If you have an existing mental health condition, it may be exacerbated during the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Read more to find out why this happens and how you can protect your mental health this season. 

Protect Your Mental Health

Thanksgiving, while a celebrated holiday for some, also comes with its share of anxiety, stress, and pressure. Some people may find this holiday challenging. It may be triggering for existing mental health conditions. 

64% of people with mental illness say that the holidays make their conditions worse. If you are living with a mental health condition, stress can also contribute to worsening symptoms.

The holidays can trigger memories, connections, and intrusive thoughts. May come in contact with a relative that makes you uncomfortable. You may be exposed to situations or conversations that you find difficult. Might you feel like you are faking it through the day for the sake of children or family. You may be grieving the loss of someone or the end of a relationship. Or, you may be struggling with feelings of loneliness and isolation. 

 

Managing Thanksgiving Stress

What are your triggers?

Identify what triggers you. If your holiday plans involve a Thanksgiving dinner, for example, get information from your host. You can find out who is attending, whether there will be extra guests, etc. This will enable you to prepare yourself for any challenging people or dynamics. Knowing ahead of time who is going to be there will give you an idea of what to expect. This may help you manage your expectations and anxiety around the occasion. 

Think about what topics, people, or circumstances trigger you and visualize what you will do in each situation. Make sure you visualize positive outcomes! Try not to get into ‘thought fights’ – when you are imagining a scenario and get sucked into possible negative outcomes. A thought fight is when you mentally engage with an unhealthy narrative, conversation, or personal interaction.

 

Be Aware of Slipping into Patterns

Be mindful of patterns or distractions that do not serve you. These may include but are not limited to:

  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Overeating
  • Not eating 
  • Overuse of tobacco
  • Substance abuse

Start preparing yourself in the days before the holiday approaches. Anticipate that you may have troubling thoughts and emotions. Make a plan with a trusted person you can contact for support. Maintain healthy habits in the areas of sleep, diet, and exercise. This may be overstated, but there is a definite link between eating well, sleeping well, physical activity and wellness.  

Keep in mind that you will not be able to control others. Also, you cannot and do not have to please everyone. But you can be responsible for how you respond and behave. You can show up for yourself. You can back yourself up and remember that your needs also matter. Check in with yourself and your body: How am I feeling? Are my shoulders tensing up? Is my stomach feeling funny? Do I feel safe? What do I need now to feel better in this moment?

Engage with People You Have a Real Connection With

You can choose who to engage with. This will require you to be mindful of your boundaries. You can politely enforce a boundary without needing to justify it. You do not need to earn or get anyone’s approval. 

Interacting with the people that you have an authentic connection with will put you at ease. It will create a sense of security and wellbeing. You will have someone ‘in your corner’, so to speak. Feeling safe enough to be your true self is important to your mental wellness.

If you will not be joining people for Thanksgiving, you may try volunteering in your community. The meaning and symbolism of Thanksgiving can vary for different people. Consider reaching out and doing an act of kindness. This may help relieve depressive symptoms and give you a sense of fulfillment. 

Self-Compassion

Treat yourself with kindness and gentleness. 

There is a lot of messaging in our media about what the holidays should be like, what they should look like, what you should be doing, and how you should be feeling. It is hard not to be affected by what you see on social media. We can get stuck in a cycle of comparison and then feel as if we are lacking. 

Remember, joy can be found in the ordinary and every day. 

are not able to experience this holiday the way media and marketing tells you to.

do not feel how you are ‘supposed’ to feel at this time of year.

do not feel like being a part of a certain tradition.

spend the holiday in a different way to what you are used to.

Do make sure you have support that you can reach out to.

Take a break, some space, and time for yourself. Go for a walk, read, listen to music, stretch, or just be. Stopping and taking some down time is good for you! It will help you feel refreshed and perhaps even enable you to see things from a different perspective. 

As the ever-popular meme states, Just Breathe. Literally. Deep breathing and breath exercises have been shown to help with dysregulation, stress, and anxiety. 

Practicing and embodying gratitude has been proven by research to help with mental wellbeing. Gratitude does not diminish the pain or distress of a situation. But if you try and find some goodness somewhere while you are in the midst of it, you may find some relief from heavy thoughts and emotions. Do not judge yourself or feel guilty if you find gratitude a little hard to come by. 

Bottom line

If you anticipate the holidays to be difficult this year, consider getting support in the form of mental health services. Talking to an experienced therapist may identify ways that you can manage your triggers and bring some peace to your holiday. Treatment such as anxiety therapy can help you handle troubling thoughts and feelings. Reach out to Trust Mental Health – our team of therapists come from diverse backgrounds and speak multiple languages. Get the help you need, today.