Thanksgiving is next week and this year is unlike any other. Many of us have made the difficult decision not to spend the holiday with our family. As someone who has previously spent Thanksgiving without family I can relate to how tough this may be. In this article I show you how to use emotional intelligence (EQ) to not let this holiday season get you down, and build your EQ in the process.
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Thanksgiving and Mental Health
Thanksgiving (or any family affair) may put our emotions to the test. Navigating interrogations from invasive family members. Remaining calm during family drama. Getting mentally prepared to eat more food—even though we’re stuffed.
This year Thanksgiving is going to test our mental health and emotional management in a new way. We’re spending time away from family and missing holiday traditions after an already tough year. Stress is high, and emotions are almost at a breaking point.
Spending the holidays alone can negatively impact our mental health, this is especially true if thoughts and feelings are not managed properly. This may spiral into other areas of life, and can create a succession of negativity and sadness, leading to depression, or building upon a depression that’s already there.
Why EQ Helps Us Get Where We Need to Be
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is awareness and management of emotions, thoughts and feelings. It is considered the #1 determinate of life success. To learn more about EQ check out: The Quick and Simple Guide to Learning What EQ Is Once and for All.
After spending over a decade dedicated to improving my mental health, I’ve learned a lot. And my theory is that EQ and mental health are directly related. Meaning, the higher a person’s EQ the better their mental health. By living my life according to this theory I’ve overcome debilitating depression, anxiety and PTSD.
While missing the holidays this year will be tough, I see it as an opportunity to build (or build upon) EQ. A holistic approach, this will not only help navigate the upcoming holiday season, it will help with other difficult situations we may face throughout the course of our lives—and during this uncertain time of COVID.
RELATED ARTICLE: Uncertainty Sucks. We Need to Manage It Effectively. Here’s Why.
My Experience of Holidays Without Family
Like many others who’ve come from a dysfunctional family, I’ve had to make difficult decisions. For my health, safety and wellness, I’ve cut ties with my family. While this may be the first time spending holidays without family for some, I’ve spent the last decade of holidays without my family, and I want to help you by sharing what I’ve learned.
It took a lot for me to get to the place of mental wellbeing that I’m in now. Below I share some of my “go-to” mental health techniques (backed by EQ), specifically crafted to help you work through this untoward holiday season.
Note: The items are split into three main sections with sub-sections for easy reading.
1. Take Inventory
With the holidays approaching we may feel anxious, like we need to be doing something, or making alternative plans. What we really need to do is slow down and reflect. Let ourselves recharge after making the difficult decision to not spend Thanksgiving with family.
When we feel upset or anxious, slowing down may seem counterintuitive (or damn near impossible). We may feel the need to act, NOW! However, slowing down is a part of grounding. It helps us to become aware of our emotions, thoughts and feelings. And grounding gives us time to collect ourselves and gain clarity.
With that clarity everything becomes easier to manage. We actually speed up the process of emotional management. We are better able to manage the situation in a productive way. (Look at you being all productive and shit! Proud of you 😊)
Below are some ways to take inventory aka ground yourself. I suggest you do them all. (I did them all, too!)
1.1 Inventory of Current Situation
Inventory Current Situation Objective: State only facts and focus on being objective.
- COVID is a deadly disease and we are all living in a crazy time.
- A gathering with family members may get someone sick.
- A lot of families are not gathering for Thanksgiving.
Inventory Current Situation Subjective: What do you personally think about the current situation and not seeing family during the holidays?
- This really sucks and I’ve already been through enough this year.
- I really needed family time to lift my spirits and now everything is even more of a mess.
- What the fuck, I’m not going to see my family. This is bullshit, I’m pissed.
1.2 Feelings & Emotional Inventory
Once we take an inventory of the situation we can then take an inventory of our feelings regarding the situation. What we need to do here is acknowledge what we are feeling and why. I.e. “I am feeling X because. of Y.” Acknowledging feelings can be tough if you’re not used to it. It may even feel uncomfortable.
If that’s the case, go sit in a comfy spot and remind yourself that doing this will only benefit you. You can also give yourself a little treat afterwards, e.g.: “I’ll think about my feels and then I’m gonna go watch my favorite show for an hour.”
Some feelings that may come up are (not an exhaustive list):
- Anger: “Why is this happening, this is not fair, we should be able to see our families.”
- Sadness: (anger is a secondary emotion so it’s highly likely you’re feeling sad if you’re angry.) “I’m bummed out I can’t see my family, I really love the holidays and I’m going to miss spending the time with family.”
- Anticipation (anxiety): “This is gonna suck, Thanksgiving is going to be a sad day and I am going to feel miserable.”
- Surprise: “I can’t believe this is happening, never in my life did I think I would be told to stay home and that I couldn’t see my family on Thanksgiving.”
- Stress: “I want to see my family, I need the family time and I feel lonely.”
- Guilt: “I want to see my family, and they are OK with me going to their home, but I don’t want to risk getting someone sick—I feel bad not going but I can’t.”
❤️ How you doing so far? This stuff is tough. Hang in there.
1.3 Inventory of What You’ll Miss
Not partaking in family traditions (most of which we’ve been doing since we were a kid) is going to bring up some feelings of sadness and/or longing for the familiar. After we list out the facts and take inventory of our feelings, it’s now time for us to take an inventory of what we will—and won’t—miss.
When we look back we tend to idolize and forget the negative so really think about the things you won’t miss. Yes, thanksgiving can be great and all, but it’s not the perfect, amazing day that we might be creating in our minds now that we know we cant have it. Some examples below:
Some things you might miss:
- Grandmom’s stuffing or a family members particular dish.
- Cousins “going for a walk” and coming back and smelling like pot, OR, going for a walk and coming back smelling like pot—hehe.
- Sitting in the den and taking a post-meal nap.
- Seeing family you typically don’t get to see often.
- Someone getting wasted and making a fool of themselves.
- Seeing all the little kids growing up.
- Having a feeling of belonging and comfort being with your pack.
Some things you might not miss:
- Having to get up early and pack everyone into the car and drive for hours.
- Dealing with a busy airport, or train station.
- Hearing about how much—or how little—you ate.
- Your creepy relative who makes inappropriate comments.
- People being invasive and asking questions about your social and sex life.
- Being forced in the same room as people who are literally bad for your mental health. (Not saying this is everyone’s family but it this could be the case for some.)
1.4 Silver Lining
I don’t like when people try to make everything positive while disregarding their feelings. This is not to disregard feelings. This is to say, “This sucks, but..”
Try and find some things that will be a positive:
- Have more 1:1 time with your kids.
- Will be able to make food that you like, how you like.
- Can see more family because everyone will be on zoom.
- More time to relax.
- Maybe after all this is over you can plan to have a family Thanksgiving another time—say, during March or when infections are under a certain percentage.
1.5 Unproductive things
Make a list of things that will not be productive and will lead to feeling sad or upset or anxious:
- Working. If this is your scheduled day off, don’t work. Enjoy the day off and find something else to do. Burying ourselves in work can be a negative coping mechanism.
- Continually thinking about what you’re missing. If you’re hyperfocused on what you’ll miss then you’ll miss it even more and this can make feelings tough to manage.
- Choosing to be miserable and not making any effort to make the day as good as it can be.
…aand we’ve made it! We’ve reached the acceptance phase. All hands and arms inside the ride please.
Acceptance is a lack of resistance. Resistance happens when we try to control events in which we have no control. We try and force something that can’t be forced. We can’t change the past, predict the future, and we have limited control over our current situation. But we can manage our thoughts and feelings (this is EQ).
Acceptance is imperative for good mental health.
Another reason why the acceptance part is so important is that when you’ve accepted the situation as it is, you become present. Instead of focusing on what is not you are focusing on what is. THIS is the only way to find happiness and tranquility.
Think of it, if you are sitting around feeling like shit even the best meal ever cooked in the entire world wouldn’t taste so good. It’s the company, not the food. It’s also our mentality towards the situation, not the situation itself. (Related Article: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life)
Some tips for acceptance:
- Acknowledge the situation sucks (or is less than favorable): This sucks. Sometimes just stating it out loud helps. And I’m sorry this sucks, I’m sorry if you’re upset. It’s a shitty situation.
- Realize this is peculiar af: Seriously, this is so peculiar. Our entire lives are turned upside down. Just acknowledging this will help with acceptance. State it matter of factly because, well, it’s a fact. Things are weird af right now.
- Limit your thinking time: Continually focusing on something that upsets us is a welcome mat for sadness, anxiety and depression. Give yourself some time to think and feel your feels, but limit this time frame to about 30 minutes or so maybe 2x a day. If thoughts come up outside of that time frame remind yourself of your next thinking time slot and literally tell yourself, “I will think of this at 6pm.”
- Remind yourself you have no control: What’s done is done. You’re not seeing your family and it sucks. This is not something you can control. When thoughts pop up in your mind, you can literally respond to your inner voice and say (aloud or in your mind) “I can’t control this.“
- Focus on what you can control: You can’t control the situation around why you aren’t going to see your family in person. What you can control is what you do on Thanksgiving day.
3. Decide How You’re going to Spend you Thanksgiving
We’ve acknowledged the situation and our feelings. With acceptance we are managing our feelings and thoughts. Now we come to the point of taking action and figuring out what we are going to do with this Thanksgiving day. It’s an opportunity to create new rituals, and who knows, maybe they’ll become a tradition!
- Just because we can’t physically be with family doesn’t mean we can’t see them. Do zoom calls or phone calls. In the future this will be great to do with family who is far away or unable to visit for the holidays.
- If cooking isn’t your thing you can look into ordering out. Also consider that you don’t need to cook an entire thanksgiving meal. I bought a chicken, and I’ll make some sides but nothing big.
- Make the one dish you love—or ask the person who typically makes it to send you the recipe. Maybe not an entire dinner but you’ll get the part you really appreciate.
- Take a rest day. This year has been tough. Take a day to rest and relax. Maybe even just chill on the couch to decompress. I am looking forward to taking a rest day and think I’ll go for a hike and then fall asleep reading.
When the day arrives feelings may be overwhelming. Remember, it’s all about how we perceive the situation. If we keep mulling over it in our minds we are likely creating more suffering and suffering twice. Remind yourself to stay present in the moment. Think of the facts: You are in your home. You have a day off of work. You can do something you want to do.
There’s no law saying you cant enjoy this day. I hereby give you permission to enjoy your Thanksgiving, even if you aren’t physically with family.
The steps above can be repeated as needed. If you find yourself feeling upset feel free to take an inventory of your feelings or another section.
Don’t forget to think about the things that you are thankful for!
I really hope this will help you navigate your first Thanksgiving without family. And I wish you a peaceful and Happy Thanksgiving!