Many mental health experts write that Thanksgiving can be a stressful holiday. However, I am happy to be the bearer of good tidings: Thanksgiving provides a terrific opportunity to manage stress and in fact, set the tone for the rest of the season: A reasonable happiness with realistic expectations. This is a holiday where simplifying, getting back to basics, is the theme.
Did you know that it is an urban myth perpetuated by the media that there is more family conflict during the holidays? In fact, increased family gatherings and community support during the holidays create greater cohesion and bolster the spirit. Consider that most of us are on our best behavior during family gatherings!
And if you are living a life of quiet desperation, you don’t have to accomplish the impossible which is to forget your loss and your grief in order to be happy. On the contrary the more you try to forget, the more your brain focuses on what you are trying to forget. Instead you have to complete your loss and grief by looking at it and taking charge of what you see. Thanksgiving, when you are supposed to feel grateful, go the opposite route and shine the light on what’s missing. This could mean forgiveness, integration of positive values, shedding the toxic parts and having your say to the person or disease – alive or dead. Turn the loss into triumph by strengthening your spirit and making yourself kinder and more compassionate. For example, if you have lost the love of your life become the love of your life.
The Thanksgiving Menu for Stress Management:
- Taking a break from our problems and sadness to experience a fresh perspective that “earth is crammed with heaven” (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
- Writing a gratitude list is a powerful stress management strategy. And here you have an entire holiday celebrating gratitude, reminding us to re-appreciate all the things we used to appreciate.
- A chance to reconnect with others, forgiving those we have argued with or excluded from our circle with no explanation necessary, after all, it’s in the spirit of the holiday
- A quality meal based on protein and relaxing tryptophan – a turkey – promoting natural drowsy relaxation, a signal to slow down
- A tasting menu which delights the senses and blesses and honors food instead of making food the enemy
- A meal which is participatory, a team effort of pitching in and sharing a signature dish – delegating as opposed to depleting
- Exercising outdoors like a brisk walk after eating, or a family football game to balance the fullness of the meal and reset natural rhythms
- Volunteering to serve others or donating to those who are less fortunate or on the flip side gratefully receiving help and donations, so that others can feel blessed when giving
- To recall the dearly departed with stories, quotes and memories, bringing them back to life
- And if you can’t celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday due to work or complex family dynamics, there is always Sunday to make your own version!
Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life
, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout
and Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul,
a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com