Thanksgiving and Your Mental Health – A Survival Guide

As we approach Thanksgiving, a day widely celebrated to acknowledge the good things in our lives, it is important to be aware that this holiday (like much of the holiday season) can very much be a two-sided coin. The day can often mean visiting with family, travel, stress, and reconnecting with people after a significant absence, in addition to the joys of family traditions, a good meal, and being truly grateful for the good things in life – whatever those might be.

So, with those ideas in mind, it seemed to be a good idea to put together a little survival guide to help navigate some of the ups and downs of the holiday.

Try to Maintain Routines
While it may seem passé to remind yourself of the importance of your daily routines, especially sleep and exercise routines, they really do help you maintain an even keel by maintaining a sense of familiarity. Try to stick to your routines as much as possible.

Be Mindful of Information Overload
During the holidays, we can find ourselves immersed in a flood of information – news about family and friends, news from the world at large, social media, and more – which can be quite mentally taxing. Try to stay grounded in the present moment and, if you need to, remove yourself from the info pipeline. Excuse yourself to a different room, go for a walk, put down the phone, or whatever is necessary to create a bit of mental breathing room. It’s hard to enjoy the holiday when you are mentally exhausted.

Establish Clear Boundaries
Spending time with loved ones, especially family or friends you may not have seen for a while, may result in lots of people competing for your attention or involvement. You may also find yourself reverting to familial patterns of behavior, especially if you are returning home. Do your best to set clear boundaries and expectations early, so there is less chance of miscommunication or bruised feelings later. Remember: It’s okay to say no.

Show Yourself Some Compassion
While we all want to have the perfect holiday celebration we imagine in our minds, or like those we see in the media, reality tends to be a bit less tidy. You are likely to get stressed out, miss some of your routines, forget to call a friend to wish them well, or even have an argument with a loved one. Holidays can be disruptive and stressful in new and different ways, and it’s okay not to be okay all the time. Be mindful of your feelings, and how you are reacting to things. Give yourself – and those around you – a bit of room to be less than perfect.

If You Need Some Help, Ask for It
Everyone’s experience of the holiday season is different, and yours may be different now than it was in the past. If you find yourself struggling to handle the stresses, or the emotions, of the season, reach out for help. You are not alone, and you don’t have to do it all by yourself.

Focus on Giving Thanks
Studies have shown that expressing gratitude, especially if you do it regularly, has significant benefits in maintaining relationships and connectedness, and can improve both physical and emotional well-being. According to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, positive relationships and social connections improved coping ability among all ages.

According to research by Dr. Robert Emmons, of the University of California, Davis, there are four major ways gratitude can have a positive effect on a person’s emotional wellbeing.

  • Gratitude magnifies positive emotions.
  • Gratitude tends to block negative emotions such as envy, resentment, and regret.
  • It fosters resilience.
  • Expressing gratitude also helps promote self worth.

Finally, expressing gratitude can have profound benefits on physical health as well. Numerous studies have suggested that people who express gratitude often experience fewer physical symptoms, less pain, improved vitality, and higher energy levels. It was writer and poet William Arthur Ward who wrote: â€œGratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, routine jobs into joys, and ordinary opportunities into blessings.”

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