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By Herb Weiss, contributing writer on aging issues
Increased demands of family obligations during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, baking, and cleaning to host dinner, and even unrealistic expectations about family, or having a dysfunctional family, can produce extra stresses, feelings of anxiety, isolation, and depression. This is oftentimes referred to as holiday blues.
This year, during Thanksgiving dinner, holiday blues, combined with hot and divisive political polarizing discussions over former President Trump, current President Biden, political candidates running in 2024, climate change or the current the Israel-Palestinian conflict, could bring on even more stresses.
During her 45-year career as a licensed practicing psychologist in Los Angeles and at State College, Pennsylvania Elaine Rodino, Ph.D., a fellow and former president of 2 APA divisions (Independent Practice and Media Psychology), has a longstanding interest in the holiday blues and has helped many of her patients cope with this issue over the years.
Rodino who has been quoted on the topic over the years by the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Boston Globe, WebMD, and many magazines, talks about holiday blues and offers tips to cope with the stresses and anxiety triggered by the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
Expectations, Unhappy Memories Create Holiday Stress
The greatest cause of holiday stress is – expectations – says Rodino, stressing that these expectations are created by media and our families.
For some there are very unhappy memories from childhood that are remembered that can also trigger holiday stress. “It’s good to acknowledge how sad that was, but that you have a different life now. It is okay to be sad for yourself as a child enduring those unhappy times. Realize that you don’t need to perpetuate it and that you can make yourself happy now,” says Rodino.
However, it may be important to talk with a psychologist about past trauma and the bad memories they produce,” adds Rodino, noting that the therapist will know how to work through these issues.
“The Media bombards us with happy images of beautiful people dressed beautifully enjoying champaign or other drinks. They see families gathered around gorgeous Thanksgiving tables with a great looking man carving an enormous turkey. If this is seen over and over there’s a belief that this is the way their holiday should look and anything different is a failure,” notes Rodino.
Expectations also arise from our families. “Whatever one’s parents did seems to become the standard that must be met again.,” she adds.
According to Rodino, reducing stress caused by unrealistic expectations can easily be accomplished by creating your own way of celebrating and enjoying the holiday season. “Make your own tradition. Some people even enjoy a chance to take a trip away from the hustle and bustle to a calm tropical vacation, she says.
There are legitimate reasons for skipping your family’s Thanksgiving gathering, notes Rodino. “If one’s family is very dysfunctional and it will cause too much discomfort and unhappiness, just make a plan to not stay long. In extreme situations it is fine to say that you want to skip the family drama this year,” she says.
If attending, Rodino recommends that you do not take things said in conversation personally. “The family is dysfunctional, and your parents and sibling’s personalities and attitudes will not change,” she says.
Political Banter Creates Trouble at the Table
A Thanksgiving day topic that people seem to be worried about this year is political conversation. Rodino says that it is true that the country is divided, and attitudes and opinions haven’t eased over the years. In fact, they have worsened.
“Try not to sit next to any difficult relatives,” advises Rodino, suggesting that the host take responsibility to know the political make-up of the gathering. “If the group is homogenous then the host can give the message to everyone that they may talk openly about politics. If not – these topics should be avoided,” she states.
“Of course, you can always ask the host not to seat you next to someone you politically disagree with,” she adds.
Grieving a recent loss at holiday time is difficult, says Rodino. “Sometimes it may feel good to acknowledge that person and perhaps with other family members recall fun or significant things that the person said or did,” she says.
Make Your Thanksgiving Dinner Inclusive
People who are newly sober don’t feel comfortable being greeted at the door with a flute of champagne, warns Rodino. These individuals can plan a sober party or attend a Thanksgiving gathering of sober family and friends, she recommends.
For lonely people, who are alone, recently widowed, or newly divorced, accept invitations to attend Thanksgiving gatherings. “People who are alone, or newly divorced are often included and invited to gatherings,” says Rodino, noting that friends and relatives usually make a point of including them at these events. “Don’t say no! Go to parties and events and you will be glad you did,” she says.
Always use technology to include family members in your Thanksgiving celebration who are residing in nursing facilities or who reside in other states through Zoom or Facetime, recommends Rodino.
Finally, Rodino reminds us of the importance of self-care in combating the stresses caused by the Thanksgiving holiday blues. “Take a break. Take a walk around the block. Take that time for just sitting with a hot cup of tea, hot chocolate, or coffee. Take a bath. Get a good night sleep,” she adds.
To listen to Rodino speaking about the holiday blues on an APA podcast, go to https://www.apa.org/news/podcasts/speaking-of-psychology/holiday-blues.
To read other columns by Herb Weiss, go to: https://rinewstoday.com/?s=herb+weiss
Herb Weiss, LRI -12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who has covered aging, health care and medical issues for over 43 years. To purchase his books, Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly and a sequel, compiling weekly published articles, go to herbweiss.com.
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