Thanksgiving is meant to be a time of gratitude, abundance, and delicious meals – but it’s frequently served with a side of stress, too. Between travel time, sharing personal updates with extended family members, and figuring out how the heck to defrost a turkey, the holiday is known to throw an unexpected curveball or two.

To help embrace the sweeter side of the season, we’re sharing four actionable tips to help you manage any Thanksgiving-related stress as it comes:

1. Take a deep breath before responding to an uncomfortable question or comment

Have a relative or friend who’s prying you for details you’d rather not share? Or maybe your sibling touched on a sore spot – and you’re feeling hurt, or angry.

Reacting in the moment may cause you to say some things you regret. Before responding to what you perceive as a snide, condescending, or generally inappropriate remark or question, grant yourself a mental and emotional pause.

One helpful, calming technique is diaphragmatic breathing.

  1. Place your hand on your abdomen, just above your navel.
  2. Breathe in, through your nose, with your belly – you should feel your stomach inflate.
  3. Hold your breath for three seconds, and release.

Afterwards, you’ll likely feel more refreshed, and removed from the question or comment – and as a result, you’ll be able to answer in a calmer state of mind. If you’re at the dinner table, you can excuse yourself to the restroom, take a few of these deep diaphragmatic breaths, and return with a bit more calm in your system.

“Before responding to what you perceive as a snide, condescending, or generally inappropriate remark or question, grant yourself a mental and emotional pause.”

2. Have some topics at the ready to easily switch gears

What Netflix series have you been streaming? How ’bout them Red Sox?

Make sure you have conversational topics ready if you really need to change the subject. If someone in your family brings up a topic that’s a sore spot for you or anyone else, deflect to something more positive.

To change the subject in a non-abrupt way, have some conversational bridges up your sleeve.

Lead the new topic with an exciting preface, like “Oh, that reminds me – I’ve been meaning to tell you!” or change the focus to another person – including the person you’re talking to.

The simple act of asking “What are your thoughts on the matter?” is often distracting enough to remove you from an uncomfortable spotlight.

3. Take control of what you can

If you’re hosting, here are some tips to make the setup conducive to a less stressful evening:

  • Arrange the seating charts in advance to eliminate emotional hiccups
  • Swap out alcoholic beverages for a boutique sparkling cider (if drinking is an issue for some guests)
  • Ask for assistance with cleaning – enlist your close friends and/or family members to help you ready your home for guests, set the table, and do dishes afterwards
  • Predicting a lot of leftovers? Ask guests to bring tupperware so they can take home some, and leave you some fridge space!

Facilitating these small but tangible acts can prevent a lot of frustration during get-togethers.

4. Give yourself emotional space in advance

Take a walk, whip out your meditation app for 15-min of pre-meal calm, or book an appointment with a therapist.

Giving yourself the mental space and an opportunity for your emotions to feel heard before entering a tense environment can give you extra mind space.



Photo by Askar Abayev

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

A version of this article was originally published in The Active Times.