Whether you are hosting your own Thanksgiving dinner or attending someone else’s, Thanksgiving can be stressful. Traveling, guests, family dynamics, cooking and cleaning, etc. can all be nerve wracking. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are five tips for making the holiday go as smoothly as possible.
Plan ahead but expect some unexpected.
If dinner is at your place, prepare as much as possible in advance. Shop early and prepare foods that don’t need to be made on Thanksgiving Day. Have movies, games, and other activities ready for the children in the house so you can attend to whatever you need to without too much interruption. Have rooms ready and pre-assigned for guests to avoid potential conflict. If traveling, expect traffic and have activities for children in the car or on the plane. Recognize that things won’t always go your way. Food might not come out perfectly, a relative could be running late, or your child could decide to throw a tantrum just as guests are arriving or when you enter a family member’s home. Think about these possibilities ahead of time and prepare coping strategies just in case. Hopefully you won’t have to use them, but you will have them in your pocket for a quick reference.
Flip the switch on expectations of family members.
Many of us have family members who are difficult to tolerate and who we know we will see during the holidays. Certain events are unavoidable but our attitude towards them and how we conduct ourselves can be controlled. Rather than dreading the presence of particular individuals and focusing on their flaws, try to list qualities you like about them in advance. Maybe Uncle Joe is loud and dominates conversations, but the kids find him hilarious, and he keeps them entertained while you prepare food. Aunt Sue might irritate you by prying into your business, but you know that she means well and she happens to scrub all the pots and pans without being asked or complaining. Make the most out of time with relatives. You’ll have more fun if you try to view them through a more positive lens.
This one is pretty simple. If someone offers to make dessert and you hate baking, say yes and thank you. If someone offers to help clean or read the kids a story before bed, say yes and thank you. Sometimes the little things can make a huge difference on your stress level.
Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Let’s face it. No matter how hard we try, we will all likely be less healthy and eat more than usual on Thanksgiving. Try to enjoy without overindulging but remember that weight management is more about your eating and exercise habits throughout the year than on holidays. Let yourself enjoy some rare treats and go back to a healthier lifestyle on Friday. Try to avoid the mentality that lets you eat the whole cake just because you had a slice. Instead of thinking of Thanksgiving as “kicking off” the holiday season of overeating, view time spent with family on holidays as days of indulgence.
Be unconventional if it suits your family.
Some families are too busy to cook elaborate meals. Making the turkey, stuffing, and everything else, takes planning and a lot of time. If you and your family decide to order in or go out for dinner, don’t think that you aren’t instilling family values in your children. Thanksgiving and holidays in general are about spending time together, not about making “game changing turkeys” as some magazines would like you to believe.
Dr. Jaime Black is a licensed psychologist practicing in Westchester and New York City. In addition to providing general mental health services, Jaime works with individuals of all ages on the autism spectrum, doing psychotherapy, conducting evaluations, and facilitating social skills groups. Visit www.spectrumservicesnyc.com, e-mail JaimeBlackPsyD@gmail.com or call (914) 712-8208.
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