I’m an introvert. Which means even the sweetest gatherings with the people I love most can leave me feeling overwhelmed with holiday stress. And even after almost 15 years of marriage and 19 total years of shared holidays with both sides of our family, we actually don’t have a set tradition or schedule for Thanksgiving. It’s a little different every year. While it always turns out sweet and special, that constant unpredictability is uber-stressful on a person who really likes sameness.
So after 19 years of near-tears and real-tears over what should be a lovely set of holiday meals together, I figured I’d do a little personal work and get to the heart of what stresses me out so much. Once you can name it, you can solve it, or at least approach it differently so I can actually enjoy myself. SO here’s my recipe for a big helping of de-stressing with your Thanksgiving turkey!
Tips to manage holiday stress
- Plan ahead – Shop early, chop and bag veggies and make the food you can ahead of time. Pack clothes/supplies the day before. Make a list and delegate just about everything that doesn’t involve fire or knives or your grandmother’s recipe you love to assemble yourself.
- Ask for help – Even small children can perform easy tasks, like “scoop 6 cups of dog food into this Ziplock bag” or “empty the dishwasher.” Don’t be a martyr. I’ve tried it and all it does is make everyone miserable. Turn the help list into a game if you want, or shamelessly bribe your people with allowance or ice cream or Hot Wheels or whatever you like to bribe them with.
- Simplify – Do you really need the elaborate recipe, outfit, décor, etc.? Or can you release some expectations and therefore manage your holiday stress level better? Jen Hatmaker, one of my favorite authors, posted yesterday about the gorgeous green bean casserole she almost got suckered into making, until she remembered that her whole family would riot if if she didn't serve the classic canned cream soup version with crunchy onions on top. Sometimes the simplest path really is the best. (Except for my mother's stuffing... sorry, mom. We truly value the three entire days you spend making it and your sons in law will fight each other for the last bite.)
- You do you – Although it’s not characteristic of our particular families to engage in divisive political/religious conversations, it’s never beyond the realm of possibility that a sticky topic could come up. We’re all nuts just like the rest of you too. So if you have some off-limits conversation topics, practice saying clearly with confidence: “Not today.” Stick to your guns. Nobody can force you to engage or respond to a conversation that is unkind, divisive, inflammatory, or disrespectful. If all else fails, literally walk away. You aren’t ruining anything. So don’t accept that accusation if it starts flying your way. If anyone’s ruining anything, they are, by disregarding and disrespecting a very clear self-respecting boundary you set.
- Bring a game to play - Idle time is the birthplace of tricky conversations. Keep the entertainment going. Our favorites are Pit (a fast and funny yell-it-out card trading game from my childhood!!!), Spoons, Spades, Balderdash, Scrabble, Pokeno, Avocado Smash, or good old-fashioned War.
- Arrive and/or serve the meal on time - This is my husband's #1 holiday stress hot button. (actually, his stress hot button in general.). Don’t be late, and if you are, respect your people enough to give them an accurate expectation of your arrival time. Hungry tummies are cranky tummies. Full tummies are happy tummies and everyone feels their time - and hot, lovingly-prepared food! - is respected. (I've ruined many a beautifully grilled pork tenderloin by not being ready for dinner when we decided we'd eat. We're all works in progress.)
- Set technology expectations with children and spouses before you arrive. Nothing hurts my feelings more than seeing people’s faces buried in screens when we’ve all made such an effort to gather together.
- Realize there is no “perfect” holiday gathering, so….
- Get your mind and heart right before you walk in - If relationships are strained, pray for patience, compassion, understanding, love, and restraint. You can be an agent of war or an agent of peace, no matter what the other person chooses. What version of yourself do you want to bring to the literal table this holiday season?
To ease holiday stress, absolutely invite these things around your table:
- Confidence in yourself
- Gentleness of speech (Think of the children! Little ears are learning.)
- Willingness to listen more than you talk
- Love for your people
Leave these things at home:
- Old childhood patterns that don’t serve you any longer (i.e. muting your confidence/capabilities to make someone feel better, deferring to your loud brother, letting unacceptable comments fly unchecked, not standing up for yourself, arguing for arguments’ sake, etc.)
- Anything hinting at passive-aggressive behavior
- An ax to grind with someone (Make like Elsa and let it gooooooo)
- Overindulging (except garlic mashed potatoes and pie, that’s okay)
- Unrealistic expectations
- Heads buried in devices
- A need to prove anything to anyone
- Shame or embarrassment
If you really just can’t even…
If you’re a mess this holiday season, I invite (implore) you to simply be exactly as you need to be. I also give you permission to blatantly eye-roll the first person who tells you to cheer up or look on the bright side. SOMETIMES YOU LITERALLY CANNOT DO THAT. If you’re deep in grief, of any kind, this is the year to practice lots of self-care and maybe even tell your people NO I am not coming. I have other plans. And as my dad taught me so insistently when I was young, it is 1000% okay if my “other plans” are simply “not going to that thing you want me to go to.”
I have forced myself to suit-up-and-show-up when I had absolutely no business doing so. And then I paid the price with a physical and emotional crash in the days that followed.
That’s not being a hero. That’s being ridiculous.
So save your brave heroics and any holiday stress for another day, and instead ask the people who love you to save you a plate of food from the party. Put on your favorite jammies, curl up in bed with the best coffee and movies you love, and let this be a day you live in gratitude for quiet and stillness. Plans can look different. It's just one day, one meal, one tradition. So it’s okay to do something that goes against the norm. Breaking the status quo generally makes people really uncomfortable but it doesn’t mean you’re disrespecting them. It means you’re respecting yourself.
HP, and may you have the most blessed and heart-filling holiday week,
PS: Is your shopping list giving you holiday stress? I can help!Joy Comes in the Mourning is coming TO THIS SITE in just a few short days, in perfect time for the holidays! It's a book that contains light and hope for every person, grieving or not, and it's small enough to tuck inside a stocking on Christmas morning. The first 500 copies contain some sweet surprises! More details to come! For a quick peek at the backstory, and the "why" behind the book, click here.