How to: Deal with Family or Lack Thereof on Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, a subject that has been a big topic of conversation around me lately has been the topic of family and relationships.

Whether its people making their plans for the holiday, people voicing their resentments for the holiday, or even just the idea of the holiday making people really put some thought into their relationships, this theme seems to be on the forefront of most people's minds this month.

I'm actually excited for Thanksgiving this year, as my boyfriend is coming home with me to spend the entire holiday with my family, which he's excited about. His enthusiasm makes me enthusiastic!

With that being said, it has very much reminded me of last year, in which I spent Thanksgiving alone. Matthew had went back home for the holiday, but I had to work the day after Thanksgiving, so I opted out.

Even though I obviously had people who love me and would've loved to have me for dinner, and I knew this, it still didn't completely weaken the feelings of loneliness the day of.

After talking with a few of my clients, and realizing how much the thought of relationships and family have been on my own mind lately, I decided to create a post with some tips on how to deal with family relationships on this day, as well as ways to be okay with spending the day alone if that's looking like the plan.

When You're Going Home (or anywhere around people) for Thanksgiving:

  • My first suggestion would be not to go into it with any expectations. Whether your expectations are that it's going to be really bad (then I promise you it will be), or really good (you risk the opportunity for disappointment), you're setting yourself up. If you go into your dinner and visits with radical acceptance, (it is what it is, it will be what it will be), I promise you that you're making your life that much simpler. 

  • My next tip would be to determine before you go, one thing you either WILL be actively doing, or WON'T be actively doing. So maybe an area in the past that you know you've had weakness in, is listening to people/topics that you really just don't care to hear or talk about. So then something you could set a goal to practice active listening throughout. On the other hand, maybe something from the past that's been an issue is allowing others to have an impact on your ability to enjoy the holiday. Maybe the thing that you won't be doing this time is allowing anyone else to shift your mood. So throughout your day you will actively be reminding yourself of reasons to be thankful, happy, grateful, and at peace with yourself. 

  • For those who think that trying to shift perspective, or work on self talk during this time won't work for them, maybe a time limit is better for you. So maybe you're only willing to stay and visit for an hour or two, and then you need to leave. If you decide on a time limit, don't extend it. You're setting it for a reason. Maybe make other engagements that will hold you accountable to your time limit, and let everyone know ahead of time. 

  • Something else I might suggest is bring a buddy to dinner. For one, this gives you a sanctuary to lean on and laugh with, and probably even endure with. The other thing is you never know who doesn't have anywhere to go on this day, and maybe your invitation is much needed. Last year although I know if I had asked I would've been welcomed, I didn't do so, and no one reached out to ask me on this day. That's perfectly okay, but again, you never know who might be alone and find great fulfillment in tagging along with you.

  • The last thing I would suggest is recognize your own feelings. If you can feel anger, distress, or any overwhelming emotion about to take over, listen to your body and mind, and act accordingly. If that means you need to leave, then leave. If that means you need a time-out, take one. Run to the store, offer to pick someone else up, do something to get back to your baseline. Don't ever allow yourself to become overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed because of a holiday. This too, shall pass!

For Those Not Spending Thanksgiving with Family or Loved Ones:

  • First and foremost, regardless of where you're spending the day, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE FOOD. Last year I counted on getting fast food when I got hungry, not considering the fact that they were all closed! So have food ready, or get food ahead of time. Because not only does not eating on Thanksgiving suck in general, being hungry can also produce depressive feelings, which is the last thing you need on this day. SO EAT!

  • My next suggestion would be to stay off of social media. I think sometimes seeing others Instagram stories, or Facebook pictures can enhance our feelings of solitude. I would suggest instead doing a favorite movie marathon, or maybe tackling a task you haven't had time for.

  • Another huge recommendation is not to drink on this day. Again, this could enhance negative thoughts and feelings, and potentially worsen your mood surrounding the holiday. 

  • The best suggestion I have for you is to reach out and try to find someone to be with. If that means mentioning to a close friend you plan on spending the day alone, then do that. Maybe for you that would look more like volunteering for the less fortunate or animals. Talk about enhancing feelings of gratitude!

  • Again, I'm coming back to this radical acceptance. If none of the above appeal to you, and you find yourself alone and just resentful on this day, stay present-focused. Remind yourself that this is just ONE DAY out of the entire year, and you can get through it. Remind yourself that you have endured much worse than Thanksgiving. Remind yourself that this too shall pass!

One last thing I wanted to mention in regards to this holiday, is in relation to those with any type of eating or body disorder. And I don't want to get on my soapbox, but being a mental health therapist I know it's way too important to not mention...

First, for those reading who may not suffer from this scary disease: please be mindful. Be mindful of the well-meaning comments you make to your family members. You never know who might be struggling with something way bigger than them. Comments pushing food on others, commenting on weight/appearance, encouraging eating or discouraging eating, could all be incredibly harmful to some.

If anyone is reading this and has an ED or's okay. This day will pass. You will get through it. The only thing I can say to you is set rigid boundaries with your loved ones. Do not be afraid to tell someone "no," to ask someone to not say that again, to inform family that YOU are in charge of YOUR life, and you are doing the very best you can. If at any point you feel humiliated, do not be afraid to stand up for yourself and let those around you know that you suffer from a life threatening disease and they ARE NOT helping. Best case scenario you teach someone something that day. Worst case scenario you gain some self esteem. 

I hope this post finds you well before the holiday, and you're able to utilize some of the tips in a way that keeps you comfortable and able to enjoy the festivities. 

Please don't be afraid to share this post, you never know who might read it and find it useful. 

Thanks as always for reading!

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