How to Manage Stress and Plan the "Perfect" Thanksgiving

Updated on November 14, 2019
Deborah Demander profile image

Deborah is a writer, healer, and teacher. Her goal is to help people live their best lives every day by sharing her joy and love of life.

Family and friends are the meaning of Thanksgiving.
Family and friends are the meaning of Thanksgiving. | Source

Creating the Perfect Thanksgiving

Every family enjoys fond memories of childhood Thanksgivings at grandma's house, of feasting and fun and family. Whether those fond memories represent an actual Thanksgiving or are an idealized memory of something that never happened, well, that's another story.

Besides the feasting and fun, many families also suffer trauma from Thanksgivings weighed down by family fights and frustrated expectations. The rolls are burned. The dog bit the baby. The in-laws are fighting. You know, the usual family drama that ruins every get-together. Thanksgiving is no exception.

While we expect that Thanksgiving should be a simple family holiday, it is laden with the burden of complex family dynamics. Families get together and with the gathering of people comes the expectations, old hurts and new fights. How can you enjoy a stress-free Thanksgiving and still spend time with your family?

This article offers a few tips on how to create the perfect, stress-free Thanksgiving holiday while balancing family interactions.

Steps for a Perfect Thanksgiving

  1. Manage Expectations
  2. Keep It Simple
  3. Declare a Truce
  4. Give Thanks

Manage your Thanksgiving expectations.
Manage your Thanksgiving expectations. | Source

1. Manage Your Expectations

The first step to enjoying a holiday or any experience in life, is to manage your own expectations. You can't manage anyone other than yourself. You can completely control your own behavior, your own perception, and your own responses. Beyond that, you have no control over other people. You. Have. No. Control.

Remember that you are dealing with your family. You can't expect your alcoholic step-father to be anything other than what he is. If you expect otherwise, you might find yourself frustrated and angry. You can't expect your sister's five children to behave like perfect angels while eating off of great-grandma's expensive heirloom china.

If you expect what they can't provide, you will find yourself frustrated and angry. You can't expect your emotionally distant mother to suddenly open up and cuddle with you on the couch while looking through family albums. If you expect her to behave differently than she always has, you might find yourself frustrated and hurt.

You know your family. Don't expect things they can't or won't provide. And don't expect things from yourself that you can't manage. You know your own tolerance for noise, for crowds and for your family. Don't expect more from yourself than you can handle.

Be Realistic and Honest With Yourself

Be realistic about what you can and can't do. Not only with your relationships, but also with your feast preparations. Be honest with yourself. Speak your truth to yourself and to the people around you. If you can't do something, then speak up and tell someone. If you feel overwhelmed, pull back. Be honest.

If you've volunteered to host the big dinner, to cook the turkey and all the sides and make pies, but you wake up feeling sick, then let people know. Call them and be honest. Give yourself a break. You do not have to be everything for everyone. You do not have to do everything perfectly. Be realistic about what you can do.

You can only control yourself. As soon as you try to control others, you will feel frustrated and annoyed. Control your expectations, about yourself, your family and the holidays. Not only will your Thanksgiving feel more perfect, but so will the rest of your life.

2. Keep Everything Simple

The best way to ruin any holiday is to make it as complicated as possible. For a perfect Thanksgiving celebration, keep things simple.

First, decide where to have your feast, and who will host it. Maybe grandma doesn't feel up to having a herd of family at her house. Who else could do it? Look for a simple way to get the family together, and offer simple options.

Perhaps everyone would prefer to get together in the evening for pie. Maybe no one likes the deep-fried turkey Uncle Fred makes. Maybe your newly-wed cousin wants to make her own feast. Give family members space to explore their preferences.

Don't complicate the family dynamic more than necessary. Families are complicated enough. Try to create a simple plan for the day, whether it involves a buffet or a pot-luck meal, or an afternoon get together. The entire family doesn't necessarily need to gather every single year for the annual Thanksgiving brawl. Keep it simple.

However large or small your gathering, keep the food simple as well. Don't stress yourself out over a ten-course meal complete with three kinds of meat, seven kinds of cheese, and five dessert options. Does anyone even like mincemeat pie? Yes? Good, then make one. If your family really only eats pumpkin pie, then only make pumpkin.

Be realistic about what people in your family want, and work from there. Perfect doesn't mean complicated. Perfect means enjoyable for everyone involved. If you don't want to wash dishes all afternoon, consider disposable plates and utensils. Eating from a paper plate won't ruin the celebration, and it will leave more time for what really matters.

Keeping the day simple will help everyone relax and enjoy themselves, and that is a perfect way to celebrate with people you love.

Try these simply delicious rolls!
Try these simply delicious rolls! | Source

Deliciously Simple Dinner Rolls

These amazing dinner rolls are easy and can be made a day ahead of time. Just bake on Thanksgiving morning or about an hour before your meal.

3. Call a Truce (Internally)

You do not have to be right. Even when you are right, you don't have to be right. Remember, it is always better to be kind than to be right.

You can let go of past grievances, let go of your need to be right, and declare a truce. The perfect Thanksgiving requires you to release all your hurts and anger and forgive your family.

Families are not perfect. They are a great opportunity to learn some of life's most difficult lessons. The nature of family dynamics means that someone will feel hurt, or forgotten or unloved or unappreciated. During this Thanksgiving, you can let it all go.

You can declare a truce, internally. While that might seem ineffective, it will help your perception immensely. When you decide to let things go, then you can enjoy yourself without getting hurt and feeling out of sorts. Your sister said something mean? It's not about you, it's about her and her own insecurities. Don't take the bait. Let it go.

Your dad was rude and unkind? That's how he's always been. Offer him love in spite of his stoicism. By declaring a truce with your family, you control your perception. Don't take everything personally, even if your uncle's snotty remark was meant directly for you. Offer love rather than anger.

Declaring a truce begins with you. First, decide that you can offer love in spite of what your family says or does. Decide that you forgive the past and don't need to use this Thanksgiving to hash out the decades-old feud between you and your brother. Choose to see peace rather than anger, love in place of hate. Offer a gift of gentle forgiveness to your family.

Your truce affects not only your perception, but it can heal generations of hurt. For a more perfect holiday or gathering at any time of year, let go of your grievances, be kind and don't worry about being right.

4. Give Thanks in All Things

The real point of Thanksgiving is gratitude. Give thanks in all things, not only on Thanksgiving day, but every day, throughout your life.

When you begin your day with gratitude, you tap into joy and appreciation for life, for people and for the beauty and abundance that surrounds you. Start the day with thanks and continue offering up your gratitude in each moment.

On Thanksgiving, rather than focusing on what goes wrong, focus on what goes well. Focus on what you have, not what you want. Focus on your family and friends, and the gifts they bring into your life on a daily basis.

Thanksgiving. Giving Thanks. To celebrate a perfect holiday, express the fullness of your gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Celebrating a perfect holiday is really quite easy, whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas or any other holiday.

First, manage your expectations. Understand what you can and can't do, and allow people to be who they are. Accept what they can and can't do. Be honest with yourself and with your family.

Second, practice the KISS principle: Keep It Simple Stupid. From menu planning to gathering size and location, to activities; simpler is better. Don't overthink it. Simple may not be what the family has always done, but simple is achievable.

Third, call a truce. Even if you only do it internally, let go of your past grievance, forgive others and get on with your life. It is always better to be kind than to be right. Always.

Finally, practice gratitude. Give thanks, every day. A thankful heart is a happy heart. You are blessed.

How Does Your Family Observe Thanksgiving?

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Deborah Demander Reno


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    • Deborah Demander profile imageAUTHOR

      Deborah Demander Reno 

      2 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      Kari, thanks so much for your input. I appreciate your comments. Managing expectations is probably my biggest challenge around the holidays. I always want everyone to be happy, and everything to be perfect. I need to take my own advice.


    • Deborah Demander profile imageAUTHOR

      Deborah Demander Reno 

      2 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      Thank you for reading and commenting Eric,


    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      I really enjoyed this article. The part on managing your expectations is so true. I say to myself, "I am what I am". It is important to allow this same freedom to others. Actually, I loved the whole thing. :)

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      A good piece, thank you.


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