Around this time every year, I post something about how to reduce holiday stress through a little up front planning. While this is still true at a high level, I can’t simply repost the same old thing with a few tweaks this year, because we’re going to be celebrating quite a bit differently.
The stresses that used to accompany big family gatherings have changed from surviving another year of listening to your curmudgeonly uncle drone on (and on) while running around the kitchen trying to ensure that the sweet potatoes and turkey are ready at the same time to literally surviving.
While it seems impossible that it’s November, with Thanksgiving right around the corner, let’s talk about how holiday planning, COVID-style. Because the better you plan, the more relaxed you’ll be, no matter the situation.
One of the best ways to reduce stress around the holidays this year is to avoid travel altogether. Airports, gas stations, public bathrooms. These are all places with a high risk of infection. Instead of loading up on hand sanitizer and rubber gloves and hoping no one has to pee, why not just avoid travel altogether? It’s the safe choice and there’s never been a better excuse to stay home and have a quiet celebration of your own.
CELEBRATE IN PERSON ONLY WITH THOSE THAT LIVE IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD
Even if seeing family doesn’t involve actual travel, it’s safest to gather with only those that live in your household. This means a smaller meal, fewer dishes and less stress. If grandma still wants to see the kids, suggest a virtual gathering. (Think I’m being overly cautious? Here are the CDC’s guidelines around Thanksgiving this year.)
WORK OUT THE TECH ISSUES IN ADVANCE
If you’re doing a virtual celebration, the week before, do a trial run of Zoom with family members who might not be so tech savvy. Walk them through getting on video, show them where the mute button is and maybe even send over a set of written instructions for reference. This will be much less stressful than repeatedly saying “mom, you’ve muted yourself again” during Thanksgiving dinner.
MAKE A BIG PICTURE GAME PLAN
Get out a spreadsheet and plan the meal. Choose your recipes, and write down the ingredient lists. Check your fridge and cabinets to see what you’ve already got. Then…
GET YOUR GROCERIES DELIVERED
The safe choice is to avoid the crowded grocery store entirely. Once you’ve got a comprehensive list, make that order… and then make yourself a cocktail while you wait for your groceries at home. (And make sure to give a big fat tip if you can. That delivery person is taking on the lion’s share of the risk on your behalf.)
MAKE A TIMELINE
Working backwards from meal time, figure out when you need to start cooking or preparing each of your dishes. Prepare a timeline so that you’re not scrambling. Take it a step farther and put reminders in your phone, or your Alexa/Google Home (i.e. “put turkey in the oven at 11am”).
DO WHAT YOU CAN IN ADVANCE
Spend a few hours the weekend before prepping and chopping all of your veg and measuring out all of your dry goods for breads and pie crusts. Get an extensive mis-en-place going. This will significantly reduce the time you spend in the kitchen the day of, make the operation run smoother, and ensure that you can get to the table on time to join your family Zoom. Make your pies on Wednesday and let them sit out overnight.
OR ORDER YOUR MEAL FROM A LOCAL (STRUGGLING) RESTAURANT
Want to reduce stress and do a good deed at the same time? Consider ordering your holiday meal from a restaurant. So many restaurants have closed due to COVID. If you want restaurants to be around in the future, you can support them now by ordering from them. Many restaurants even have contactless pick up, where they’ll deliver your meal right to your open trunk. (Whether you pick up, or get delivery, make sure to tip well. Remember, you’ve transferred the risk onto these essential workers. It’s the least you can do.)
CREATE A SCRIPT
Worried that your family won’t take kindly to your insistence that this year we all need to celebrate safely from afar? Create a script and use it. Over and over. Here’s one I’ll gift to you:
“You know I’m dying inside that I can’t see you in person, but I’d feel so much worse if you or anyone else in our family got COVID, so we’ve decided that this year we’re not going to join you in person. I hope you understand. And I love you!”
MAKE A LIST OF THINGS TO BE GRATEFUL FOR…IN ADVANCE
It’s been a hard year. It’s not getting easier. The thought of spending the holidays without family can be sad. So right now, start making a list of what you are grateful for. Then return to this list whenever you need a mood boost. (In fact, some studies show that stress hormones are up to 23% lower in people who cultivate gratitude.)
Yes, you might be eating Turkey over Zoom. But hey, no need to venture into the dusty basement to haul out the extra chairs. See? Silver linings.
When you plan, you are are better able to enjoy yourself and be present in the moment. Holidays are no different. A little work on the front end goes a long way towards our own happiness, and the happiness of others.