What are you thankful for? It’s the age-old question many of us offer up around the Thanksgiving table each year. Occasionally something big will have happened…making it through a health crisis, getting a life-changing career opportunity, an engagement or a baby. That’s when you feel you can pick the one item that really matters. But for the most part we settle into general appreciation of family and friends and the time we spend with them, with an occasional funny reference from the kids in the room. And if you’re me, you’re wishing you weren’t last in line because you’ve got to come up with something original now that everyone already said what you were thinking.
For most of us, Thanksgiving also kicks off a month-long period that waffles between relaxing family time and a hectic roster of activities and endless “to do” lists. And for women, that list of activities and tasks is often managed, if not delivered in full, by us. Let’s face it, Thanksgiving and the entire month of December bring gender roles into harsh reality. So how do we find space to breathe and be thankful during this season of stress?
Thankfulness Tip #1: Celebrate the fact that our social norms are changing!
For example, the number of men who participate in preparing the Thanksgiving meal continues to rise, and while we still have a long way to go for equality, that gap is smaller than it was a generation ago. Even more, the conversation is part of our culture today. The more we discuss and explore tough issues, the more our perspective will be heard, and the more change will happen.
Thankfulness Tip #2: Focus on what YOU want for the holidays.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in taking on every obligation over the holidays, whether you deliver a Martha Stewart-like experience, or like me, just do your best to race between work and school functions, hopefully with a few presents in tow. Before you head down the rabbit hole give some heart-centered thought to what you want from your holiday season. If you want to sleep in and bake cookies with your kids, put that at the top of your list. If you want to be on time and drive the speed limit and not be frantic, say yes to less. Anything else you add can’t interfere with that list. And if it interferes but needs to be done, and you have a partner available to help, hand it off to them. As women we own our actions, and there’s no way we’ll keep moving toward equality and away from holiday stress burdens unless we reclaim our power and state our boundaries.
Thankfulness Tip #3: Focus on gratitude daily.
Research has shown that people who keep gratitude journals experience positive outcomes from that practice: They exercise more regularly, feel more optimistic, determined and alert, place less importance on material goods, and report lower levels of depression and stress. That’s like the best magic pill you could ever find! So, consider keeping a gratitude journal…maybe just start it for the holiday season to ease your stress a bit.
Thankfulness Tip #4: Plan ahead where you can.
This is admittedly a tough one, and I’m writing this a little late in the game for it to be completely useful to you, but do what you can in advance. I’m getting better about this, and this year I started my holiday efforts as soon as the Halloween decorations were packed away. Not in a frantic way, but I started reading my daily Brad’s Deals emails for potential gift ideas and ordered my holiday cards.
And when timing is tough, fake it ‘til you make it. My mother-in-law always creates a beautiful and delicious Thanksgiving meal, with special dishes for everyone in the family, and she builds a day that gives us all space to relax and enjoy each other’s company. She loves the happy appreciation we give her for that, and boy do we appreciate it, but I know that is no small feat considering the planning and toil that goes into creating a feast. I’ll be the first to admit that while I really do love cooking, if I were in charge, I’d likely order a Whole Foods meal, whip up a few extra sides, and ask my partner to do the dishes while I finish my pie.
Thankfulness Tip #5: Most importantly, don’t cancel your “me” items.
When I get busy and stressed I stop exercising, eat poorly, cancel all of my personal appointments and get less sleep than I need. This makes no logical sense, but it’s sometimes the only thing we feel we can do to keep pace. This is tough to implement, and even if you don’t implement tip #4 in any way, I suggest you definitely plan ahead for these items. Case in point: I haven’t been to the gym in months, so I tried out a new workout program this past Saturday, signed up, and I’m now pre-scheduled for the next month. Those endorphins felt so good, and I’m sooooo excited about it. So, right now, schedule a massage for mid-December, email your bestie to pre-book an afternoon coffee date, sign up for that dance class you’ve been considering, or block an afternoon of sacred time for a winter hike. If you have it scheduled, you’ll be more accountable to keeping your “me” space in place at a time when it’s so very important.
So, as you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this week with loved ones and consider all that you have to be thankful for—food on the table, family and friends, a roof over your head and good health—don’t forget to also honor that midday massage that’s waiting for you on December 12 th .