November 16, 2022

Giving Thanks and Expressing Gratitude

Michelle Riba, M.D., M.S., writes about Thanksgiving in this series, Holiday Traditions.

link to the original piece on the Psychiatric Times website


In this series, Holiday Traditions, we asked clinicians to share their favorite holiday traditions from both past and present. Here’s how they answered.

Like many Americans, my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. It is a time to give thanks and for family to come together to eat delicious and aroma-laden foods and enjoy a long weekend. The holiday is full of comforting traditions—new and old.

In my family, for example, we always spend the holiday with our children and grandchildren. Without religious connotations or a need to shop for gifts, the stress level is mostly about which foods to make or bring, transportation, and how not to overeat. My son-in-law is a great chef, so I do not even have to cook anymore, which adds to my enjoyment! Traditions help us with predictability. We know what to expect. It is also nice when we can modify our activities or incorporate new ones.

Those friends and family who are not with us on Thanksgiving call or send us messages, pictures, and well wishes. We all try to connect and catch up. Football is also important. Coming from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the rivalry with Ohio State looms large each year—always fun!

So, of all the holidays, why is Thanksgiving so special? The idea of a national “giving thanks” and feeling and expressing our gratitude is very meaningful. Like many families, my family usually tries to play some outdoor games. Lately, it has been platform tennis. We also try to catch part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV. Coming from New York City, it is also a tradition that links us to the past. Our grandson’s birthday is close to Thanksgiving, as well, so in addition to pies, we have birthday cake, which just inflates the calorie count.

The day after Thanksgiving is also fun. We try to do some exercise as penance for what we ate the previous day. Before COVID-19, we would go shopping and look for bargains on Black Friday. Since COVID-19, though, who shops in regular stores? Of course, eating leftovers is also fabulous and a highlight of the day after T-Day. Thanksgiving is also the official beginning of the “holiday season,” so there is a national shift in mood as we get ready for gift giving and more celebrations.

However, it also saddens me to think about those who might not be celebrating this Thanksgiving. Over the years, quite a few of my patients have been alone, feeling suicidal, or feeling frightened around this holiday. The holiday season in general can be a time of severe loneliness and sadness. Clinically, the holidays tend to be a busy and stressful time in my practice. People tend to eat and drink too much, not sleep as they should, change normal routines, deal with long car or plane rides, spend money, and feel a lot of stress.

Holidays, in general, can be very triggering for our patients, so making sure there are safety plans for at-risk individuals is critical. Members of our faculty always show incredible compassion around this holiday, with my colleagues regularly volunteering to take calls, make rounds, add additional appointments, etc. We know our psychiatry emergency services are even busier around the holidays because many individuals have difficulty getting through this period. Our department organizes food and clothing drives to donate to our community.

I wish you all a healthy and meaningful Thanksgiving. Whichever holiday—or non-holiday—is your favorite, I hope you can spend time with those you love this season. Wishing peace for all.

With Much Gratitude,

Michelle Riba