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A Very Different Thanksgiving

A Very Different Thanksgiving

A close-up of orange leaves to signify the Fall season and Thanksgiving.

Last Thanksgiving, our focus was on the best way to roast turkey and navigating extended family relationships.  We had no idea how different a pandemic Thanksgiving in 2020 would be.  

As we approach Thanksgiving this year, we have many more thoughts on the mind, considering how to maintain mental and physical health in a different kind of holiday.

Acknowledge this year is different

The goal for Thanksgiving 2020 should not be to replicate Thanksgivings of years past.    The CDC has strongly recommended against travel and gatherings with people outside your household this year for those living in the United States.  It stands to reason that there will be fewer  squadrons of relatives and 20 pound turkeys gracing tables this Thanksgiving.  Accept this ahead of time and decide what about Thanksgiving is truly important to you, then incorporate that into your day. Is it speaking to relatives you normally never see?  Make plans to Zoom with them on Thanksgiving (or the day before or afterward).  Do you really love stuffing? Make a big tray of it and enjoy while watching the National Dog Show (and leftovers for days to come). 

Pay attention to your feelings – and physical health 

Thanksgiving comes at a time when many people are feeling stressed and burned out, from cooking to working from home  to remote schooling.  The holidays are a time when people tend to feel more stress, and this very atypical Thanksgiving is likely to be no exception.  Stress can exacerbate both mental health issues like depression and anxiety as well as physical challenges like diabetes, and weaken the immune system (especially problematic in a pandemic and approaching flu season.) 

If you find yourself getting sad or stressed, pause what you are doing and engage in a stress management activity that works for you, whether that’s reading a book, petting a dog, or more involved self-care like massage, yoga, or a hot bath. Consider an online/remote therapist if the feeling persists   

Take a moment to focus on gratitude 

The name of the holiday is, of course, Thanksgiving. Studies show that taking a little bit of time to feel thankful for good things, even when things are very stressful, can reduce stress and improve mood. A study of healthcare providers under constant mental strain were asked to diary things they were grateful for, while other groups were asked to detail what things bothered them, or simply not to write anything down at all. The study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that those who reflected on their gratitude were less likely to report depressive and stress symptoms.  Another option is to practice mindfulness – even a few minutes a day of practice can reduce anxiety and improve mood and positive outlook. 

Whatever you end up doing, we wish you and yours a happy and memorable Thanksgiving holiday this year. 

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