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For many people, Thanksgiving is the ultimate family holiday. Unlike Christmas, which focuses on religion and young people, Thanksgiving is supposed to be a holiday for the entire family. We are supposed to come together with loved ones and say how thankful we are to have them in our lives. However, the reality is that many people come from stressful families. The idea of going to Thanksgiving can bring up a lot of conflicted feelings that affect your mental health.

You can simultaneously want to spend time with family while still dreading spending time with that family. Some things that can create anxiety in families are generational divides about social issues, substance abuse, unresolved family trauma, or just having a jerk in the family! Trying to take the high road and not scrap with family members can make even the most saintly of people experience high anxiety levels.

Fortunately, you do not have to risk your mental health to visit your family at Thanksgiving. The first step is to set boundaries before you head to Thanksgiving. That may seem like it is easier said than done since many families object to any boundary-setting. However, boundaries are about your behavior, not someone else’s behavior. You can set your boundaries before you visit so that you know how you will react in specific scenarios without having to fight or argue about boundaries beforehand.

It is also essential to consider your mental health. You may be expected to see your family at Thanksgiving, but doing so may be unhealthy. Are there ways to manage those issues?

For example, if you have a family member with a drinking problem, can you suggest a lunchtime Thanksgiving meal or even visit with family before the evening meal? If so, you can probably avoid the worst of their intoxicated behavior. Remember, you are not obligated to attend any of the day’s events, and it is okay to determine how much time you want to spend with people.

Finally, have an exit strategy. If you are going someplace that may threaten your mental health, have an exit strategy. Depending on the circumstances, that may mean driving your own car, installing Lyft or Uber on your phone, or staying at a hotel instead of at a family home. You want to be able to get away if you find yourself being overwhelmed.