Thanksgiving Day dinner.

Make This Thanksgiving a Stress-Free One

With some preparation and planning done ahead of time, you can help make the day go smoothly and still find time to relax and enjoy yourself too.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, you’re probably looking forward to spending time with family and friends, enjoying a good meal, watching football, and relaxing over the long weekend. But if you’ve agreed to host Thanksgiving dinner, you might also be feeling a little stressed out as the holiday nears. What recipes should I make? Who should I invite? How will I get everything done?

Celebrating Thanksgiving dinner with family.With some preparation and planning done ahead of time, you can help make the day go smoothly and still find time to relax and enjoy yourself too.

Check out the tips below to make this Thanksgiving the best yet! Even if you aren’t hosting, there are still tips you can use to make this holiday a good one – from working on some simple breathing exercises to finding a little time for yourself.

Tips for a Stress-Free Thanksgiving

  • Make a plan. It may sound obvious, but it’s true – the more you do ahead of time, the easier the actual day will be. Create a list of everything that needs to get done and when you need to do it. Think about anything – even the smallest of things – that you can do beforehand. What dishes can be made a couple days in advance? How early can you do the shopping? What has to happen to get your house ready?
  • Create a menu. Write down everything you plan to serve and create a shopping list based on the menu. If you go dish by dish, you’ll be sure to have all the ingredients you need when it’s time to start cooking. Once you have a menu, make a plan for when to make it all. What time does the turkey have to go in? When can you make the stuffing? And most importantly, what can you do ahead of time?
  • Don’t make it too complicated. When you see the magazine covers and social media posts showing off perfect Thanksgiving tables, it can be tempting to try all kinds of new things. But if you do too much, chances are you’ll be stressed out and unable to enjoy yourself. Instead, keep it simple. Think of a few dishes that you’re familiar with that are important to you or your family, and start there.
  • Shop early. Grocery stores can become extremely busy right before Thanksgiving. Shop for what you can ahead of time. Stock up on pantry items, paper products and canned goods, saving your fresh produce and meat purchases for closer to the holiday.
  • Get your house ready. You don’t want to have to vacuum, dust or declutter the day you’re hosting. Think about what needs to get done and put it on the to-do list for a few days before Thanksgiving. You can also start to gather things you’ll need and put away things you won’t. For example, find the potato masher and the big serving dishes, but get rid of old leftovers from the refrigerator so you have space for everything.
  • Make a plan for the cleanup. After working so hard on the feast, who wants to spend hours cleaning up? Prepare ahead of time. Make sure the sink and dishwasher are empty, and the garbage and recycling bins are ready to go.
  • Family preparing Thanksgiving meal together.Let people help. Your guests will want to help, so think of simple tasks for them to do ahead of time. Ask someone else to handle the drinks or the dessert. Ask someone to plan a fun activity for the kids or bring something festive for the table.
  • Be open and honest with your guests. If you’re hosting, be open with your guests about any worries or concerns you may have. For example, maybe you’re worried about people showing up who are sick or not feeling well. Or maybe you want to avoid people bringing alcoholic drinks to share. Or maybe you know that talking about certain current events may upset someone who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Share any concerns you have ahead of time so everyone is on the same page.
  • Keep the traditions that matter and remember that change is OK too. Thanksgiving is often associated with specific foods and traditions, but it’s OK to change things up. Maybe you’re used to a large gathering, but this year, you only feel up for hosting a few people and doing things potluck style. Maybe the traditional pie recipe is super complicated, and you’d rather try something easier. Be willing to make changes that benefit your emotional and mental health.
  • Make time for yourself. It’s a big job to host Thanksgiving, but it’s important to find time for yourself too. Before the chaos begins, take a walk or drink a quiet cup of coffee. Consider using a short breathing or mindfulness exercise to help you relax and stay focused. Pausing to take a few deep breaths throughout the day can really help.
  • Remember the reason. Thanksgiving is about spending time with family and friends, making and renewing connections, and reflecting on all we have to be grateful for. There will be things that don’t go as planned and that’s OK. Have fun, spend time with those you love, and don’t worry if your turkey is a little overdone.
  • Find a way to be active. Being active is about more than burning calories. Physical activity plays a significant role in our emotional well-being and can help reduce stress, improve our mood, and decrease anxious feelings. Try to get in a morning walk, a pre-dinner football game in the yard, a family hike, or a quiet yoga session – something that gets you moving before you dig in for the big meal.
  • Be kind to yourself. Thanksgiving, like every other day, won’t be perfect. Try to relax and enjoy the holiday as much as you can. If you’re suffering from more than just typical holiday stress, consider reaching out for help. Holidays can be a tough time for people who have recently experienced loss or a big change in their lives. Large gatherings and noisy parties can also be difficult for people who are suffering from PTSD. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers several mental health resources designed to help Veterans get the care they need.


This Thanksgiving, be sure to focus on what matters – including your mental and emotional health and well-being!

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