Have you noticed that no matter what is going on in your life, the Holidays show up. Ushered in by Thanksgiving, we all know the Hallmark image of the perfect family gathered around a beautiful table to share wonderful food and give thanks.
In reality, I don’t know many people who have perfect years, perfect families, or perfect gatherings. Most people’s lives and feelings are complicated. As humans, there is often something wonderful and something painful that we carry. Sometimes the wonderful outshines the pain. Sometimes we can’t feel anything but the pain.
Rather than feeling burdened, disappointed, anxious or sad on Thanksgiving, why not take ownership of Thanksgiving with all the complications. Why not celebrate or redefine this holiday in your way on your terms.
Here are some suggestions:
Whether you carry the weight of a medical diagnosis, the loss of your job or the recent break-up of a relationship, you won’t be the only person at any table or event who is at times holding back tears, even as you grateful for your family’s love, cooking or connection. There are many dimensions to our lives and to our feelings.
Use the Day as A Distraction From Work or Worries
No matter what you do, be it spending a day at the beach, binge watching a TV series or raking your elderly neighbor’s leaves, giving yourself permission to use Thanksgiving to be distracted is a holiday for mind and body. Sometimes we just need a respite on our own terms.
Love the One You are With
- A good deal of holiday stress is related to disappointment of expectations. We all have our own picture of what is supposed to happen and who is supposed to be around the table for Thanksgiving. The complicating reality is that your expectation may not be shared with others. Expectations are stress producers. Some people define depression as the discrepancy between what we expect and what is.
- One way to free yourself of the stress of expectations when it comes to relatives, friends or lovers is to adapt the lyrics of the 1970 single by folk rocker Stephen Stills. “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you are with.” Embracing those around you is a way to be grateful and a way to lower stress.
Follow Your Heart To Find a Way
Emotionally design Thanksgiving to help you deal with loved ones that you miss on the holidays. Recently I spent time with many families who had lost someone to suicide. With courage, tears and creativity, they shared the many different ways they planned to take on the Holidays from setting a place at the table for the lost loved one, to going somewhere different and eating something completely different. Life had changed tragically and painfully and they wanted to celebrate the love and contain the pain in a way that seemed possible for them.
Turn Your Kitchen into “ Celebrity Chef Cook-off”
- If “ doing” the Holiday is a day of personal resentment and overwork, ask for help and bring in the competition so that you can enjoy it.
- Despite the moans, complaints and insistence that you do it best, it is uncanny to see the fun that family and friends can have when they do more than sit and wait for the meal.
- Break with tradition and add to the competition by letting those who have been wanting to help—help. Make room for the vegans, the vegetarians, and the beef lovers and let the fun and the food begin.
Turkey with a Side of Laughter
There is probably nothing healthier and more enjoyable than laughter. It always adds another human and invaluable dimension. Children and pets are always a source of delight and laughter as they are the best of us without the complications.
Another precious source of laughter are family stories and memories of loved ones that let us re-live the feelings of being with them again. Laughter among people is contagious. Laughter is an equal opportunity gift that can turn a piece of pie into a party.
Be Grateful for Something
Everyone deserves to share in the benefits of Gratitude on Thanksgiving. A recent New York Times article underscores the benefits of gratitude on our neurochemistry and resulting mood. Recognizing that it may seem impossible, Arthur Brooks suggests that if it feels difficult, begin with gratitude for the smallest of things like the colors in nature, the touch of your pet, the delivery of your paper— and the feeling of gratitude will start to take hold. When it comes to Thanksgiving you can always be grateful that it is only a day and despite the complications– it belongs to you.
Register for a free Psych Central Webinar on Building Stress Resilience on Monday 11/30/15 7-8PM EST with Dr. Suzanne Phillips