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Although it’s supposed to be a day to gather with family and friends, make memories and well, give thanks, most moms know that Thanksgiving stress is a real phenomenon.

This is especially true if you’re the one hosting Thanksgiving dinner.

Between planning the menu, grocery shopping, timing the Turkey and cooking all the side dishes and desserts, you may also have to think about who is gluten-free, dairy-free or vegan.

And then of course, you have kids who are picky eaters.

Wrapped up in Thanksgiving stress are also the expectations we put on ourselves to have a sparkling clean home, perfect, Pinterest-worthy place settings, and the most delicious, praise-worthy dishes as if Paula Dean made them herself.

Then, you have all of the family dynamics and worrying about who doesn’t get along, who will have something to say about everything, and the potential for political arguments that may ensue.

If the thought of spending an entire day or more with your family adds to your Thanksgiving stress, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey, it takes less than 4 hours for people to need a break from their extended family on the holidays.


I guess it’s because he’s the most laid back guy I know, but my husband doesn’t understand Thanksgiving stress, or any type of holiday stress for that matter.

Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday, and it’s not because he gets to enjoy the turkey, a glass of wine and the football game all day. It’s actually quite the opposite.

For more than 20 years, the man has worked on Thanksgiving, making sure hundreds of families enjoy their own dinners. But before he leaves for work, he puts the turkey in the oven and leaves me instructions for the rest. Although he doesn’t get home until the latter part of the afternoon, he still looks forward to it every year.

Me? Not so much.

This year, we’re hosting 12 in addition to our 4 in our 1,800 square foot house.

Although my husband is doing most of the cooking, there’s still the pre-guest cleaning, laundry and setting up the guest room, dinner clean-up and post-guest cleaning.

When you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder like I do, all those people, personalities, noise and expectations—many of which are self-imposed— can make me want to run. Suffice to say, I’ll have a glass of wine in my hand. Or a Xanax. Or both. 😀


Although there may not be much you can do to get around hosting and cooking, and you certainly can’t control your family members, there are ways to let go of your expectations and have a stress-free Thanksgiving.

1. Lower Thanksgiving stress by making time for self-care

Before the holiday gets the best of you, carve out some time this week to do things that will lower your stress.

Some ideas include:

  • Take a yoga class
  • Watch an inspirational video
  • Read
  • Listen to uplifting music or calming music
  • Get your nails done or get a massage
  • Meet a friend for coffee
  • FaceTime with your bestie.

It might be tough to find the time, but focusing on self-care can go a long way in coping with Thanksgiving stress.

Related: 10 Tips For Self-Care All Moms Need

2. Fuel up before Thanksgiving dinner

Nothing good can come when you’re running on empty, or hangry.

Pulling together an entire Thanksgiving dinner without eating anything for breakfast will leave you feeling frazzled and depleted.

In the morning, make sure to eat a healthy breakfast that has a combination of protein, fiber and healthy fats to keep you going. Eggs with whole grain toast and leftover veggies, or Greek yogurt with berries and nuts are good options.

Depending on what time dinner will be served, consider having a small, healthy snack beforehand to keep your blood sugar levels steady and prevent eating until you’re stuffed.

3. Sneak in a workout

You might think I’m crazy, but I need to work out most mornings, especially on a holiday.

A sweat session releases endorphins, the feel good chemicals that make you feel happy and helps ease stress and anxiety.

On Thanksgiving, it may not be feasible to make it to the gym or get in a long run, for example, but even a short 15-minute walk in the neighborhood or a quick HIIT workout can be really effective.

4. Hire a babysitter

When time is tight and your to-do list is long, getting it all done with the kids underfoot is almost impossible.

Lean on your regular babysitter, a family member or swap babysitting with a friend.

Also, check in with your gym, kids’ play spaces and schools who may offer a few hours of care so you can get things done. 

5. Say ‘yes’ to help

When guests ask, what can I bring?, there’s no shame in taking them up on their offers.

Make a list of the dishes you enjoy making or those that don’t take a lot of time to make and delegate the rest.

Let guests bring a side dish, or if they don’t cook, a bottle of wine or a ready-made dessert.

The same goes if they ask to help with the dishes: yes, please!

6. Take shortcuts

Last week, I was having a conversation with my mom about all of the things she used to do to make the holidays special for our family.

Although from my perspective, it seemed like she did everything and it was effortless, she was quick to inform me that after it was all said and done, she was one exhausted mom.

She also pointed out that she took a lot of shortcuts.

Taking shortcuts aren’t a bad thing, but necessary if you’re looking to reduce your Thanksgiving stress.

Think about what types of shortcuts you can take. For example, instead of making the fancy potato dish you planned on, make roasted potatoes instead. Or rather than making cranberry sauce from scratch, pick up the canned version—it’s better anyway.

Although I planned on making a few desserts this year, with both of my kids sick with the flu these past two weeks, I’m making an easy dessert instead of the pumpkin pie from scratch I planned on.

7. Set the table the night before

If using your fine china, setting a traditional table and putting out handcrafted settings are your thing, more power to you, sista.

If you could care less about using your everyday dishes, mismatched glasses and the same cloth napkins you use for Christmas, own that too.

Either way, set the table the night before so it’s one less thing to think about on Thanksgiving.

8. Get the kids involved

When I was a kid, my mom always asked me to set the table for the holidays and I loved to help out. When we were guests in someone else’s home, it was also expected that we help clear the table and wash the dishes—it wasn’t an option.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that many parents nowadays think kids don’t have to help out.

If we don’t teach kids responsibility and manners, especially when you’re at someone else’s house, chances are, they’ll grow up to be young adults who don’t lift a finger either.

Depending on their ages, kids can take guests’ coats, or help with the cooking, setting the table, putting out the food, clearing the dishes and loading the dishwasher.

9. Make some of the meal ahead of time

Aside from the turkey, many side dishes can be cooked, or at least prepared a day or two ahead of time and then cooked or re-heated on Thanksgiving.

For dishes that must be made the day of, save time by washing and chopping onions, garlic, and vegetables, for example, beforehand.

10. Let guests help themselves to drinks

Keeping everyone’s drinks filled takes time—time that can be spent with your guests.

To make things easier, set up a cooler with water bottles, drinks for kids and beer.

On the kitchen counter or center island, put out bottles of wine, a beverage dispenser with cocktails, and glasses so guests can serve themselves.

11. Don’t worry about your picky eaters

When you have picky eaters, Thanksgiving stress can be taken up a notch.

You might worry how your kids will handle all the new foods, what they’ll eat or if they’ll eat at all.

Don’t fret, but consider giving your kids a small, healthy snack before you arrive to Thanksgiving dinner. If they refuse to eat, or only want a piece of bread, it won’t be a big deal.

I don’t recommend preparing a separate meal for your child, unless of course he can’t eat gluten or has food allergies.

Having a separate meal on hand teaches kids that you’ll accommodate them and cater to their preferences.

You can however, have a dish you know your kid— and everyone else—will enjoy. Need recipes? Check out 10 Fun Kid Thanksgiving Food Ideas.


12. Keep everyone moving


Kids running around the house can intensify Thanksgiving stress, so try to prepare ahead of time with crafts, gratitude activities or table games that can keep them busy.

If the weather is mild enough, encourage everyone to go out for a walk around the block or have a game of catch before or after dinner.


13. Focus on thanks and giving

It’s easy to get caught up in the food, the decor and the perfect everything but Thanksgiving is all about gratitude and family and/or friends.

Focusing on what you’re thankful for, whether you tell others around the table or not, can lower your Thanksgiving stress.

Maybe you’re thankful for your job, a health scare that is no more, or the fact that your kids made it through dinner without fighting—it’s the little things, right? 😀


14. Let it go


You can’t control what your mother-in-law may say about your parenting skills and so what that the turkey was a little on the dry side?

At the end of the day, everyone will eat and celebrate the holiday together.

Pat yourself on the back for getting it all done and remember: it’s not worth any more of your emotional energy. Draw yourself a bath, make a cup of tea and let it go, let it go!

What are some of the ways you lower Thanksgiving stress? Let me know in the comments!

Author Details
Julie Revelant teaches parents how to raise children who are healthy, adventurous eaters. Through blog posts and videos, her goal is to shift the conversation from short-term, problem picky eating to lifelong, healthy eating and healthy futures. Julie has written for FoxNews.com, FIRST for Women magazine, WhatToExpect.com, EverydayHealth.com, RD.com, TheBump.com, Care.com, and Babble.com.