The fact that there are more problems and mental health crises during the holidays is no surprise to me. There is this cultural and familial expectation that everything is joyous and happy, but for many people, it’s often the contrary. Holidays sometimes can involve a volatile mix of family, conflict, and alcohol, so in order to prevent that from happening for you, I created the Thanksgiving Survival Guide to help you float along effortlessly and have a positive Thanksgiving experience. Here goes:
1. Consume too much alcohol: you’re not in control if you do, and you may inadvertently be contributing to additional conflict if you booze. If you have beef with someone, don’t be passive aggressive and let it come out when you’re loose-lipped. Deal with it another time, not on Thanksgiving.
2. Stay away from “hot topics,” like politics, life decisions, or any sensitive personal matters, issues that “influence passions.” Keep it somewhat surface and congenial.
3. Eat until you’re comatose, unless that’s your escape from people. I know after I indulge in a carb explosion, I get moody, irritable and sensitive to other people’s statements, even if they’re not directly related to me. If you operate similarly, watch the food and drink making you feel worse, and the people around you.
4. Be critical: people don’t respond to criticism, and you don’t need to sour everyone’s time with being critical or judgmental. Keep it to yourself, or make a note on your phone of something you need to revisit later.
5. Joke at other people’s expense. It may be funny to you, but it may not be funny to them.
6. Dominate conversation at dinner.
7. Fall into old family dynamics, if you don’t want to. Remember: you’re an adult, not a child at your parent’s house again. Even if they antagonize you and try to pull you back into old, dysfunctional family patterns, you don’t have to take the bait. Be bigger than that, at least for one evening.
8. Try to change anyone. I could give myself this advice, too. People are going to do what they’re going to do, and if we resist it, we create more hardship. It doesn’t mean that you have to subject yourself to bad treatment, but let people do what they do and don’t expect they’re going to be any different.
1. Work out your grievances with anyone before the big event, if you can, and if it’s an option.
2. Alternatively, communicate with someone who can listen to your issues beforehand (e.g. your spouse, your therapist), so that you can clear yourself before you get to the dinner table.
3. Have a backup plan, in case you need to leave a bad situation. Come up with some agreed upon place or “commitment” you need to attend to if you feel overwhelmed by family dynamics or conflict.
4. Redirect conversation. I find this works well when people gets lodged in an obscure story for a half hour. Redirect them or the flow of the conversation to another neutral topic, one that can jumpstart the conversation flow.
5. Have an activity to redirect to, such as games for kids, adults, etc. Have everyone focused on the same task at hand.
6. Take time out if you need a breather. It’s your right to pull away and say, “I need a break,” if only to recompose yourself because you can’t deal with your aunt’s rantings about Medicare anymore.
7. Remember that you can survive this, that others have survived far worse since Thanksgiving began. And remember this: everyone’s family is neurotic. Everyone’s family is as screwed up as yours. And, everyone is doing the best job that they can, even if it seems like they have no clue.
8. Practice a bit of compassion, and it will take you a long way. Try to see past people’s idiosyncrasies and see that people are inherently good, even if their behavior makes you want to carve them up with an electric knife. Know what I mean?
9. And if all fails, you always have the right to leave, if the situation devolves where you can’t handle it. You’re not trapped. You can always flee Alcatraz if you need to.
Honestly, and all jokes aside, I do hope your Thanksgiving is a warm time and good for you and your family. See the survival guide as your insurance policy against holiday damage, if you will. Use these tips and rehearse them before you ring the bell with your piping hot sweet potato pie, and remember, it’s only for one night. You’ll survive it, I guarantee.