Throw Your Happiest Holiday Feast Ever

1511p91-stress-free-holiday

Credit: Richard Faust

Solve your Turkey Day tantrums so you can stress less and enjoy more. by Hope Cristol

Admit it: The thought of hosting this year’s feast, with its tablescapes, showcase turkey, and succulent sides, has left you feeling a little less festive. But it’s not the recipes—you’ve got those covered. It’s the guests.

“The stress over this meal has to do with our preoccupation with how people think of us,” says Ronald D. Siegel, PsyD, assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. “We try to present an image we think everybody will like, which can include being a wonderful host.”

Unfortunately, trying to meet guests’ expectations—from Uncle Bob’s discerning taste buds to your daughter-in-law’s save-the-turkeys veganism—can wear you down.

“Remember that the holiday meal is a series of moments,” Siegel says. “It will come and it will pass relatively quickly, like all things.”

Tried-and-true stress relievers (exercise, deep breaths) may help, but chances are holiday stress will sneak up on you at some point. Here, experts weigh in on how to cope with a few common scenarios.

3 SMART SOLUTIONS

1. BEING BOTH HOST AND CHEF
You know the rules of being a good host: seating arrangements that foster conversation, strategically placed snacks in the living room, good lighting and smells, and enough people to keep the party going while you cook in relative peace. Yet everyone wants to be on top of you in the kitchen, watching you cook, asking you questions, and utterly stressing you out.

SOLUTION: Plan for it to happen. “Pick a few threshold guardians”—the people who will protect you from conversational onslaught when you’re busy at the stove—”and tell them, ‘I’ll need you to keep pulling people out of the kitchen,'” says psychologist and author Daniel Tomasulo, PhD.

You should also be prepared to advocate for yourself. Tomasulo recommends having a line or two prepared before guests arrive: “Be honest about your process. Try saying something like, “I need to concentrate on this one task right now so I can really chat with you later on.” Or, “I’d love your help while I’m cooking. Could you make sure the guests are all introduced to each other?” They will love you for giving them an assignment that makes them feel useful.”

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Credit: Richard Faust

2. BAD BLOOD BETWEEN GUESTS
Does the sight of your sister-in-law make you secretly cringe? Are there old family wounds that just won’t heal? Does your uncle insist on talking politics, even when others disagree?

SOLUTION: Keep your ears open for unpleasant situations, and swoop in if you sense tension. (Ask a few ambassadors to help you out in this effort, as well.) For instance, if you spot a conversation going south with Aunt Phyllis, pull her away and pick a new topic to talk to her about. If dinner conversation goes awry, stand right up and ask one of the instigators to help you in the kitchen, Tomasulo says.

He also recommends this party trick: “Make each guest responsible for giving a toast, but not all at once. Tell them, ‘I’m going to call on you sometime today to make a toast about good things that happened in your life.'” The fear and anticipation people feel tends to keep even the confrontational guests in check, Tomasulo says. And raising a glass to express warm sentiments is what Thanksgiving is all about.

3. TOO MANY FOOD OPINIONS
As if hosting a crowd weren’t difficult enough, it turns out your guests have vastly different food preferences. How are you supposed to cook the ultimate festive meal when you have a paleo cousin, a vegetable-hating dad, in-laws who mock food that comes from a can, and a son who likes classic green bean casserole (made, of course, with condensed soup and fried onions from a can)?

1511p92-stress-free-holiday

Credit: Richard Faust

SOLUTION: Don’t even try, suggests nutrition and wellness coach Vanessa Cunningham, founder of Unhealthy No More. If time and space are your primary holiday stressors, “buy cooked, organic whole turkeys in advance,” she says, which saves you precious oven real estate, not to mention time. Focus on making only one or two of your favorite holiday sides. Your guests can bring the rest, which is the easiest way to ensure there will be something for everyone, she says.

Worried that the perfect, traditional meal you hoped for will instead be a lackluster smorgasbord? “Focus on being present for the meal rather than trying to impress other people with the appearance of the meal,” Siegel advises.

That could be the healthiest holiday advice of all.

AVOID POST-HOLIDAY SLUMP
“Plan a fun Friday. Have tickets to a show, or make plans for brunch with friends,” Tomasulo says. “Have something to look forward to so there’s a soft place to land emotionally.”

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