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Thanksgiving Dinner without the Stress

Thanksgiving dinner is coming up soon, but odds are you’re already stressing about more than just food preparation. If just thinking about the big banquet overwhelms you with anxiety, there are ways you can survive your family feast that don’t include secretly sipping wine in the other room. For our recommendations, read on!

Step 1: Acknowledge that it’s not all in your control.

Holiday dinners can be stressful due to the expectation that every moment with our family members should be joyous. In reality, there are often conflicts and misunderstandings. But no one has picture-perfect family gatherings, so let go of your expectations now. We need to remind ourselves that conflict is a reality of life.

Furthermore, you are not able to control people and situations, so make the decision to only concern yourself with the things that you have some power over. For example, you can’t expect everyone to get along, but you can choose to react well when they don’t. Most importantly, remember that it isn’t your personal responsibility to make sure that everyone has a wonderful time. You are only accountable for your own actions and what you bring to the proverbial (and, in this case, real) table. Be realistic and take comfort in knowing that you can only do so much. Let it go!

Step 2: Identify the main sources of stress and create a game plan. 

You can prepare yourself for the dinner by making time to address your anxiety ahead of time. Schedule time to brainstorm about the key sources of your stress and potential solutions. Here are some suggested solutions to common grievances:

Are you worried that you won’t have enough time cook?

  • Prepare your dish a week out and freeze it. No one has to know.
  • There’s no shame in ordering from your favorite deli, especially if some of the dinner guests have food specifications you’re not used to accommodating.

Do certain family members really get under your skin?

  • Andrea Brandt suggests coming up with canned responses to those intrusive personal questions that relatives just seem to love asking us.
  • Since people are more likely to be on their best behavior in the presence of unfamiliar others, consider inviting a friend to come with you!

Are you afraid that you’ll abandon your diet and gain 5 lbs. before the end of the weekend?

  • Eat something healthy before the feast to keep yourself from bingeing.
  • Bring your own dish(s) so you’ll have something you won’t feel guilty eating.

Step 3: Take care of yourself before, during, and after the big dinner.

Don’t let your health fall by the wayside! Your body needs to be in good physical health to handle emotional/mental stress, so make sure to take care of you.

If you get anxious during the holiday, your health is always a legitimate excuse to get away for a bit. Go take a nap or go for a walk for some light exercise and fresh air. You might even carve out time to exercise with one of your closest family members. Social support is critical when anxiety runs high, so find someone who supports you. If you don’t have an ally present, psychologist Dr. Jonice Webb recommends that you have one on stand-by who you can communicate with via text. At dinner, don’t feel pressure to gorge yourself. Remember that you can always politely turn down seconds. “I’m full right now, but maybe later,” will do just fine.

When the festivities finally end, set aside some time to recover before you head back to work. You might schedule a Sunday evening massage or even just a few hours of complete solitude to get yourself back on track. Even if things didn’t go perfectly, take stock of the things that went well. Showing gratitude is an excellent way to combat stress. Reflect on what was enjoyable during Thanksgiving. What was funny? Was your sister’s new dog really cute? Write all of the positive things down about your weekend and get on with your life feeling refreshed. There is always some reason to give thanks!

Tips for a Healthier Thanksgiving:

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