Thanksgiving is supposed to be a happy time of year: all about friends, family and food. But for some, Thanksgiving can be a trying holiday. The stereotypical image of the jovial family gathered around a handsomely dressed holiday bird isn’t reality for many.
One of the toughest emotions to deal with at Thanksgiving is grief. Sitting down at a holiday table without someone who used to be there can be very painful. This is true whether the loss was recent or several years ago. Whatever grief remains in our hearts for the person we loved and lost is magnified at this time of year.
The idyllic Thanksgiving dinner is one where everyone in the family gets along for at least one day. No one argues about politics, makes unkind remarks about the food, or becomes irritable with the children. Sibling rivalries are put away, mothers love their daughters-in-law, and spouses don’t bicker. Unfortunately, this isn’t usually the case. Family issues are often exacerbated during the holidays.
For those who don’t have family or close friends nearby, Thanksgiving can be a particularly lonely day. Holidays have a way of emphasizing the lack of relationships in a person’s life. The result is feelings of isolation and depression.
The holidays are a time when people are expected to “perform,” whether as a host or a guest. If you’re the host, you’ll have the stress of providing the food and the venue for Thanksgiving, and for doing a good job at it. Decorating the house—or at least the table—is expected. Serving food that is hot, delicious and well timed is mandatory. If you’re a guest, you have to travel to your destination, bring something for your host, and help clean up the mess. It all contributes to stress at this time of year.
The difficulties of living on a limited income become more pronounced during the Thanksgiving holiday. You may not have the money to visit family or to host the Thanksgiving meal at your home. The pain of not having money is felt most keenly at this time of year.
Fortunately, if you have animals in your life, comfort is close at hand.
So what can your pet do to help you through all these difficult situations at Thanksgiving? You might be surprised.
If you’re struggling with any of these issues, take the time to do the following the few days before Thanksgiving and even on that very Thursday.
- Recognize the healing power of your pet. Those of us who love our pets know they provide us with companionship. But what they give us is much more than that. The pure, unconditional love they provide on a constant basis is truly magical. They give us something we cannot get from other humans: love with no judgment and no expectations. At stressful times in our lives, it’s important that we recognize the value of what our pets provide so we can be open to accepting it.
- Spend time alone with your pet. You may have a lot going on right before Thanksgiving, and the day itself may be hectic beyond belief. Or you may be feeling depressed with the holiday coming up and may not feel like doing much of anything. Whatever your situation, make a concerted effort to spend time alone with your pet. If you have a dog, this may mean taking him for a walk, playing ball with him or snuggling with him on the couch. If you have a cat, a bunny, a bird or another animal, play with, pet or cuddle him. During this time, focus on your pet and nothing else. Don’t look at your computer, watch TV or talk on the phone. You’ll be amazed at how therapeutic these moments will be for you. Feelings of stress, loneliness and depression will be lifted, if only just a little. Take as much time as you can each day to connect this way to your pet, especially on Thanksgiving Day.
- Share the holiday with your pet. To help remind you that your pet is there for you at this stressful time of year, find a way to include him in the event. If you’ll be hosting Thanksgiving dinner at your home, get your pet a special collar or bandana to show everyone he is part of the festivities. If you’re spending Thanksgiving alone, make yourself a special meal that you can share with your pet. A little bit of turkey won’t hurt your dog or cat, and will help you feel like you are celebrating with someone who loves you—because you are.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT