When it comes to Thanksgiving, we often picture Norman Rockwell-esque images of a happy family gathered together around the table. Delicious food, thoughtful conversations, and loving interactions, all sprinkled with a heart-warming dose of “thankfulness” and appreciation.
But in reality, Thanksgiving family gatherings are full of tension, bickering, and passive-aggressive comments. Maybe you can relate to holiday stress like this, and think about how to deal with anxiety over the matter.
If you’re worried about spending time at the family gathering, there’s a way to have quality time while skipping the drama. Here’s how to relieve stress at the dinner table, and find things you’re actually thankful for.
1. Remember that it’s not about you.
Some people escape the reality of their own lives by obsessing over the lives of others. People (especially family) will talk about you. They will comment on your clothes, your weight, and your choice of friends or love interest. They will judge you, because they are too afraid to look within themselves.
Remembering that it’s not about you can help free you from worrying about what others think. You are the only person who lives inside your skin, lives your daily life, and meets your eye in the mirror each day. If you are living a life that is best for you, then that’s all that matters.
2. Don’t take the bait.
When people are rude or say mean things, it’s tempting to snap back. But remember it’s not personal.
Step back, take a breath, and apply a lens of compassion and empathy to the situation. Don’t take any of the “bicker bait” they’re dangling in front of you. Sure, a snappy retort might make you feel better in the moment, but in the long run, you’ll regret it.
Change the subject. Reply with a smile. Someone showing their insecurities and fears doesn’t have to send you into reaction mode.
3. Forget your inner critic.
Sometimes, the words of our inner critic are worse than anything others might say. This is why an innocent comment from your aunt about your giant piece of pumpkin pie triggers you and leaves you jumping to the conclusion that she’s calling you fat.
4. Don’t play the comparison game.
Comparison is really about conforming and competition. While seemingly opposite ideas, at the heart of comparison is a desire to conform and yet stand out within a set of norms: cutest kids, best pie, best hair, and happiest life.
Caving to the comparison game pushes you to always strive for perfection, which is just exhausting. Let go of comparison this weekend. You be you. Let your cousin be your cousin. And simply enjoy the tales of what’s happening in your family’s lives.
5. Stop judging.
Find yourself mentally picking apart another’s words? Are you obsessively monitoring someone’s behaviors and demeanor? (Say, like, the tightness of their jeans or their third helping of stuffing?)
Stop right there. You’re caught up in another type of comparison: judging. Just like no one else’s opinion of you really matters. Don’t over-esteem your opinion of them either. Keep your attention on your own fabulous life.
6. Leave your worries at home.
Families trigger all of our stuff. How many of us feel like a self-conscious teenager again the second we step foot into our family’s house (no matter how successful we are out in the adult world)?
Don’t let old ghosts and old worries run wild in your head; acknowledge them before the big family gathering. Enlist your partner, a sibling, or another trusted family member to help you lay your burdens down for the day.
Worried that the promotion you didn’t get at work just confirms what your dad has always said — that you’re not as ambitious as your brother? Voice that worry to a trusted friend and then put that thought away for the day.
7. Don’t get sucked into the drama.
No matter what we do personally, there will be some sort of family drama. If it starts, remember, you don’t have to get sucked in.
Instead, walk away. Remove yourself from the situation quickly by offering to help with the dishes, excusing yourself to the restroom, or just taking a walk.
You have the right to honor yourself and your needs. Alternatively, put your wits to good use. There’s nothing wrong with trying to turn the conversation to another subject or injecting a humorous shift in energy. Step out of the family politics and drama. It may encourage others to follow your example.
8. Laugh and accept your loved ones.
No matter what the holiday brings, focus on the positive aspects of those around you instead of their negative traits. As crazy as they make you feel, they are still your family. And deep down, you love them.
You only have the power to change yourself and how you react. Accepting the fact that you can’t change anyone, will help you just laugh and love them for who they are.
9. Consider skipping the meal altogether.
And now for some flat-out honesty: if the thought of spending time with your family makes you ill, then stay home. You don’t have to submit to being emotionally or verbally abused. The world is full of unhappy people and sometimes, these people are family members.
You have a right to enjoy the holidays. You have the right to be happy. Don’t make a rash decision, but do listen to what your heart tells you.