Thinking Ahead: Ways to Avoid a Thanksgiving “Downer”

November 16, 2020 9:00 am Published by

Image by Grace Hue Photography on Unsplash

Thanksgiving is coming up next week and the holiday has been in the news due to the impact the COVID-19 virus is having on our lives. I will leave the practical suggestions on how to make a holiday gathering safe to the medical experts (for those of you who choose to get together with family and friends).

I want to present some thoughts and suggestions that you should consider before planning your holiday celebration — in hopes of helping you think clearly about the options you are considering and giving you ways to avoid experiencing a depressing Thanksgiving Day.

First, avoid “all or nothing” thinking. One of the quickest, and surest, ways to struggle with discouragement and depression is to approach life’s challenges with a mental style that divides life into categories, “great,” “the best ever” or “terrible,” “the worst day of my life.” Most of life is “average” and spreads into descriptors like “pretty good,” “not bad,” “not the best.”  Keep from using words (either verbally or in your thoughts) like “no one …”, “I never …”, “Everyone else always …”  They are rarely true (to the extreme expressed) and typically lead to nowhere good.

Next, make wise choices about how, where and with whom you will spend your holiday. Most of us think that we are fairly logical about the decisions we make, but research results say otherwise. Most decisions are more influenced about how we feel, our social context (and the social pressure we feel), prior experiences, and our desires. All of these factors lead most people to minimize the risks to themselves (and those close to them), especially when deciding about emotionally-infused events involving family and friends.

Let me give you a brief mental exercise to work through as you are deciding about your holiday plans.

  1. Outline the 2 or 3 most probable alternatives you have to choose between.
  2. For each alternative, consider the short-term benefits and potential negatives of choosing that option. (I’d suggest you write down your thoughts.) Then think about the short-term benefits and possible negative results of not choosing that option.
  3. Now (this step is important), think through each alternative and consider the long-term risks (potential negatives) and possible positive outcomes, both for going and not going.
  4. Compare the potential positives with the possible long-term negative results. Are the positives actually worth the long-term negative results which could occur? (Chronic lung difficulties, impact on your future work, unknowingly spreading the virus to family members.)

Remember, we all are biased to minimize the risks to ourselves in these types of situations. I’m not encouraging you to become a “worry wart,” but to be realistic in your assessment.

Third, engage in some creative problem-solving and planning that will give you some of the positives from the holiday, while minimizing the risks.  Some are obvious:

  • Set up and arrange for talking via FaceTime or Zoom. (Suggestion: allow for some one-on-one conversations versus group interactions.)
  • Figure out some ways to modify some of your traditions so they can be done remotely (playing some games, watching the same football game and texting back and forth during the game).
  • Compare the foods you eat and comment on how good they were (or how they fell short of what your mother makes).

NOTE: Things will work out better if you think and plan ahead; these types of activities often don’t work well in the spur of the moment.

Finally, remember what day we are celebrating: Thanksgiving Day.  Regardless of how bad your situation is, almost all of us have much to be grateful for. Our individual circumstances will differ. For some, it is for not being sick. For others, for not being in the hospital, or for having recovered from being sick. Many of us are safe in our homes; some are even able to work from their home. It may even be a beneficial exercise to take some time time during the actual holiday to stop and make a list of all the good things in your life. Here’s a start of a list for me: sight (including corrective lenses) to be able to see the beauty of creation, the ability to hear the birds sing and to listen to music, all of the wonderful tastes and smells of the food we get to enjoy, clean running water (and indoor plumbing!), a warm house and beds without bugs. Keep going, the list is almost endless!

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November 16, 2020 9:00 am

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