Ah, Thanksgiving. Most people conjure an image of the perfect holiday gathering. Family and friends all attend, everybody recites what they are thankful for, and a toast is made to those family members who have passed away in the last year.
But not everybody’s Thanksgiving is a Norman Rockwell painting. Domestic violence increases, political arguments become heated, and the added stress some people feel to create a perfect celebration only makes everything worse. Plus, since some family members don’t see each other except during the holidays, they may want to revisit old arguments and settle old scores.
Two-thirds of Americans (66%) said they hoped to avoid discussing politics at Thanksgiving.
“Thanksgiving should be a time to reflect on the past, to be thankful for it, and for our family and friends,” says Tom Corner, a motivational speaker and author of Borrowed Eyes and Feet: Finding Enlightenment After Rage ?(www.borrowedeyesandfeet.com).
Thanksgiving also should be just as much about looking to the future as it is thinking about the past. But in order to do that, some people may have to deal with family anger issues first.
Corner, whose struggles to overcome his own anger issues are recounted in his latest book, says people who have pent-up anger can deal with it in many different ways and family gatherings can bring these issues to the surface.
If you feel tensions begin to rise around the Thanksgiving holiday, turn up the speakers and enjoy some tunes.
Listening to your favorite songs can effectively regulate mood and help you achieve self-awareness. Achieving self-awareness is an important first step in decreasing stress. If your thoughts and feelings are operating outside of awareness, then they control you. Reconnecting to your thoughts and feelings through listening to your preferred music can help you regain control. Background music can help create a positive atmosphere for celebrating the holiday together. Several studies have outlined the effects of music on self-reported anxiety level. Providing background music can help your family and guests feel more relaxed when sharing time together after an isolated, stressful year.
While it’s not always easy to mollify someone else’s anger, here are some suggestions on how you can reduce your own anger issues at Thanksgiving dinner:
- Prepare yourself. Before attending or hosting the event, spend some time saying some affirmations like “I will focus on things to be thankful for,” “Although my brother/sister may upset me, I deeply love and appreciate myself,” or even “I attract honor, respect and dignity for myself and others.”
- Behave. Don’t worry so much about other people’s behavior pay attention to your own. How you behave is likely to be returned to you. If you are grumpy and assume the holiday will be a disaster, you may make that come true. So smile because smiles really are contagious, Corner says.
- Risk change. If your Thanksgiving dinners have always been a disaster because you can’t stand your sister, for example, make a commitment that this year you are going to change. You can’t change her, but you can change your expectations of her (and yourself). Decide ahead of time that you will truly be loving and kind to yourself and you will be loving and kind to her. Thanksgiving only comes once a year, so take a risk and change how you see your family and remove unjustified expectations.
- Be present and aware. Don’t go on automatic pilot. Be here, be now, be present. Your positive energy of being “in the moment” will impact those around you. Don’t bring your past arguments and hurts into the present.
- Forgive yourself. If your Thanksgiving wasn’t perfect, that’s OK. Our true perfection lies on our imperfections. Don’t take how it went as a personal reflection on you. Once you forgive and accept yourself, you will magically do the same for your family members.
After Thanksgiving is over, make peace with what was. Hug your family, kiss your children, and take some time to just be. After all, Christmas dinner will only be four weeks away. So, if you grasp onto family frustrations ask yourself “Are these thoughts really true?”