I’ve made some mathematical calculations and come to the conclusion that Thanksgiving may well be the judgiest of all the holidays. It is sort of a low-return, high-stakes day because, unlike Christmas, there are no presents to mitigate all the food anxiety and weight comments you get from randos.
Unlike Halloween, you don't get to dress up like a Little Red Riding Hood cannibal, watch movies about demonic sharks eating women in bikinis, or get candy.
Even 4th of July is better than Thanksgiving because you get to watch things get blown up and tearfully mess up all the lyrics to "America the Beautiful" while sitting in a patch of grass that may or may not be infested with ticks.
Thanksgiving is a day centered around the table, which for me (and many) is and possibly always will be Ground Zero for most of my emotional problems. I grew up with my grandparents. My grandfather had a rage problem that was both the cause of and fueled by grandmother's incessant need to keep heating up more and more tortillas. My grandparents were obsessed with death, so who had just died and who was about to die were consistent topics of dinner convo. I still have dining table PTSD. The idea of a holiday that centers the table in such a unique and specific way has little appeal.
I know that many people find that Thanksgiving triggers a deluge of feelings:
The preemptive cringe of that pervy uncle who both fat shames you and hugs you for too long.
The looks from relatives you haven't seen since the last time you were at this shit show a year ago.
The anxiety around the food. This is one of the rare days when we as a country gather to binge and pretend it isn't ridiculous that this is followed closely by expectations to restrict come January 1.
And the ambivalence toward eating itself. Like, "Yum, there is a table full of delicious food" but also, "Ugh, am I gonna hate myself after I eat this?"
For those of us who are having feelings about Thanksgiving, I thought I would offer up my Thanksgiving survival guide:
1. Don't panic.
I know I just gave you about 15 reasons to panic, but I want to assure you that you can actually choose not to catastrophize. Spend less time imagining worst possible outcomes and more time relaxing. When we anticipate unpleasantness, it does very little to mitigate any unfortunate situation that may arise in the future. So instead, when those creeping thoughts arise, say to yourself internally: “I will not catastrophize because it doesn’t actually equip me with the resources I need to make this work for me.”
2. Have a plan.
If you find yourself worrying a lot about shame and guilt or others’ comments, it’s a good idea to set aside an hour or two for planning out what you will do if the occasion arises. For instance, if you are pretty sure your family is going to start devolving around Hour 3, then plan to have an exit plan around Hour 2 or Hour 2.5. Make sure you have a reliable form of transportation. If you don’t have a car, rent one or hire a taxi ahead of time. It’s worth it. If you think there’s a possibility that someone will say something about your weight, then have a little script ready, like “I will not be discussing my weight today,” or “No, I haven’t lost weight.” Final example: if you’re worried about having a shame spiral around the meal itself, then have a little script for yourself internally, like “No food is better or worse than any other food. I deserve to eat what I want and I don’t have to feel bad about it now or ever.”
3. Do before-care and after-care.
Set aside at least 20 minutes before the Thanksgiving activities begin to do something just for you, like deep breathing or giving yourself a small gift, or watching an episode of Bob’s Burgers. After the activities are done, set aside at least 20 minutes for something like a shower, a nap, maybe light a candle or listen to Beyonce’s Survivor on a loop while dancing in your underwear and winking at yourself in the mirror.
4. Declare a shame and judgment moratorium.
As you’re entering the day, just remind yourself that you don’t have to make moral judgments about what you eat or how it will affect your weight. You can just enjoy this day because you deserve that.
5. Give yourself more emotional space than usual.
Holidays are high pressure. Guess what? You don’t get a special surprise for pretending that Thanksgiving isn’t energy zapping! With that in mind, take things a little slower and schedule fewer things leading up to and following Thanksgiving. This buffer will help you be more attuned to signs that you are hitting a point where you need a break or some alone time.
6. Allow yourself space to opt out if you really aren’t feeling it.
I know that many of us find the holidays really stressful, but don’t feel we can opt out. I just wanted to remind you that you totally can. It is okay to skip Thanksgiving. I had to do it one year, and honestly taking care of myself rather than just going along with what was expected of me was as rad as everyone says it is.
No matter how you end up celebrating Thanksgiving, remember that you deserve to have a good day and that you have the right to take care of yourself.