The Mighty Logo

3 Tips for a Less-Stressful Thanksgiving With Rheumatoid Arthritis

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

It’s turkey time! A holiday devoted to three of my favorite things: Thankfulness, Family, and Eating (and for some, a fourth, Football)! It is a day first and foremost hopefully dedicated to thankfulness – a time we set aside to specifically show thankfulness to God (if we’re religious) and for all we have been blessed with in life. In a time when it is easy to complain or focus on the negative, we hopefully stop and remind ourselves of how truly grateful we should and can be.

It is often a time of family, as we gather together with those we love, maybe like, and sometimes tolerate. We share memories and love, and often see ones we only visit with annually. We laugh, cry, and hopefully have fun with those that are such a special part of life. With football on in the background, these things culminate and come together in a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. We gather together around an overflowing table of food – a feast of food rarely seen in our fast-food society – and eat until our pants pop, while fellowshipping and giving thanks for this time together.

As wonderful as this is, and as happy as this day can be and often is, it can also have a much different feel if you live with rheumatoid arthritis. Some days with RA, thankfulness can be hard. It can be hard to have gratitude for the pain and hurt you feel, or to have gratitude in spite of it.

As fun as family can be, there can also be much tension and stress. For a body that is already full of pain and stiffness, tension and stress only add fuel to that fire, and can often lead to feeling even worse – stress is one of the worst things for RA. Then throw in meal coordination and preparation, a task that is even overwhelming for someone who does not have the physical limitations of RA, and Thanksgiving can become exhausting.

As a person with rheumatoid arthritis, some years are better and more manageable than others. Many times, the determining factor in this is me and the choices I make on that day. I have found over the years, by remembering some of these things, it can often help make the difference between a wonderful day and a stressful and overwhelming day. So, this year, as we approach Thanksgiving, maybe some of these ideas will help:

1. Thankfulness does not mean I must be thankful for my RA, but I can be thankful in spite of my RA. Regardless of how bad things are, there is always something I can be thankful for. Take time to not only deal with the feelings of loss and frustration but take time to remember all for which you can be thankful, or, as the old saying goes, “Count your blessings,” for we all have them.

2. When family stress or tension pops up, walk away. Give yourself a time out. Find a quiet corner to rest and regroup. You don’t have to attend every stressful situation or conflict to which you are invited. Choose not to carry it or engage it and instead focus on the things that are important. You don’t need the stress, so choose not to engage and carry it.

3. With the cooking responsibilities, don’t be afraid to “pass the buck.” Let someone else take charge, or better yet, make that part of your family time. You do not have to do it all. Let others join in and make it part of your family time. Laugh, joke, have fun, and choose not to stress. If you burn the bread, catch the sweet potatoes on fire, or spill something, laugh it off and keep having fun. If those you need help from are determined to watch football, bring a TV in the kitchen so they can watch while they cook (that should make things taste interesting, LOL). Basically, find a way not to shoulder this all by yourself and let it be something that is fun and brings the family together with even more sweet memories.

Like all holidays, Thanksgiving is often what we make of it. As a person with RA, the more I can find ways to enjoy it and relieve stress the better it is, not only for me, but for those I love. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and remember, in spite of your struggle, there are still many blessings for which we can be thankful.

Getty image by Forty Forks.

Originally published: November 22, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home