This Thanksgiving promises, for sure, to be unusual. Many of us will be missing family and friends due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Local officials are recommending that no more than three households gather together. And, to keep things safe, many of us will be carving the turkey outdoors.
Some challenges, however, remain the same from year to year. We can still overdo it, still burn out and still face conflict when family members clash. “We have this imagined version that it’s going to be this beautiful Norman Rockwell holiday that’s going to be filled with turkey and laughter and good cheer, but unfortunately everyone’s coming to Thanksgiving as a real person,” says therapist John Sovec, who practices in Pasadena. “And they do have real feelings and real beliefs and a lot of stuff does get triggered for people.”
So, whatever you’re planning, make your season more joyous with these Thanksgiving self-care tips.
Set an intention.
“We can decide that this particular holiday is going to be a moment of extreme gratitude,” says Sovec. “We get so caught up in what we’ve been told that a holiday is supposed to be that oftentimes I think people have lost the actual meaning of the holiday for themselves.” So, give it some thought. What’s important to you this Thanksgiving? Maybe you would like to set aside some time to volunteer, or a little cash to donate to a cause you support. Maybe you want to put some extra effort into keeping the family connected. These things can all be part of your Thanksgiving self-care.
Manage your schedule.
Along with his therapy practice, Sovec is a teacher at Yoga House Pasadena. He is hosting an online workshop on “Handling the Holidays: Emotional Wellness During Challenging Times” from 2-4 p.m. Nov. 14. Sovec reminds us that our schedules can get really ragged during the holidays, leading to extra stress. However, “everything we’ve put in that schedule is something we chose to put there,” he says.
Saying yes only to those things that fill us with joy, and no to those that bring on dread, is one way to set boundaries. “It leaves tons of room for us to have some self-care time, some fun time, some meditation time, intention time,” Sovec says. “By managing that schedule, we then have the ability to have an absolutely joyous holiday.”
Shift your focus.
Helping others can also be part of your self-care because doing acts of kindness for others makes us feel happier. “We see that a lot during the pandemic,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, a UC Riverside psychology professor and author of “The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want.” “People are helping their neighbors, helping their classroom teachers. Almost anything that takes your attention away from yourself and directs it toward another person is going to be beneficial. A lot of our problems are due to too much self-focus. When you focus on other people, it takes the weight of that off a little bit.”
Plain old social interaction can also give you a boost – even if it is with strangers. “My husband still goes and picks up a coffee in person, even though he can’t sit down,” Lyubomirsky says. She has a friend who makes it a habit to have Zoom gatherings with different friends every week. You can also pick up the phone.
Be ready to respond to challenges.
However, other people can sometimes be part of the problem. So, you should also have a Thanksgiving self-care plan for responding to conflicts that arise during holiday gatherings. Think about the types of things that might come up, and how you might manage that energy for yourself. You might respond to some questions with, “Thanks so much for your interest, but let’s move on to another topic.” Or maybe, “I’m not comfortable talking about that right now.”
You then might consider taking a break by taking a walk or slipping off to another room (or even your car) to read or listen to music. If dinner table conversation becomes heated, try Sovec’s water technique. “Take a sip of water and while you’re drinking it, feel that cooling energy moving through you,” he suggests. You could also excuse yourself to the restroom for a few calming breaths or to text your frustration to a supportive friend.
After a little “you time,” you’ll be able to carry the spirit of the season back to the table with you.