Going home for the holidays is touted as a joyful, relaxing break from the hustle of daily life, but things aren't always that simple. I'm lucky to have family members who make going home for the holidays a treat, but if you don't get along with your family, you might be dreading a trip home. You don't have to go home, even if there's pressure from your loved ones. It's possible to celebrate Thanksgiving alone and actually enjoy yourself. You can spend the day however you please and only make foods you love. But if you do decide to go home, it's possible to survive the holiday and prioritize your mental health even if dealing with Thanksgiving is going to be really hard.
Bustle spoke with licensed professional counselor Sarah Watson, who specializes in relationship counseling, about what to do if Thanksgiving may be hard emotionally. Even if you don't have a toxic family, there could be other reasons you're dreading the holiday, like being reminded of loved ones who have have passed, or dealing with heightened stress levels. Watson tells Bustle that holiday anxiety can be caused by many things.
"Most of the time, the anxiety comes from stress or not meeting anticipated expectations," she says. "We tend to fall back into our respective childhood roles when we are with our families, and that can create some serious doubt with individuals. Remember, you are not your 12-year-old self, and you are important."
I joke that I feel like I'm a teenager again when I spend extended time at home. My parents give me unsolicited advice and I rebel against them, just like the old days. But reverting to childhood roles is surprisingly common, and it can be a triggering experience if your childhood wasn't a good one. According to The Science Of Us, one way to avoid this is treating family members like you would treat friends. Set firm boundaries and stick to them.
It's a good idea to have a plan in place if your family dynamic gets to be too much. First, think about the worst-case scenario. What do you fear may happen while you're home? Maybe it's arguing with family members or having to deal with passive-aggressive comments. Make a plan to deal with how you'll respond if your worst-case scenario comes true. Your feelings are valid, and you can take a walk, call a friend, or even leave town early if you need to.
"You don't have to be subject to manipulation and emotional abuse. If you find yourself feeling triggered or angry, walk away calmly and take care of yourself," Watson says. "Know that you have the power to change the situation by walking away or calmly stating your feelings if you are up for a discussion. The holidays can suck, but you have a choice in how you participate."
Remember, it's still not too late to back out of your family's Thanksgiving plans. Watson says to ask yourself what's the best choice for your mental health, even if it feels selfish. "Maintaining your own emotional safety and happiness should be the most important factor in your decision," she tells Bustle. "Make sure you are taking care of yourself."
It may also be wise to take a break from social media during Thanksgiving week. Studies have shown that social media fasts can help your mental health, but it may be even more beneficial to step away when you're faced with a barrage of social media posts from people who are grateful to be home. If you aren't thankful for your family, that's okay. You'll make it through the holiday, especially if you prepare ahead of time.