When your whole family comes to town

Metro Creative

The holiday that welcomes gratitude, great food and family bonding, with a side of unwarranted stress, is back.

Though Thanksgiving is meant to be the time to reconnect with family, there are many factors that lead individuals into feeling overwhelmed. Whether it be perfecting a recipe, hosting dinner or maneuvering conversations to avoid conflicts, the overall experience can become very stressful.

Seasonal stress is legitimate and is a phenomenon that many people believe is just part of the process; however, being stressed during the holidays does not have to be a statement of every holiday. There are viable ways to cope and eliminate the stress felt during this period. 

We talked to a marriage and family therapist, received  testimonies from the community and heard from manners and etiquette coach in order to seek out keys to navigating and understanding the stress felt during the Thanksgiving season.

“There is a reason for everyone to be stressed during the holiday,” said Julia Young, licensed marriage and family therapist, and CEO of Caring Connected, a counseling service that specializes in seasonal anxiety, among other areas of mental health.We aren’t taught how to deal with dysfunctional families, financial troubles and mental health at school.”

To combat this cycle of stress, Young has created a three-category model called the three B’s: balance, boundaries and breaking traditions.

First, balance is knowing that Thanksgiving does not need to be an all-or-nothing event. “It does not have to be perfect, so being realistic about balancing goals is crucial,” said Young.

Second, setting boundaries to establish distance from certain family members or conversation, can be beneficial for someone’s health, Young says. Sometimes these steps are necessary for keeping someone’s mental health in check during the holidays.

Lastly, the sense of obligation that comes with following tradition is stressful within itself, according to Young. Young argues that patterns stress people out nowadays. Dismantling the patterns individuals get stuck in can elicit a feeling of control which eliminates stress.

However, for others this sense of tradition is comforting because Thanksgiving then becomes a “copy and paste” holiday, according to Erika Kauzlarich-Bird, who’s hosted at least a half-dozen of Thanksgiving dinners.

Kauzlarich-Bird credits her mom with compiling the ultimate Thanksgiving guide, including a timeline for the whole event, which features recipes, shopping lists, decorating tips and an hour-by-hour timeline for cooking.

Her mother’s love for cooking and order manifested from her love for the family. She showed her love through food and wanted the food to be hot on the table, according to Kauzlarich-Bird. Planning ahead can help many avoid last-minute shopping trips and a delayed dinner. It is important to remember that Thanksgiving dinner is not an everyday meal.

“Thanksgiving dinner is not like any other standard meal,” said Kauzlarich-Bird. “Not everyone knows how to cook a turkey, so there is a learning curve.”

When it comes to preparing for Thanksgiving, Katie Barnes, who’s also hosted her share of Thanksgiving dinners, says having the right mindset is the key to hosting a successful meal.

“Expect for delays in dinner, having to do your own dishes, keeping certain people separate and, always remind yourself to be grateful that you have a crazy family to spend Thanksgiving with,” Barnes said.

Barnes suggests giving yourself enough time for error. Don’t “over-plan” the menu, because that could result in a full oven, and always accept help when offered to avoid feeling overwhelmed. 

Facilitating a successful Thanksgiving is more than just planning and cooking. For many, socializing with family members creates tension at the dinner table. Whether it be generated from politics, religion or other controversial topics, these conversations can lead to conflict which is uncomfortable for more than the parties involved.

“If you fought with your uncle last Thanksgiving, make it a point to talk to him about more neutral topics, so you can enjoy each other’s presence without cutting each other out,” said Young.

Louise Elerding, a manners and etiquette coach, offers a refreshing case for manners at the dinner table during the holidays.

Thanksgiving does not need to be a stressful holiday. With a changed mindset, preparation before the event and mindfulness of others, Thanksgiving is capable of remaining a holiday true to its message: celebrating family and togetherness. 

Overall, Elerding believes conversation is important at the dinner table, and it’s better to have it rather than not having any at all. 

“You can answer someone in a way to resolve the conflict or to fuel the conflict,” said Elerding. “If we all wanted to resolve the conflict, we would have a great environment.”

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