If we asked you to picture your Thanksgiving, would you conjure up an image of a happy family enjoying a moist turkey in a joyous celebration of love? Or would you picture a version of Hell featuring family dramas, overwhelming anxiety, and fighting over the television? If it's the latter, fear not! We're here to tell you that it doesn't have to be this way. Because while you may not be able to control how certain toxic family members behave, there are some things you can do to prepare for a stress-free Thanksgiving.
1. Play a game
Part of the stress of attending a family gathering is worrying about what to do about other people's controversial opinions. And a way of avoiding another pitfall conversation with your least favorite "uncle" is to, well, not talk to people at all. Instead, you could just play a game! You should probably go for something inoffensive that doesn't involve drinking or personal questions. How about Charades or Pictionary?
2. Eat what you like
Thanksgiving is about a lot of different things — and one that people like to talk about a lot is food. Is the turkey cooked right? Are we having yams or sweet potatoes? Who’s making the pumpkin pie? And did you know that Americans eat anywhere from 3,000 to 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving, according to the Calorie Control Council? But all of this diet talk can make eating somewhat less fun — and even anxiety-inducing for some. To avoid this, remind yourself and others that it's okay to eat a little more or less than usual. It is just one day out of the year, after all.
3. Make a new normal
The prospect of staving off Thanksgiving stress by compiling lists of neutral conversation topics, researching your guests, setting boundaries, and giving yourself “me-time” could actually be making you feel the anxiety you’re trying to avoid. In which case, why not just do something different? Have dinner with friends, or volunteer at a shelter, or go on a solo vacation. Start your own holiday tradition!
4. You don’t have to go home at all
Remember, there’s no reason for you to go visit your family for Thanksgiving if that’s not what you want to do. The decision to stay away might make your mom angry — but that doesn’t mean you should be sad, too. “It’s a radical thought that someone else could be upset and you can be as happy as you were before they got upset,” psychologist Dr. Lindsay Gibson told British newspaper The Guardian in 2021.