Traveling to relatives’ houses and gathering around the dinner table to give thanks and celebrate what we’re grateful for is an iconic American tradition. However, while congregating with family to watch the parade, cheer on a football team or cook the turkey can be fun and rewarding, celebrating Thanksgiving can also bring about an increased level of stress and anxiety. Travel costs, such as airfare, gas and possible hotel stays, can be expensive and pile up quickly. Traffic snarls can be stressful and plentiful. Work and leave schedules can be hectic and inflexible. This year, AAA has predicted the most Thanksgiving travel since 2007 with almost 49 million Americans expected to travel between November 23rd and November 27th – of which 43.5 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles.
If you are celebrating Thanksgiving apart from loved ones this year – whether due to deployment, temporary duty status, relocation, travel costs, work schedules or other circumstances – you can still enjoy the spirit of Thanksgiving by celebrating “Friendsgiving.” Friendsgiving is a celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday among friends, and can fill a void for those unable to spend the holiday with family. Celebrating Friendsgiving can also help de-stress the Thanksgiving holiday and promote relaxation while still reaping the benefits of shared mealtimes. Gathering around the table to enjoy meals with shipmates, friends and/or family helps to foster community and promote connectedness and belongingness—protective factors against suicide and the negative effects of stress.
Whether it’s your first or fifteenth year spending the holiday with friends instead of family, here are a few tips to get you started hosting a great Friendsgiving:
- Plan Ahead. The most celebrated meal of the year shouldn’t also be the most stressful and nerve-racking. Exercise Predictability, one of the Principles of Resilience, by making a plan, and use Controllability to determine what’s most important so that you’re not adding too much to your proverbial plate. Decide what you will provide for the meal and ask shipmates or friends to bring a dish so that you’re each contributing to the meal’s success. Challenge each other to try a new recipe or offer alternatives for those who may not be able to contribute a dish (paper goods, setup and clean-up duty, etc.). Check out some of Guard Your Health’s Class I Recipes for inspiration.
- Break Tradition to Make Tradition. Let Friendsgiving be the start of a new tradition for you and your shipmates, during the holidays and throughout the year. It’s not just about a meal—you can go around the table and each share something that you’re grateful for, reflect on a positive experience or offer some encouragement for the days ahead. This not only helps to connect with Meaning, but it also helps to reduce stress, anxiety and stay focused on the positive.
- Play a game. Bring a board game, break out a deck of cards, look up a group game app or play a quick game of football. Play is an important, and sometimes overlooked, aspect of adult life. Engaging in play improves relationships, fosters connections with others and fuels emotional well-being.
Know that you are not alone. A national survey found that 42% of 25-34 year olds and 37% of 18 to 24 year olds planned to spend the holiday with friends last year in 2015 and that number is expected to increase. Last year, more than 75,000 Friendsgiving Facebook events were created in November and mentions of “Friendsgiving” on the money transfer app Venmo doubled. More and more people are holding an annual Friendsgiving for the same reasons many families do Thanksgiving: to maintain relationship bonds amid the hectic pace of the year. It’s about being there for Every Sailor, Every Day.