One of the survival tools for big family events is first deciding to go or not. One option is to decline with a simple no. Remember no is a complete sentence. However, if I decide to go to a family event, my counselor taught me to have an exit plan. I noticed that family events become fairly predictable, the same jokes, the same stories, and the same arguments tend to repeat themselves. Having an exit plan allows a way to leave when I see the pattern of events unfolding in ways I know will not turn out well. After years of practice, I have several exit plans. One where I leave after dinner. One where I leave after an hour or so and one where I leave if certain arguments start. Yup, I learned to recognize the opening gambits for nasty remarks that will follow no matter how I respond. Another advantage of an exit plan is I don't feel trapped. I recommend working out a plan with a counselor if you have one. Nice thing about discussing with a counselor is the realization is I am not the only person needing a way to leave a family gathering. Be aware that family members may be resentful or angry for breaking the pattern. Its ok. They will survive and more importantly I survive.
This year an exit plan is not a good choice for me. Thanksgiving dinner is at my house. I can exit, I've done it in the past, but my goal this year is to plan a healthier way to cope with stresses of Thanksgiving dinner. Big part of this is PLANNING. I started planning as soon as I knew that Thanksgiving at our house. Menus, activities, dishes needed, even an new refrigerator became part of the plan. I also welcomed my daughter volunteering as an event manager. Her perspective and encouragement kept me on task for early preparation. I also talked over with my counselor ways and means of lowering my stress levels. We talked about having reasonable expectations. I finally decided that I can reasonably plan to have enough food for everyone. No one will go away hungry unless they choose to. I can plan enough variety that everyone will eat something. Yes, Mac and cheese from the box is on the menu for the grandson that prefers eating mac and cheese. I can adapt to the preferences of others. Another piece of my plan is getting enough sleep. Feeling rested, I am much better at coping with stresses that pop up along the way. Starting early with cooking and prepping. In the freezer I have several parts of the meal ready to go. In my second refrigerator the turkey is already thawing. Yesterday I picked up from the store activities for the grandkids and boxed them up ready to use. I also bought most of the food that is time sensitive but not needed to be fresh. Last month I bought all the nonperishable items and ordered the fresh turkey. Today, I am going through the freezer and pulling out parts I need for the meals to come. Family is already gathering from different states and need to be fed before and after Thanksgiving. I do all I can ahead of time. I even watched a special on the Food channel about Thanksgiving preparation and time line. I was very excited when I realized we were already following most of the suggestions.
On the day of Thanksgiving I have a plan already in place. Start earlier than I think I need to for adjustment to unexpected requests. Use my sister's idea of MMV, mini mental vacations, a 5-10 minute private escape with the plan of coming back. With my counselor, I discussed how soon I need to break away for these little breaks. Her suggestion is not to wait until my nerves are at screaming pitch but way before when I recognize that I am starting to get more tense. Breathing is a 10 second break when I can't walk away from stirring something on the stove. Slow count breathing can help my entire body relax. A relaxation buddy to text during the day for that person to check in with me and for me to check in with them to make sure we are both staying engaged with the events. Another short activity is mindfulness. Paying attention to the smells, feel, and anything in that moment. How does my body feel stirring the sauces soon to be used with the meal. Being in the moment allows me to let go of past and future and focus on now. I have practiced this in less stressful situations and it is more powerful than I thought it would be. For me one of the keys to this Thanksgiving being successful is mentally accepting in advance that the day will NOT be PERFECT. Remember O'Toole's corollary, "Murphy was an optimist." (Murphy's law, If anything can go wrong, it will at the most inopportune time.) Something is almost guaranteed to go wonky. With so many different people, foods, and activities coming together, something will not go smoothly. Relax anyway. That is the plan. In 5 days, I'll let you know if it worked.