the good time they had.

Stress about the kids:

Holidays are a notoriously tough time for kids and their parents. Routines get thrown off, naps are missed, and everyone eats more sugar than they should. It’s enough to make everyone cranky. But you can help them stay calm if you give them a purpose. Kids can set the table, mash the potatoes, or arrange apples in the crust to make a perfect pie. While they’re waiting for food, you can give them a project like taking pictures of everyone for a Thanksgiving photo album. And at dinner, take a break from battling over food. Picky eaters can usually find something bland to suit them (plain turkey, potatoes, or rolls) before they move on to dessert.

Other stresses:

Of course there are plenty of other factors that can create unpleasant emotions during Thanksgiving. Worried about finances? Missing a loved one who has passed away or who is serving in the armed forces? Struggling to keep your weight down? For every reason you might have to be stressed out, there are other people who are going through something similar. Help yourself by reaching out to a local or online support group. Take a walk or a long, hot shower to clear your head. Get dressed up in the clothes that make you feel good. And above all, be easy on yourself. Thanksgiving can be a crazy, stressful time – but if you recognize your own stress triggers, find ways to mitigate stressful situations, and keep a level head – you will find yourself better equipped to enjoy the holiday.

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