5 Tips on Surviving Thanksgiving


For many, Thanksgiving is a time joy, having fun, and amazing food. For others, Thanksgiving can be a source of stress and anxiety, thanks to family drama around the dinner table. Maybe you have a strained relationship with a family member, or maybe the recent election and the current issues in politics are making things feel especially toxic this year. Either way, the last thing you want is for a relaxing day off of work to turn into an incredibly stressful situation you have to manage.

Topic Of Discussion

You can’t control other people’s actions, but there are some things you can do to protect your own mental health and wellbeing from any tension that might crop up over Thanksgiving. Think of the following strategies as your unofficial Thanksgiving Survival Guide.

1. Know Your Triggers

Before the holiday, take a few minutes to nail down what exactly tends to set you off at a family gathering. Does your temper tend to flare when your Aunt Mary asks why you’re still single, for instance? Or your parents keep making comments about how they are waiting to have grandchildren? Or when the talk turns political? Knowing your triggers allows you to make a loose plan for how you’ll handle them when they pop up.

It also helps you avoid inadvertently bringing up something that’s actually a sensitive topic for you. Don’t invite people into part of your life in a conversation if that’s not an area where you want them to go. In other words, don’t tell Aunt Mary about your last crappy date or your attempts at swiping on Hinge or Tinder if your goal is to avoid the “still single?” question.

2. Have Conversation Topics Prepared

One of the best ways to steer a conversation is to change topics, so come prepared: Have a handful of neutral conversation starters in your back pocket to pull out when tensions start creeping up at the table.

Bring up New Years’ Eve plans — are your relatives staying in or going out? Your favorite old holiday movies. Whether your old English teacher is still working at the high school. Whether it’s really necessary to separate colors when you wash clothes. What your favorite Thanksgiving dish is. How to really clean your white sneakers. Then when your Aunt Mary asks when you’re finally getting married, you can simply say, “Oh you’re so funny. Have you been watching anything good on Netflix lately?” A no-fail solution: Ask them about themselves. Then they may forget to be nasty.

3. Take Breaks

If you’re only home for a few days and you don’t see your family often, it can be tempting to try to spend every spare minute with them to really soak it all in. However, there’s nothing wrong with going for a quick walk or scheduling a time to chill alone. If you feel guilty, remind yourself that taking time away from your family is actually the most loving thing you can do for them, because it makes the time you are spending with them better.

A lot of times, especially around holidays, people get stuck in the house and then they get caught up in childhood cycles. So do whatever you can to step out of that normal cycle you get stuck in when you go home. That means regularly stepping away to re-ground yourself. You can even take an extra-long bathroom break in really dire moments.

4. Don’t Be Afraid To Set Boundaries

Boundaries are the basic guidelines of how you want to be treated. These guidelines we establish are healthy and help us feel empowered. Setting boundaries gives us permission to say no to things. Boundaries help us with self-esteem, self-worth, and overall personal comfort. When we don’t set boundaries, we often feel like we have been taken advantage of or drained. Oftentimes, poor boundaries lead to burnout, resentment, or anger.

So when Aunt Mary keeps bringing up you being single, even though you’ve changed the topic what feels like 100,000 times, tell her that’s not a conversation you want to have. Or if you feel drained by being around all the people and feel ready to go home, go home. You don’t have to stay. You are in charge of you: physically, emotionally, intellectually, and your time.

5. Forgive Yourself If You Lose It

Triggering subjects are bound to come up during your holiday gathering, and you know what kind of conversations may pop up during dessert better than anyone. Go in with the intention to just have a good time, which might mean letting your family’s rude comments slide. Having a screaming match with someone about why they shouldn’t have voted for Trump or Biden isn’t going to do anything. No one’s changing their vote, and it’s not going to change their opinion on these topics that are really important. Getting worked up about it will get you nowhere. If it happens, let yourself off the hook if you lose your cool. Life is often stressful, and holiday stress on top of that isn’t an ideal combination for anyone.

If you know that at some point there’s a chance you’re going to have a conversation about current events, think about what the message is you really want to get across and practice that in advance. Having a plan in terms of how you’d like to respond to these kinds of things really can give you a leg up on the situation.

And remember — in the end, you can’t choose your family members. But you can choose how you cope with them and the steps you can take to protect your own mental health.


The Thanksgiving holiday can be a fun and happy time. It can also be exhausting and stressful. With that in mind, it is important to know your triggers, be prepared for conversation, remember to take breaks, set boundaries. And be sure to show yourself some grace if you lose your cool.

If your Thanksgiving holiday stresses you out too much, you can always discuss them with a therapist in order to debrief and prepare yourself for the other upcoming holiday gatherings.

If have a difficult time with family, stress, and boundaries, Tri-Star Counseling, LLC is here to help. We offer therapy services in Johnson City, TN and online therapy services to residents all across Tennessee.

Check Out More