Over 3 million people are expected to fly home the day before Thanksgiving, getting there just in time for turkey, conversation, family—and perhaps more than a few awkward grocery store run-ins with old classmates.
Playing “Who’s more successful now?” with your former student council president in line at the checkout counter, or being forced to listen to your father’s armchair impeachment predictions are just as much of a holiday tradition as eating cranberry sauce and watching the National Dog Show. As such, those who celebrate Thanksgiving have come up with DIY coping mechanisms, no psychology degree required.
For some, it’s celebrating the little things. As the writer Nick Lehmann tweeted, “The best part about Thanksgiving is coming home and finding out about all the guys from high school who have finally come out.”
Others rounded up lists of things most often heard during the holidays. Claire Zagorski, a harm reduction paramedic from Texas, posted a “Going Home for Thanksgiving Bingo Card” on Twitter, filling it with the quotes from a family dinner table hellscape like “So, are you seeing anyone special?” and “Better hide that new tattoo.”
Gabrielle Ortega, a mental health coach and influencer, recommended that dinner attendees stake out the nearest exit. “It’s ok to take physical space as often as necessary to re-center and soothe any anxiety that comes up,” Ortega wrote on Instagram. “You can go to the bathroom and do some deep breathing, or go for a walk around the block—anything that removes you physically from the space that’s triggering you.”
If that fails, and you live in California, please know that the weed industrial complex has birthed Kiva’s cannabis-infused Turkey Gravy. “Award family dinner conversation?” the brand’s site reads. “In just under 15 minutes you’ll start feeling the effects, so you can sit back, relax, and let the holiday cheer wash over you.” So there’s that.
Experts told The Daily Beast that there are a few ways to best prepare for the less-savory aspects of turkey day. For one: grow up.
“When people are stressed out, one of the things they try to do is really suppress how they feel,” Lata McGinn, co-founder of New York wellness center Cognitive and Behavioral Consultants, said. “But the more you push a thought away, the more it comes back. If you say, ‘Stop thinking of a pink elephant, the more you’re going to think of a pink elephant.’”
If you accept the fact that a family member might make you uncomfortable this week, McGinn says that it can help to “problem solve and think of how to handle it.”
Alison Stone, a New York-based therapist, often tells clients to “be realistic” when it comes to holiday expectations. Save the Thanksgiving miracles for Charlie Brown specials.
“Family dynamics can be complicated, and the holidays won’t change that,” Stone said. “Know your triggers, and prepare accordingly. Have a friend who you can text or call to check in with if you’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious.”
While Thanksgiving may be an event that sells just as many comfortable yoga pants as it does boxes of Pepperidge Farm Stuffing, packing a fancy outfit can lighten the mood of a difficult dinner. “Let’s say you have an uncle who always says you put on weight, or you’re going to a high school reunion to see friends—the more you look the part that you want to be, the better you will feel,” McGinn said.
And of course, you can always play hookey. As journalist Jordan Uhl suggested, “[A] good way to avoid talking politics with your Trump-supporting relatives this Thanksgiving is to bail on going home for the holidays. Works every time.”