Tips For a Rough Thanksgiving by Jackie Pilossoph for Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press
Synonymous with gratitude, Thanksgiving is a day when people are traditionally supposed to feel and show appreciation to friends and family members (while sitting around watching football and eating turkey and pumpkin pie, of course).
But what if this particular Thanksgiving is a rough one for you and you’re just not feeling the gratitude? Maybe a loved one recently died. Or maybe you and your spouse are newly separated. Perhaps you just lost your job or you recently got diagnosed with an illness. Maybe your kids decided not to come home for the holidays this year and you are alone for the first time on a major holiday.
All of these scenarios can cause emotions that include sadness, bitterness, anger and hopelessness, which makes it difficult to conform to the pressure of the happiness you know you’re supposed to feel but just can’t.
So, how do you get through a rough Thanksgiving, not fall apart, and possibly even end up enjoying the day? For answers to these questions, I reached out to Lisa Kaplin, Psy.D., a certified life coach and the founder of her North Shore-based practice, Smart Women Inspired Lives. Kaplin said if you’re not feeling thankful or celebratory this Thanksgiving, don’t sweat it!
“The first step is to accept your feelings and allow yourself to experience the emotions,” said Kaplin, who has been in practice for 17 years. “If you are feeling bitter, resentful or depressed, acknowledge it. People might try to talk you into not being sad because they care about you, but remember that it’s OK to feel what you are feeling.”
Here are six tips to tackling a rough Thanksgiving holiday:
1. Take care of yourself. Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to feel better right now?” Go for a walk? Call my best friend? Have some alone time? It is OK to be selfish and do what you can to shift your energy to a better place.
2. Don’t force gratitude. If you don’t feel it, that’s OK. You are entitled to your feelings, whatever they may be, regardless of an expected tradition.
3. Don’t feel guilty for not feeling gratitude. In addition to the fact that any guilt is unproductive and a total waste of energy, feeling guilty for not feeling thankful will only make you feel worse about the situation and about yourself. Remember that your problem, no matter how small it is to others is important and meaningful to you.
4. Try to focus on little things that bring you happiness. A beautiful baby who might be at your Thanksgiving dinner, a cup of really warm, delicious coffee, a cute dog, a funny dinner table conversation. Getting just a little bit of enjoyment in small, simple things might help you find your smile during the day.
5. It’s OK to go home early. People will understand that you are doing what you feel is best for you right now.
6. Look ahead. Realize that you will get through this, and that Thanksgiving could be completely different next year. Positive thoughts like this might be helpful in feeling hopeful.
For those who are spending Thanksgiving with someone going through a rough time, Kaplin said to remember that the best thing you can do is to hear, acknowledge and validate that person’s feelings.
“Often times, people want to fix it and they will say, ‘Don’t be sad,’ but that actually doesn’t help at all,” Kaplin said. “What helps is to accept their feelings and ask, ‘How can I support you?’ People usually respond by saying, ‘Just be yourself.'”
One thing that never fails to make Thanksgiving day a great day is humor. My family has a Thanksgiving tradition that consists of drawing names out of a hat and imitating the person whose name you picked. Everyone then guesses who you are imitating, and each person’s act never fails to light up every face in the room and cause laughter that is so hard it is often accompanied by tears. The game fosters endearing conversations and trips down memory lane: two things I have no doubt promote feelings of gratitude, no matter how rough a Thanksgiving day might be.
A situation might seem like it will never, ever get any better. I will leave you with two pieces of advice. One, realize what you can and cannot control, and do your best to work on the things you can control. And secondly, if you dig deep, you can always find some kind of gratitude…(click here to read the rest of the article, published yesterday in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press.)
Like this article? Check out my blog post: “10 reasons to be thankful on Thanksgiving despite your awful divorce.”