Although we like to think that getting together for Thanksgiving is as wonderful at this Norman Rockwell painting, most of us know that it is not.  Unfortunately, for many folks, these events can be quite stressful. Longstanding interpersonal conflicts and struggles over old grudges, politics or religion can spoil even the most perfectly planned events. 

As if family gatherings weren’t difficult enough,  Covid-19, has added yet another layer of problems with which we have to deal. That said, it is important to take time, to step back and to appreciate and experience the blessings we have.

Here are some tips to avoid trouble and make this festive time more enjoyable and less anxiety ridden: Coping with COVID, Depression and the Holidays. | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (

1) Think ahead. Don’t just let family gatherings “just happen”. Think about what is most upsetting for you. Have a plan and realize that you can influence how things will go. Things will be different if you act differently.

2) Be specific about what parts of the experience is most difficult for you in the past. Is it a particular person or time of the event which is stressful for you ? Review the bad experiences of previous years and identify in detail how or why things went wrong. Pay attention to individuals or situations which have given you trouble.  I possible, stay away or at least minimize your contact and exposure with them.

3) Imagine doing things differently. Remember you have options and don’t always have to do things the same way that they always have been done. Ask yourself “What would make things better ?” in a given situation. For example, changing seating arrangements might  make a big difference.  

4) Have an escape plan. If you start to feel uncomfortable or things are getting out of hand don’t let them escalate. Give yourself permission to step outside, take a walk or, if necessary, ask for help and leave the situation. Remember that you are not trapped.

5) Worst case scenario: If holiday festivities are really bad or involves being around people who have abused you  in the past, remember you don’t have to go or participate at all. Avoiding toxic exposure is important for those that are healing. If worry about holiday times become truly intrusive and disruptive of your life, reach out and contact a therapist.  

Here is another other helpful link:  5 Tips for Managing Stress this Holiday Season – Penn Foundation

To make your Thanksgiving a more joyous time, take a few minutes and plan ahead. Identify predictable social rub-points and make the needed adjustments.  Obviously. making adjustments for a Thanksgiving gathering won’t permanently resolve long standing issues, but it can relieve much of the anxiety and allow things to go more smoothly.  And, that is important because taking time to appreciate and to give thanks for the blessings we have is the whole point of of getting together.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone !

Rev. Michael Heath LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C.           11 24 2021

image attribution : Freedom from Want – Wikipedia