By Dr. David Woo - November 20, 2023
Thanksgiving is generally regarded as a time of gratitude and togetherness, but not everyone finds it easy to have a happy Thanksgiving. The holiday can also be a source of stress and anxiety for many. Balancing the demands of social gatherings, sumptuous feasts, and emotional triggers can be challenging, especially for those grappling with mental health issues such as depression, social anxiety, eating disorders, and loneliness. Festive get-togethers and seemingly mandatory holiday cheer can be triggering for those of us processing feelings of grief, loneliness, financial worries, or unresolved tensions with family members.
It’s important not to get sucked into the hype and unrealistic expectations set up by the commercialized, TV-ad vision of Thanksgiving—real life is more complicated than that, and we can’t just put our feelings on hold for the holidays. However, Thanksgiving can be a time of healing and connection if you approach it with self-awareness and compassion. With that in mind, we’d like to share some tips on how to look after your Thanksgiving mental health.
Depression can cast a shadow over even the brightest of holidays. Here are some tips for managing your mental health if you’re dealing with depression during the holidays, including Thanksgiving:
- Self-care: Prioritize self-care by taking some time for yourself before the festivities begin. Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation.
- Set boundaries: Communicate your limits to loved ones. It’s okay to decline invitations or leave early if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
- Reach out: Identify a supportive friend or family member to confide in during the celebration. Sharing your feelings can provide immense relief.
- Plan ahead: Create a plan for the day, including structured activities and coping strategies. This can help maintain a sense of control.
- Give thanks: It may sound trite, but making an effort to participate in the spirit of the holiday can help immensely with one’s mood and build positive neural connections in the brain, as recent research into the effects of gratitude has shown (1,2). Take some time to take stock of what you are thankful for this season and feel your spirits lift.
Thanksgiving gatherings can be triggering for those with social anxiety or anxious depression. Try these techniques to help manage it effectively:
- Prepare conversation starters: Have a few conversation topics in mind to ease into social interactions. Ask about shared interests or offer compliments to others.
- Small, gradual exposure: If you’re anxious about larger gatherings, consider attending smaller events or family dinners before the main celebration.
- Take breaks: Retreat to a quiet space if you feel overwhelmed. Practice deep breathing or grounding techniques to regain composure.
- Focus on gratitude: Remind yourself that Thanksgiving is about appreciating the presence of loved ones, not scrutinizing your social performance.
Thanksgiving feasts can trigger eating disorder concerns. Here’s how to navigate the holiday while managing these challenges:
- Seek support: Reach out to a therapist or support group before the holiday. They can help you set a plan and provide coping strategies.
- Create a meal plan: Plan your Thanksgiving meal in advance, focusing on balanced choices. Share this plan with a trusted friend or family member for accountability.
- Practice mindful eating: Pay attention to when your body feels hungry and full cues. Savor every bite and don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up.
- Distraction techniques: Engage in conversation or fun activities that don’t revolve around food to divert your attention from eating.
How To Spend Thanksgiving Alone
Thanksgiving can be particularly challenging if you’re feeling lonely or isolated. If you find yourself worried about the prospect of spending Thanksgiving alone, try the following tips to combat the feelings of loneliness during the holiday:
- Volunteer: Consider volunteering at a local shelter or charity. Helping others can provide a sense of purpose and connection and has been positively correlated with improvements in mental health by researchers (3).
- Virtual celebrations: If you can’t be with loved ones in person, organize a virtual gathering with friends or family members. Share a meal or simply chat to feel more connected.
- Connect with people: Don’t hesitate to contact friends or family members and express your feelings. They may be unaware of your loneliness and will likely want to offer support.
- Self-compassion: Remember that it’s okay to feel lonely at times. Practice self-compassion and self-love by treating yourself kindly.
Whether you’re dealing with depression, social anxiety, eating disorders, or other mental health struggles, it is crucial to seek professional help. Not getting help can lead to a worsening of symptoms.
If you feel that pharmaceutical medications haven’t been effective for your condition, then you may be a good candidate for transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy. TMS has a proven track record in treating depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and other mental health conditions that have proven resistant to medications.
Madison Avenue TMS & Psychiatry offers talk therapy and TMS therapy for depression and other mental health conditions. Contact us online or call (212) 731-2033 for more information or to make an appointment, and start your journey toward better mental health today!
- Giving thanks can make you happier. Harvard Health. Link. Accessed October 13, 2023.
- Fox, G. R., Kaplan, J., Damasio, H., & Damasio, A. Neural correlates of gratitude. Frontiers in Psychology. 2015;6, 151058. Link. Accessed October 13, 2023.
- Ballard, P. J., Daniel, S. S., Anderson, G., Nicolotti, L., Quinones, E. C., Lee, M., & Koehler, A. N. Incorporating Volunteering Into Treatment for Depression Among Adolescents: Developmental and Clinical Considerations. Frontiers in Psychology. 2021;12. Link. Accessed October 13, 2023.