How to cope with holiday stress

November 18, 2017

I've been eagerly looking forward to Thanksgiving this year. Everyone will be here, including our two sons and daughter-in-law who live out of state. My mom is flying in. And just found out our niece and her husband and our nephew will be here for dinner Thursday. Our son-in-law's parents graciously gave up having Thanksgiving with their son so that he and our daughter can be with us the whole day. 

I love my family, and time together now is rare and precious. We won't all be together at Christmas, so Thanksgiving will be a two-in-one holiday. We put the Christmas trees up early. I'm looking forward to a wonderful week.

But, as wonderful as it all is, holiday stress is inevitable. We want things to be perfect, and everyone to be happy, and that can be a lot of pressure to put on ourselves.

I'm talking to myself here.

So this is my five-step plan. Maybe these thoughts will help you, too.

Plan ahead.

Make a list of all the meals you will have for out-of-town guests and on Thanksgiving Day, get recipes out, and make up your shopping list. Get all your groceries in early so you're not stressed at the last minute, realizing you forgot to get the cranberries or the ingredients for your appetizers. 

Cook as much as you can ahead of time. Our family loves to play board games together, and I don't want to be shopping or cooking when I could be enjoying time with my loved ones.

I've got a lasagne in the freezer, as well as meat cooked up for chili and tacos. I made gravy for Thanksgiving Day from turkey wings, and that is in the freezer, too, along with pumpkin muffins. I cooked up all the sausage and sautéed onions and celery and froze that so that the stuffing will be easy to assemble the day of. I can make my cranberry sauce a couple days ahead and I will make rolls and assemble the sweet potato and vegetable casseroles the day before.

Our daughter and daughter-in-law are making pies, so yay, one less thing for me.

I've gotten enough food for an army laid away. My goal is to stay out of the stores from now until after Black Friday.

Adjust your expectations.

Holidays have to bear the weight of some pretty heavy expectations. We want a perfect Norman Rockwell holiday, with plenty of good food and everyone getting along. But, sometimes we end up with lumps in the gravy and arguments over politics. Life is messy and people are people. We all have our rough edges and we all bring our own share of stuff to the table, as it were.

Try to bear with yourself and with one another in love.  Acknowledge that not perfect is good enough. Trying to create an Instagram- and Pinterest-worthy holiday will make you, not to mention everyone else, crazy. If the gravy is lumpy, strain it and call it a day. If conflicts come, try to be a peacemaker if you can. If not, remember it's not your responsibility to make everyone happy. Leave the room and raid the chocolate stash. ;)

Ask for help.

If people offer to bring a dish or to help peel potatoes, let them. If they don't, ask them. Most people are happy to help out, and really don't want to see you making a martyr of yourself. You are not responsible to be chief cook and bottle washer for a crowd of people watching football.

If people are staying with you, don't feel you've got to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner for everyone all week long. I've planned every dinner for the week, but there's food enough here for people to make their own breakfasts and lunches. Of course, there's nothing like a leisurely breakfast together,  drinking coffee and talking over bacon and eggs and pancakes. We'll be doing this most mornings, but I'll be enlisting help. I just don't have unlimited energy.

Take a few breaks.

As an introvert who is now used to long stretches of alone time, being with people 24/7, no matter how much I love them, can be exhausting. I'll plan on taking our two grand-dogs for a walk or excusing myself for a little nap upstairs.

Don't forget to be thankful.

After all, it's Thanksgiving. Maybe that relative had too much to drink or the other one hogs all the conversation. Maybe the rhetoric around Donald Trump or climate change gets heated. (I'm thinking about putting up a sign that says, "no politics zone" in my dining room.)

We all have so much to be thankful for. I have a pretty long list myself, thank You, Lord. Keep your eyes on the bigger picture. And remember, "not perfect" can still be pretty awesome.


  1. Looks like you are very organized. Your tree is lovely. I wish you all a most blessed holiday.

  2. What a wonderful reminder! We won't have everyone here, but still it is good to think ahead for a more relaxed week. I hope your time with family is extra joyful and warms your mommy heart :)

  3. All the best! I’d put up a sign-up sheet for everything that needs doing. It can be paired with various members of the family to accomplish a task. Have lots of fun playing games and chatting...even debate can be good in the backyard. 😉

  4. Great list and well worth remembering. Hoping yours is "all that and a bag of chips." Blessings abundant!

  5. God bless you, Deborah! You are going to have a very busy but very blessed holiday with your family! You shared some really good tips. Maybe I should put up a sign stating No Politics Zone too next time they're all home. Take care of yourself, my dear friend, during all this prep time and have a beautiful Thanksgiving!...Hugs...Sandi

  6. You got this, girlfriend. It will all be so awesome and so delicious and so much fun.

    Hugs and blessings to you and yours, dear friend. xxxooo ♥♥♥

  7. Oh thank you Deborah for these wonderful reminders. So many of us work ourselves into a tizzy when it comes to holiday meals. That shouldn't be. Have a great Thanksgiving Deborah!

  8. Oh my gosh, Deborah, you are so well organized and ready! I love your method and how you've already tackled the cooking. The chocolate drawer is right up my husband's and my alley, and your home looks fabulous. Savor the time together, and know they will be as thankful as you for all the togetherness and love you're giving.

  9. Deborah, this is an excellent post with lots of good tips. The most important is to be organized. As a fellow introvert, I have to have some time to "recharge my batteries". Enjoy the time with your family! xoxo

  10. Great article Deborah! I love everything you said and your home looks beautiful. I hope you have a wonderful time with your family and Happy Thanksgiving. Hugs my friend.

  11. Thanks for all your tips, Deborah, for a stress free Thanksgiving. It looks like you're all organized and ready to enjoy your whole family being there. Even your treat drawer is organized!! I know you'll have fun gettting everything ready for your loved ones.

  12. Thank you so much for this post, Deborah. I felt like you were speaking just to me because my stomach butterflies have already started, thinking about the upcoming holiday. I will take all your suggestions to heart. Enjoy your family and the memories you will make this year. Happy Thanksgiving! Rosie

  13. You're a woman after my own heart, Deborah. I'm a great advocate of doing as much as possible ahead of time and making lists. I'm not so good at enlisting help, but I'm getting better at it. Like you, those moments of solitude are essential for flourishing in such a busy atmosphere.
    What a wonderful time you'll have. Happy Thanksgiving!

  14. Your organization skills are quite impressive! That is half the battle, no doubt and these are great tips although I'm already exhausted just reading! Our Thanksgiving feast will be on a much smaller scale this year and Aaron has offered to cook the turkey so I am going to let him! I will cook a spiral sliced ham in the crock pot and most of the other dishes and there may be only 3 of us this year! Have a wonderful time with all of your family...Happy Thanksgiving!

  15. Thank you for sharing these great tips, Deborah. I'm loving your "chocolate drawer"...I think that I need to set one up for myself. As a fellow introvert, I also value my alone time. Enjoy your Thanksgiving with your family.

  16. I think it's very clever to have the two holidays as options for families to get together - I wish we had a Thanksgiving! We will be raising a cheer to those of you celebrating Happy Thanksgiving!
    Wren x

  17. I heard my own voice as I read this! This is as much a note to me as it is to you, Deborah (but (sigh) I don't have that chocolate stash!!!). Will keep this before me when Christmas comes and the extended family descends upon us!

    Caitlynne Grace

  18. There are some wonderful tips here, Deborah - love the idea of cooking ahead of time (even the gravy) and having the chocolate drawer! I don't have to host this year, so I am getting a break, but these tips apply to other holidays, too. Taking a walk or a nap is such a good tip. Hope it all goes smoothly for you and I'm sure your family will appreciate all your efforts. xo Karen

  19. Deborah,
    YES!!! We seem to be in the same boat! It's a rare occasion that all three of my daughters and son-in-law are here on the same day! so like you, i prepared food ahead so I could enjoy everyone. Last week I roasted a large turkey breast and made my gravy, a huge soup for the day before Thanksgiving and my butternut squash is cooked and frozen as well as some dessert items. Next year I will make my stuffing ahead too. I feel WAY less stressed this year. You have definitely nailed it with these tips! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoy your family time! I know how precious it is! xx

  20. So many wonderful memories came flooding back while reading this beautiful post. I did Thanksgiving every year for years. My late brother, an opera singer living in NYC, would come down w/any of his singer/actor friends who could not be w/family over the Holiday. All were welcome and I was so thankful to be able to welcome them.

    Those of my family who were in this country have passed away, Mme Mère being the last to leave us four years ago. This Thanksgiving it will be just my husband and me for which I am most thankful that we have each other.

    Have a wonderful Turkey day tomorrow.

    xoxo, M-T

  21. Lots of wisdom here! I too am a make a header. I even made the turkey a day early this year and we'll see how it works when we have our meal together later today. But I think I'll be less tired today with all the carving, cleaning the carcus, etc. done. I even made the soup and have it in the freezer. Hopefully I'm slowly learning how to slow down!

  22. Sweet friend, I hope you had a most wonderful Thanksgiving day :) I am ever so thankful for YOU!

    This was such a great post filled with excellent tips {{smiles}} Thank you for sharing.

    Sending lots of love and hugs your way!


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