Thanksgiving, the official kickoff day of the holiday season, is upon us, and yes, this one is going to be a little unusual. For many of us, plans are still somewhat up in the air. With the pandemic in full swing and showing no signs of abating, the smart money is on the ‘abundance of caution’ approach as we make our way through this particular holiday go-round.

So, what will Thanksgiving (and beyond) look like this year? How to mark the day despite the strange new normal we find ourselves in? To keep you and your loved ones safe, you’re going to have to rethink your approach (and yes, that’s a phrase you may have grown tired of). Be smart now so, by this time next November, you’ll be able to celebrate like you used to.

Here are a few thoughts on how to thrive during this most unusual holiday, in ways that promote and support physical and mental health for you and your loved ones:

Shrink the numbers.

Fact is, more people equals more risk, so this year, the safest route is to slash the guest list, ideally no more than 6 -10 people, the fewer the better. The guest list should primarily, if not exclusively, consist of those who are in your household. The more households involved, the higher the risk. If you are, against the best, current wisdom, mixing households, keep the numbers to the bare minimum. Ask all guests to take a COVID-19 test and quarantine themselves a few days prior, particularly if you have a range of ages and health conditions in your tribe.

If you have to cut people from your list – say, those who would be coming in from places where infection rates are rising, college campuses, etc. – let those guests know now so they can make other arrangements. To mitigate disappointment, consider making an alternate plan for a socially-distanced, get together outdoors over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

1) Lower everyone’s expectations.

This Thanksgiving holiday will be anything but normal, so expecting Norman Rockwell-style perfection will only leave you frustrated. Instead of trying to make your gathering ‘picture perfect’ (you know who you are), now’s the time to re-frame the day in your mind. Give your guests the heads-up that you’ll be doing things a bit differently this year to downshift their expectations as well. Think of the day simply as time spent with a few loved ones, be it virtual or in-person in small groups, with or without a meal somewhere in the middle of it.

2) Deconstruct your dinner.

If you host a big wing-ding every year, one fairly radical approach this time around is … don’t. Going on Thanksgiving hiatus for a year is worth considering, particularly if you have a large family, vulnerable older folks, or high-risk relatives in your crew.

If cancellation is too extreme for you, then get creative and think about how you can adapt some elements of the season without putting others at risk. For example, if it’s the food part you love, then make the classic Thanksgiving dinner and sides, pack up individual portions and drop off ready-to-eat care packages to those who normally would have shared your table. If it’s the social aspect you crave, then host a simpler, more informal meal – like turkey chili, stew, casserole, etc. – in a well-ventilated (windows open) living room or outdoor patio instead of crowding around a way-too-close-for-comfort dining room table.

3) Keep your guard up.

As the host, it’s up to you to set the boundaries and stick to them for the safety of everyone in your circle and beyond. It has been a long road thus far for all of us, and we aren’t near the off ramp yet, so I urge you to push past pandemic fatigue, tempting as it may be to slack off. Keep your guard up and your mask on throughout the gathering, removing it only when actually eating. Other precautions to work into your health-protection plans:

  • If you’re hosting family or friends who don’t actually live with you, ask them to take a COVID-19 test a few days before they turn up at your place, and to quarantine or at least severely limit their exposure to others a week or two prior to the big day.
  • As the host, you and your ‘pod’ should also get tested too – as infection is, unfortunately, a two-way street.
  • Getting push back? Then be prepared to play hardball. Be ready to politely cut non-compliant guests from the list, or invite them to come by for dessert instead, ideally outdoors. Shorter, outdoor socially distanced gatherings – with masks on – are a safer bet versus long, mask-less dinners in enclosed spaces.
  • Keep the festivities moving by having dinner ready to eat when guests arrive. Skip or drastically abbreviate the cocktail hour to shorten the overall length of the event – now is not the time to linger.
  • Got football fans on the guest list? Have them enjoy the game on their phones, outsideof your home, or in their own homes, instead of spending hours together, indoors in close quarters, watching the game on your big screen, yelling at the big plays and spewing viral particles throughout the house. Another workaround: pick up an inexpensive smartphone projector and screen the game in your backyard or outdoor space.

4) Encourage protective participation.

We all have loved ones with co-morbidities whose participation in an in-person gathering would be a very risky proposition, despite your best efforts. The most loving gesture you can make this year is to not pressure them to attend or tell them ‘it’s only a couple of us, just family.’ In other words, give them the gift of this year off.

Instead, connect with a good old-fashioned phone call or, if they’re tech-savvy, via FaceTime, Skype or another video-chat app. Don’t underestimate the sense of connection a video chat provides – being able to see reactions and read body language instantly elevates the conversational experience for all. Better yet, video chatting may also help stave off depression in older adults, so don’t hesitate to connect with loved ones virtually this Thanksgiving.

Another inclusive option: Before or just after Thanksgiving, try doing what one of my patients calls an ‘elder driveway date.’ She drives to visit her older relatives, and they have a socially-distanced visit on lawn chairs in the driveway. She gets to spend focused, quality time with them and they feel special, safe and connected – all of which is wonderful for their mental health and hers too.

5) Protect – and fortify yourself – with my top 12 Immunity-Boosting Behaviors.

One silver lining in the current situation is that this year, with fewer social obligations and parties on the calendar, keeping immunity strong will be that much easier. Your mission in the run-up to Thanksgiving this year? To keep the following health-supporting, immunity-boosting behaviors front and center:

  1. Avoid alcohol, holiday sweet treats and junk food – to help keep the bad bacteria in your gut from overwhelming the good, and undermining your immune system’s defenses
  2. Keep digestion on an even keel – with daily digestive enzymes and a good probiotic. If digestion gets sluggish, take a magnesium supplement as needed to help ease constipation
  3. Chomp on leafy greens – at every meal to feed your good gut bacteria the fiber and nutrients that helps them, and your immunity, to thrive
  4. Drink your greens – to help pick up the nutrient slack when whole-food greens aren’t within easy reach or if you need a quick, nutritional pick-me-up
  5. Load up – on immunity-boosting, delicious medicinal foods, rich in phytochemicals, antivirals and antifungals.
  6. Pour onspices with medicinal benefits.
  7. Fast intermittently – and get into practices that encourage immunity-boosting autophagy.
  8. Strengthen immunity – with supportive botanicals and nutraceuticals like curcumin, quercetin, N-Acetylcysteine, zinc, vitamins C and D and elderberry.
  9. Treat yourself to frequent hot baths and naps – to de-stress and relax muscles and blood vessels and, in turn, help keep immunity defenses high
  10. Move throughout the day – don’t become a wintertime couch potato! Get out there, get daily doses of sun, fresh air and exercise to keep your body and mind resilient
  11. Make time to unwind, every day – do some relaxing restorative yoga  before bed, or if you need a break during the day, find a quiet spot and do some slow, deep breathing to help relieve tension, quiet the mind and help lower blood pressure.
  12. Sleep your way healthy – Ever notice how a few days of too little sleep is usually followed by a cold or worse? Make time to get good rest – the more the better – to help keep your immune system in germ-fighting form.

10 Daily Habits to Live to 100

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