Love Wellness

Here’s how you can survive your family this Thanksgiving

Even if your family is picturesque, Thanksgiving invites stress, anxiety, and drama. It’s never easy to travel home only to be reprimanded or curiously examined while trying to mentally compose your sanity. 

As Martha Beck wrote on Oprah, “Your assertiveness training goes out the window the minute your brother begins his traditional temper tantrum. A mere sigh from your grandmother triggers an attack of codependency so severe you end up giving her your whole house.” 

Look, we’ve all been there. 

In short, families are strung together by threads, and generations, of dysfunction. Our similarities and differences can impact and deconstruct any sanity-saving tactics we had pre-planned before stepping foot into our childhood homes. While family is a comfort, it is also disruption. Especially for those of us who live far from our immediate family. 

[bctt tweet=”Families are strung together by threads, and generations, of dysfunction.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Your life in your new city, with your friends and your career, may drastically differ from the life you left behind.

But, here you are, heading home for the holidays.

Your ticket is purchased, your bags will soon be packed, and your nerves are already shot. How can you stay mentally sound through relentless grilling and family expectations this Thanksgiving break?

We have a few tips to help ease the pain.

1. Remember that it’s all in the family

Two women getting dinner at the table in the kitchen holding plates. One is smiling at the camera.

While your mother’s antics and questioning may not seem to be the most loving or nurturing form of affection, she’s still your family. As is everyone involved in the holiday spectacle. While you may not have chosen them, they share your blood, your quirky behavior, and your family tree.

Think about yourself for a moment before going into the holiday season. 

Where do your insecurities stem from? Why do you feel attacked when your dad mentions your career? Where does your anger go after your mother questions your intimate relationships? Of course, your feelings are valid, but try to unpack your trigger points so you can get some insight into why you’re reacting emotionally to particular topics. 

It can help you once you’re in the moment and face to face with the topic at hand.

[bctt tweet=”Try to unpack your trigger points so you can get some insight into why you’re reacting emotionally to particular topics. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

2. Give yourself space

Woman walking down a dirt road

If you need to make a quick phone call to chat with a friend, or go for a walk for some brisk air, then so be it. 

The best advice, for you and for your family, is to give yourself the mental space in order to enter the situation with a clear mindset.

Dr. Ken Duckworth from the National Alliance on Mental Illness said that “There’s this idea that holiday gatherings with family are supposed to be joyful and stress-free. That’s not the case. Family relationships are complicated. But that doesn’t mean that the solution is to skip the holiday’s entirely.”

Much of what contributes to dysfunction is what is deeply rooted in the past

Obviously, Thanksgiving isn’t the time nor the place to begin unpacking years of painful memories. For now, if anything arises that you can’t handle, excuse yourself and find a moment alone where you can rest, think, and most importantly, breathe. 

You don’t need to remove yourself entirely from Thanksgiving, but giving yourself a bit of space can help calm the air for yourself and for your relatives.

[bctt tweet=”Thanksgiving isn’t the time nor the place to begin unpacking years of painful memories.” username=”wearethetempest”]

3. Consider their voice

A man and a woman facing away from each other looking upset

Take the time to understand their thoughts and processes, where they’re coming from, and why they consider their opinion so righteously valid. If you still feel that they are wrong or being inappropriate, that’s only fair, and you have the right to think so. But first, consider their thoughts and their voice, even if it differs from your own.

You can’t change your family, whether it’s politically or simply a state of mind.

Of course, this isn’t to say their opinion is correct.

But we cannot write off others voices without accurately considering them. If you listen to their side of the argument, or conversation, you can begin a dialogue that will probably involve a large amount of debriefing.

If their voice isn’t worth considering, see the next tip. If you can slightly understand their opinion, calmly explain your voice as well and encourage them to acknowledge your choices.

[bctt tweet=”We cannot write off others voices without accurately considering them.” username=”wearethetempest”]

4. Choose to leave if necessary

Woman driving a car with the sun streaming in the window

Remember, Thanksgiving break isn’t forever. 

It’s a day, or two, or possibly three, and then you’re back to your Utopian bubble in your city of choice. Soon, you’ll be able to revel in your calm space away from anxiety or stress.

Is cousin Greg simply too much? Is aunt Susan a deeply negative impact on your self-esteem and overall well-being? Then that’s it: leave.

You aren’t chained to your family by any means—your choice to see them over holiday break is a gift you can choose to snatch back if necessary. Do not feel as if you have to be present in order for everything to be harmonious. Sometimes, life isn’t built on harmony and if you feel your mental and emotional health is at risk from being around your relatives, you can eat turkey somewhere else.

[bctt tweet=”If you feel your mental and emotional health is at risk, you can eat turkey somewhere else.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Before entering the holidays, remember to set boundaries for yourself.

Decide which people you can safely interact with and which ones you should avoid. Decide which topics you can discuss and which ones you can skip. And most importantly, maintain these boundaries.

Don’t let your family bully or guilt you into anything.

Family love is unconditional, meaning that whatever the comments may be, or what the arguments may entail, at the end of the day you’re together, but that doesn’t mean their love can’t be toxic. 

[bctt tweet=”Don’t let your family bully or guilt you into anything.” username=”wearethetempest”]

We get it, it’s complicated, it’s messy, it’s family. 

But if you take care of yourself and follow these tips, you can make it through Thanksgiving relatively unscathed. 

By S. Nicole Lane

Nicole is a women's health journalist living in Chicago. Her sex and art column, "Intimate Justice" can be found on Sixty Inches from Center. She also contributes to The Establishment, HelloGiggles, GO Magazine, and other corners of the internet. In addition to writing she is an artist who works with assemblage and sculpture.