Reducing Thanksgiving Stress

22 November 2023

While our Thanksgiving holiday is intended for gratitude, a sumptuous spread of food, and relaxation, the reality is that it is often served with a side of stress. Between too many people in a cramped area, personality issues, and irritating behaviors, it is easy for tempers to flare or feelings to be hurt. Here are a few things to keep in mind during the entire holiday season.


There is every expectation that someone will say something or ask a question that is inappropriate or hurtful. Give yourself a moment to take a calming breath. Take in air through your nose and notice that your abdomen will inflate slightly. Hold the breath for a count of three and release. That does several things. It gives you a moment to calm down. It also provides needed oxygen for your brain to respond. It allows you to be the better person and diffuse the situation before it escalates.

Prepare in Advance

Have a mental list of topics to bring up to change the subject. Also prepare some casual ways to lead into the new conversation like “sorry to interrupt, but I’ve been meaning to ask you…” or “that reminds me, did you…” You can also try putting on a smile and saying “why do you ask that?” or “what do you think?” You can get by with a lot of responses with a lovely smile.

Maintain Whatever Control Possible

If you are hosting, there may be some things you can try to lessen the stress.

  • If you are into seating charts and place cards, carefully consider those who are next to or across from each other.
  • Eliminate or limit alcoholic beverages if that is a trigger for some people.
  • Ask for help or take it when offered. Even simple tasks like clearing plates and bringing them into the kitchen or removing glasses and cups that were left in other rooms can help.
  • If you anticipate lots of leftovers, pick up a bag of to-go containers and let people help themselves. You could also suggest that they bring their own containers for a more eco-friendly solution. If people bring a consumable contribution to the dinner, make sure they take home their own leftovers so there is less for you to handle at the end of the day.

Self Care

You will operate more efficiently and more calmly if you take even a few minutes to grab something to eat, sit down with a book, or walk around the block. Instead of thinking of these things as wasting time, you will find you are better able to cope with the tasks at hand.

The week before, take a yoga class or sneak in a good workout. It will help work out the kinks and provide the endorphins necessary to carry you through.

This and That

Consider short cuts. They may or may not be as good as from scratch, but don’t be intimidated by comments.

Keep a list that has times posted so you know when the potatoes go on or when to start the green bean casserole.

Call on your regular babysitter to take the kids for a while. Or swap times with a neighbor or friend. Check with community centers or churches to find activities that will be of interest to them.

Set the table the night before, which will free up time the day of.

Consider what can be cooked in advance and then simply reheated on the big day. Pre-slice or chop as much as possible so that you can simply add them to the dish.

Invite guests to serve themselves beverages you have laid out. A cooler with cans or bottles of drinks makes it much simpler. Haul out or borrow a large beverage dispenser for lemonade or other drinks. Have a large supply of glasses.

Strategically place bins or bags that are marked for trash, recycling, etc. This will encourage everyone to tidy up after themselves. Assign someone the job to monitor when these recepticals are nearly full and then empty or replace as necessary.

Unless someone has a life-threatening allergy to something you are cooking, don’t get caught up with picky eaters. However, you may want to label some of the dishes for convenience.

Plan on alternate activities to watching the big game on television. Set up an area or separate room with board games or crafts. Set up seating for those who just want to chat. Encourage a walk outdoors after the meal or during halftime.

When it is all over, just let it go. Don’t brood about any mishaps or what your inlaws or outlaws said about your décor, child rearing skills, or housekeeping. A warm bubble bath with soothing music in the background will make many problems disappear.

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