While Thanksgiving is one of the most beloved holidays, for many people it’s wrought with anxieties, sadness, and insecurities. The “perfect” family Thanksgiving is elusive for us all, in some way. Here are some ways that you can take care of yourself and manage your expectations during the holidays.
1. Don’t overdo it with food & drink. Many will turn to these as a way to take the edge off or numb themselves to their feelings, but it’s not worth it, and oftentimes makes the situation (and your feelings) worse.
2. Get some exercise. Whether you invite the family to join you on a walk after the Thanksgiving meal, or you squeeze in a quick workout before you go, move your body.
3. Practice gratitude. Before, during, and after the gatherings, take a moment to stop and notice things, big and small, that you can be grateful for. Share your thankfulness with others.
4. Take a break and get some fresh air. When you notice tension or discomfort in your body, step away from the food prep or the football game and get some fresh air. While you’re at it:
5. Practice deep breathing. Take deep breaths through your nose, then exhale through your mouth. Let your breaths make your chest and stomach rise, and repeat several times before rejoining the group.
6. Be gentle with yourself. Instead of criticizing yourself, adopt an attitude of acceptance toward yourself and your feelings. Recognize that you’re doing the best you can, and treat yourself the same way you’d treat a dear friend.
7. Lower your expectations. Many of the potential downfalls and landmines of holiday gatherings can be avoided by managing our own expectations. We’ve got to recognize when we start to feel that overwhelming desire to create the perfect holiday, and then challenge those thoughts. Is it coming from a place of perfectionism, that leads us to believe there are only 2 categories (on one end is the perfect, harmonious, ideal holiday where everyone is joyful, and on the other end is a disappointing and miserable one)? Do a reality check, and ask yourself if there’s somewhere in the middle, that’s enjoyable, realistic, and decidedly “good enough.” Setting impossibly high standards for perfection is one way to ensure that you will be let down, and that your loved ones will feel the pressure of perfection that dampens any gathering. Likewise, make sure you’re not setting unrealistic expectations on the behavior and attitudes of others. Consider your past experiences of your family members, and prepare yourself for the likelihood of them being the same as before. You can even decide in advance how you want to respond and interact with them. When you feel under pressure from the interrogating Great Aunt, you can give her your prepared response and then intentionally turn your attention to what’s going well around you.
Practicing self care can enable you to behave in a way that’s in line with your values and personality, and you won’t have to endure the regret of missing out on a good holiday just because it fell short of perfection.