In the United States, Thanksgiving is just a couple of days away. What was once a day of gratitude and counting blessings has simply become the day before Black Friday. What used to be a day of relaxing and enjoying good food, good friends and family has for many become a horror story full of stress and anxiety.
Many families are now blended and with that blending comes new faces, different traditions, traveling and learning to cope with change while trying to make dinner look like a Good Housekeeping photograph. Not easy, eh?
Ah, but as Oscar Wilde said: “After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”
My client book is full most of the time (I’m VERY grateful for you!) but especially beginning in November. I can literally feel the tension coming through the phone from some clients. Here’s a sampling – with permission – of the comments I hear:
“My sister insists on having EVERYTHING her way – right down to the toothpicks!
“Uncle Ned and my father rehash the SAME argument every single year.”
“AUGH! I just can’t sit there and listen to politics over dinner anymore – this is my holiday, too!”
“Why bother fixing a nice dinner? Everybody has their nose in their phone or the football game. Sigh…”
How do you handle all of these diverse personalities at one small table? It’s all about stress management during the holidays which is never easy, but it’s not impossible.
Diffusing the Stress During Thanksgiving Dinner
One Thanksgiving, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a condo at the beach where none of us were family. The hostess shooed all of us out for the afternoon so she could prepare dinner – that’s her forte – so the rest of us went outside.
Before we had dinner, our hostess asked each of us to name one thing in the past year that we felt grateful for. It set a wonderful mood and the rest of dinner – TV off – was spent sharing the events with each other that we were thankful for.
That was one of my favorite Thanksgiving holidays ever.
So, if holiday dinners cause the inevitable stress, what can you do differently?
In the face of a pending Thanksgiving dinner argument, a well placed inane question about seeing a movie after dinner and what movie it will be may be just enough to head off the next family explosion.
What if the explosion is inevitable? Make different plans next year. Just because you’ve always celebrated the holiday in a certain tradition doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it.
I come from a large extended family and as a child, we were expected to attend the traditional holiday gatherings. Inevitably, my uncles and aunts got into a fight about something. (Back in the day, a woman’s opinion about anything at all was discounted which made the situation even more volatile.)
These gatherings went on for years until my mother decided she’d had enough. We began visiting some of her friends on different holidays and it was much less stressful. I honestly don’t know what kind of backlash she faced for not attending these family gatherings, but she was in a much better mood before, during and after each holiday.
How about seating Uncle Ned at the kids table? Or for that matter, why don’t YOU sit at the kids table? I’ve learned to ask children open-ended questions and engage them in a conversation. I’m telling you, the kids table is far more entertaining than Uncle Ned and Dad going at it. At the very least, seat them at opposite ends of the table.
When the adults get too annoying, spending time with the kids outside can give your perspective a swift kick in the pants.
One year at my son’s home, one couple brought their 9 year old granddaughter. She’s a great kid and sitting inside on a beautiful day can get very boring for a child. I asked her if she wanted to go for a walk and move around and the look on her face was priceless! We had a very nice walk and asking her about things that she liked to do for fun turned into a delightful conversation.
By the way, be prepared to have your eyes opened when talking with kids. Absolutely nothing is the same as it used to be and they know w-a-a-a-y more then we did at the same age. Just sayin…
Can you set a time limit on turning off the television during dinner? Thirty minutes to enjoy food is not that long and in the grand scheme of all the football being aired on Thanksgiving, they’re not missing much.
Same thing goes for cell phones. Have everyone put their phone face down in the middle of the table. The first one who checks their phone during dinner does ALL the dishes (alone) or you can threaten to leave the television OFF for the rest of the evening. If nothing else, it makes them think twice – slows ’em down if you will.
Ways to Show Gratitude at Thanksgiving and Beyond
Not everyone is a positive optimist who sees the glass half full. If you are, kudos to you – I want to sit next to you and absorb your joy and optimism. I grew up in a very dysfunctional family. Trust me when I say we put the “fun” in dysfunctional!
Feeling grateful throughout the year has been a life-long lesson for me.
Here’s what PyschCentral.com says about learning true gratitude:
- Be mindful of your self-talk. You can’t be a positive person and beat the everlivin’ snot out of yourself. This has been my biggest challenge as I can truthfully say one thing: you can’t mentally beat me up any worse than I can. Once I realized how badly I spoke to myself, I began to change my language toward myself. Yes, this is a daily struggle to change a lifelong habit, but it makes a huge difference.
- Acknowledge yourself. “Most published books include a page or two of acknowledgments, where the author cites all the persons who helped shepherd her book to production. It’s like the Oscar moment, when the actor is up on stage and is rattling off every name he can think of and hopes to God he didn’t forget anyone–especially his spouse. The truth is that most people, and especially those who suffer from low self-esteem, do forget a very important figure: themselves. Which is why I think a healthy activity is to write a page of acknowledgements to yourself.”
- Keep track of your gratitude. Easier said than done. Taking time to write in a journal every day is a major chore for me. You may absolutely love it, but it’s another should/need/supposed to situation that simply causes more stress. If you enjoy journaling, then by all means include 5 things every day that you’re grateful for. If journaling is NOT for you, get a great big jar or vase and keep some small note paper and a pen next to it. Every day write down one thing that you’re grateful for. This doesn’t make it so much a chore but an exercise that stretches your mind.
- Spend five minutes meditating. AACK – I didn’t say twenty minutes! If you can’t sit quietly for five minutes, can you meditate for one minute? This is another area where my monkey mind goes haywire. I’ve learned to sit quietly for three minutes and simply focus on deep breathing which has amazing benefits for your whole body, mind and spirit.
- Get some extra sleep! Seriously, being sleep-deprived simply makes you cranky. When you’re cranky, your buttons or “triggers” get pushed a lot quicker. Does every single detail have to be picture-perfect? Not in my book. If I don’t get everything dusted perfectly, so what? Let some things go in order to get enough sleep. You and your family will be glad you did. (Need to criticize my housekeeping? Sparky, get a dust rag while you’re at it. Capiche?)
Holidays in and of themselves are immensely stressful because we get this idea in our heads of how they “should be” instead of how they really are. When it comes to the holidays, what I want and what actually happens are always two different things.
It’s okay. Really. Give yourself permission to let the holidays flow and let go of expectations.
Remember, the holidays are supposed to have an element of fun in them. They aren’t supposed to be stressful and serious and head-busting. Taking a few moments for “monkey business” of some sort can take an immense load off of you.
If you need some extra help to manage your stress during the holidays, please get Peaceful Ease Aromatherapy Roller Ball. It’s made with beautiful pure essential oils to help you manage anxiety and depression as well as the short-term stress that happens during the holiday season.
For long term stress, get Stress Support Aromatherapy Roller Ball. It’s meant to be a tonic when you endure chronic stress.
I am so very grateful for each of you! You share your heart and soul with me and allow me to share amazing tools to help you live a fulfilling life. If you need some extra help managing your holiday stress, please contact me and let’s talk today.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!