How To Win at Thanksgiving Wellness

The holidays — in a "regular" year — are a stressful time for lots of people. This crazy year, it might be even more so.


With Halloween and the elections [sort of] in the rearview mirror, we start to turn our attention to Thanksgiving. If your nerves are frayed and you're battling the Quarantine 15, maybe you're looking for some ideas, guidance or inspiration to make it through Turkey Day. And, while this post is about Thanksgiving, it'll pretty much apply to Christmas and New Year's as well.


The 8 Dimensions of Wellness


Before we dig into the "how to" part, I want to introduce the 8 Dimensions of Wellness, in case you're not familiar with this model and approach to wellbeing.


Basically, it just says that the concept of "wellness" is multi-faceted. Wellness is made up of different elements — like physical health and social health — that are interconnected. They're like levers: You pull on one and you'll likely impact another.


The goal is to give all eight areas some TLC in the right ways and proportions so that you find balance and whole health.

I mention this incredible framework because it can be a really helpful tool for analyzing one's life and figuring out how/where to make changes to improve wellbeing.


In terms of this post, I'm going to try to offer some Tgiving survive-and-thrive (surthrival? thrival? There's gotta be a killer new word in there somewhere....) insights for each dimension. Don't want to neglect any one area!


Ok, now on to the juicy dark meat of this post....


How To Thanksgiving Healthfully


The key here is trying to be self-aware, taking stock of yourself and then working toward that aforementioned balance. Think of the ideas below as being like a smorgasbord: Everything's à la carte and you take what you need when you need it.


Physical


This is probably your go-to concept of health stuff. It's everything to do with your body, nutrition, exercise, sleep and so on. If you find that you're suffering in this dimension, here are a few things to try.

  • Go for a walk. Walking after a meal both helps with digestion and reduces opportunity/urges for seconds/dessert. It's also a great stress buster and can help revive you if you're feeling sluggish. Studies also show that being out in nature has a wonderful influence on physical well-being.

  • Establish some non-food traditions. Thanksgiving is so tightly correlated to food and eating. What if you recalibrated it so that it was about other, healthful things? Lots of families have an annual flag football game or go volunteer at a homeless shelter. Those particular examples might be out this year, but there's no shortage of other things you can do. Instantiate a family game or puzzle day, do arts and crafts (start a homemade holiday gift tradition!), do karaoke, have relay races, write a family update letter, create and perform skits, have a DIY home spa day....

  • Take a break. Dealing with family and whipping up a feast is hard freakin' work! So sit down and put your feet up every so often for 5-10 mins. Or take a short power nap. It's not going to change anything about your feast if it hits the table at 3:30pm instead of 3pm (assuming of course that you've adjusted your cooking sched to accommodate your breaks — so stuff doesn't burn...).

  • Stay hydrated. With water or herbal tea. Avoid excessive alcohol or sugary or caffeinated beverages. Keeping hydrated can help you eat less and will help your body process what you do consume. If you do have some alcoholic drinks, try having a glass of water in between each cocktail, or have lower-alcohol versions like light beer or wine spritzers. (Drink responsibly. Don't drink and drive!)

  • Embrace food hacking. Ok, this one will have the purists screaming I'm sure. BUT hear me out. Sometimes you can easily rework meal plans and recipes so they are much healthier and just as good. Try things like ingredient substitutions (e.g., non-fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, applesauce instead of oil in baked goods, pureed silken tofu in salad dressing instead of cream/buttermilk/mayo) or swapping in lighter versions of traditional dishes (e.g., roasted green beans with toasted almonds and balsamic in lieu of green bean casserole or baken apples instead of apple pie). I know several people who opt for non-Thanksgiving fare or do side dishes only for the meal. Small changes here and there — like omitting sugar or some of the highly processed items — You really can have that cornucopia of food without busting your gut.

  • Eat the rainbow. I feel like there's a tendency to eat lots of starchy white-yellow foods — potatoes, stuffing, rolls, rice, pastries — at the holidays. A good rule of thumb is to have at least half your plate filled with non-starchy veggies, a quarter with your protein and the rest can be your carbs.

  • Use smaller plates and silverware. Not only will you feel like a cool giant, you might trick your brainz into scarfing down less food. Especially if you make yourself wait a few minutes before going for Round 2 at the buffet.


Social & Emotional


This is about your relationships and how you interact with others. If you feel like you need to work on community building, establishing or improving rapport with someone or working on your coping or interpersonal skills, one of these suggestions might be the ticket.

  • One. More. Zoom. Yah, it's a bit hackney at this point, but webcalls are still a great option for staying connected to your family and friends that you're unable to see this year because of stupid stupid stupid COVID-19.

  • Write to your peeps. A bit old-school, putting actual pen to actual paper is so gratifying. Oooh, and receiving the missive! Sheer joy (if it's a loving note). Another awesome thing about letter writing is that it gives you plenty of time to think about what you want to say and articulate it just right. And, because ALL families and friends have issues and interpersonal strains at some point, you can also use this as a means to express your feelings to someone you have difficulties with. It can be a calm and collected entree to discussing and [hopefully!] working through your issues.

  • Join a club. Finding an affinity group can feel like a homecoming, which is so lovely at this time of the year. And it can prime you to have a stellar 2021. Socializing with like-minded people can level out stress and anxiety and result in satisfying friendships.

  • Do some journaling. Any kind of journaling. The idea here is to just let yourself do a mind-and-heart dump. Getting your thoughts out of your head could be very therapeutic. It's a tried-and-true creative release.

  • Establish a gratitude practice. It IS Thanksgiving after all!

  • Hug. Cuddling up with your loved ones could give you the boost you need. There's insane power in the human touch!

  • Get therapy. Getting professional care is always a good way to go. If you're feeling overwhelmed, talking it out with a trained and unbiased therapist may help. Plus, therapists often can offer coping strategies you might not otherwise think of.


Spiritual


Not necessarily dealing with religion here. This is more about cultivating equanimity, understanding your place in the universe, finding purpose in your life and so on.

  • Volunteer. Helping others is a high-impact way to help yourself. It gives you perspective. Lifting others up is such a powerful way to create a positive community vibe. Seek out COVID-safe opportunities to serve food at a shelter or deliver meals. Or maybe just check in on your neighbors and single friends during this trying time and see if they need any assistance.

  • Pray. Prayer is a strong stress reliever. It can help you recognize your connectedness with others and the natural world. It provides comfort to many.

  • Meditate. Meditation, deep breathing techniques and mindfulness exercises are scientifically proven to alter your mood and mindset. There's a style and approach for everyone, though it may take time to find what works for you.


Financial


Money stressing you out? You are not alone. So many people are unemployed or underemployed. Worrying about cash flow, especially at this time of the year, is brutal. Perhaps one of these ideas can help.

  • Stay local. No traveling means no travel-relate expenses, yo.

  • Keep it small. Keep your celebration small. You'll spend less and probably have less waste.

  • Food share. Buddy up with some friends or family to do a food exchange. Each person makes a dish and shares a portion with others. It's a great way to get that variety of dishes you crave, without the trouble or $$$ of making it all. Plus, the swap will connect you with your tribe — can you feel the love?

  • Go vegetarian or vegan. Omitting things like meat and dairy from your holiday menu can reap big savings. In fact, a plant-based diet can save you about $750 per year over an economical meat-inclusive diet.

  • Get assistance from your community. Social safety nets exist precisely to help you out in tough times. Food banks and community kitchens are a great resource for supplementing and may be one way you can ensure wholesome things land on your holiday spread.

  • Focus on experiences rather than things. Spending time with your loved ones (safely, of course) can cost nothing. You don't need that costly family outing to the movies or ski trip. You can find that happiness and fulfillment in doing things rather than acquiring new stuff.


Intellectual & Occupational


These dimensions pertain to personal and professional growth and development and finding satisfaction with your work. It's fun or a wonderful release to turn to self enrichment endeavors when the Thanksgiving chaos just gets to be too much. Go ahead — engage both of those brain lobes!

  • Educate yourself on safe celebrating. Understand the risks of gathering with others and ways to minimize risks. In general, follow the CDC guidelines for Thanksgiving amid coronavirus.

  • Learn a new skill hands-on. Acquiring new abilities — like speaking a new language, how to code, film editing or baking — helps you broaden your horizons. It can break you free from the same-old same-old. Plus, marketable skills could expand your career opportunities.

  • Pick up a new hobby. This is a chance to do things you've always wanted to do but haven't really had the time or energy to. Start knitting, lap swimming or playing guitar — it's all good!

  • Subscribe to an educational YouTube channel. And watch it. There are edutainment channels of all varieties, so there's definitely ones for you. This is a great passive approach to learning. It can be enriching as well as relaxing and entertaining. For science, history and general knowledge, we really love channels like Half As Interesting, Answers with Joe Scott, Mental Floss/anything with Hank or John Green, Toptenz, The History Guy, CGP Grey and Mark Rober. I personally also check out channels that relate to yoga, nutrition, sustainability, exercise/fitness and marketing communications and business management.

  • Take an online class. Again, zillions of options for every budget and interest.

  • Armchair travel. Perhaps you can't actually go places, but that doesn't mean you have to stop exploring this big, wide, fascinating world of ours! There are some really cool guided virtual city tours, interactive websites, videos, books and periodicals you can delve into. Or try making some traditional dishes or listening to folk or popular music from your dream destination.

  • Read a book in a different-than-your-typical genre. If you exclusively read historical fiction romances, dive into a super-hero graphic novel or a book of modern French poetry or a crypto for idiots guide.


Environmental


This one may seem a bit superfluous or frivolous, but it's not. You need your surroundings to support your well-being. This means that, in addition to not having toxins around you, your space should make you feel relaxed, comfortable, uplifted and invigorated.

  • Find your aromatherapy. Different scents evoke different responses. You can boil water with warming spices like cinnamon to get your home smelling holiday-y. Or diffuse some peppermint oil to refresh yourself. Adding a couple drops of lavender oil to a hot epsom bath can be super calming.

  • Clear the air. Purge your space of pollutants, which can arise from cooking and cleaning. Air out or steam your curtains. (Heavier fabrics can suck up and hold on to odors.) Open your windows. Clean your filters. Ditch the cigs. These last three suggestions are also ways to reduce coronavirus risks.

  • Change your interior décor. Add a splash of color with some fun new throw pillows. Switch up your framed pictures. Rearrange your furniture. Even little changes can make your space feel festive and fresh again.

  • Listen to music. Let the tunes flow through you! Music is a healing and energizing balm. Create a few playlists now that you can lean on as your mood dictates during Thanksgiving. It's totally legit — encouraged even (as long as you're safely wielding that knife!) — to dance in the kitchen as you cook.

  • Clean your house. Better yet, hire someone to do it for you. A clean, tidy home is less likely to foster illness or create openings for accidents. Plus, there's just something soul-quenching about having all the dishes washed and in the ocupboardr all the laundry clean, folded and put away.

  • Don't forget your outdoor spaces. Rake your leaves, insulate your faucets, set out some fall/winter decorative plants or get that firepit ready. Like a clean, tidy home, a well-tended outside area can lessen the chances of accidents or other stress-inducing problems popping up.

  • Wear your coziest clothing. So what if it looks heinous to others. Get comfy!


Thankful for Our Community


How are you safely celebrating Thanksgiving this year? What words of advice do you have for others who are trying to figure out how to make it work this year? Please share your gems of wisdom in the comments section below! Thanks!


Stay Tuned


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Please note: I'm not a doctor, therapist or other certified medical professional who's qualified to assess, diagnose, treat or otherwise advise on any health issues. If you're concerned that you might have a medical condition, consult your healthcare provider. The content in this post is intended for informational purposes only. It is not medical advice.

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