Nine Ways to Make Thanksgiving More Mindful

Holidays can be stressful. With a little mindfulness, we can direct our energy toward the good amidst the chaos. Here's how.

laszlolorik/Dollar Photo Club

In spite of the glossy ads making it look like Thanksgiving is one big joyful, harmonious day, for most people Thanksgiving can be somewhat…..challenging. Or as one of my clients put it, “A day of living Hell.” So what can be so bad, you ask? Family? Tons of food? Trays of desserts? Sitting around the table with relatives? Alcohol readily available? Exactly.

I’ve put together some guidelines I developed over my 20 years of practice to make it a little easier for you this year:

1. Accept what is. Uncle Louie will probably drink too much, as he always does, and may even dance on the table. As much as you wish it weren’t so, not all family members would be your top choice for friends. So don’t argue with reality. You can feel frustrated, angry, sad, and resentful. And know that there are some things that will not change. Where do you want to put your energy?

2. Allow the good parts to really soak in. This is what Rick Hanson talks about so eloquently in his mindfulness books. What is delightful? Haven’t seen your cousin in a long time and felt a nice connection? Allow it to light you up; focus on it. Give it lots of space.

3. Remember that it’s only one day. Many women are in labor longer than one day. You can get through it. Even if it’s a disaster, it will be over soon.

4. Ask yourself what would help. Do you need to take a little breathing break in the powder room? Take the dog for a quick walk? These little grounding tools can really help with perspective.

5. Arrive at the table slightly hungry, but not starved. This is tough if you plan to eat in the early afternoon. Although it’s tempting, don’t make the mistake of skipping lunch. If you are starved, you will feel like a rabid wolf, and that will lead to problems later on. It’s not your fault; the body doesn’t appreciate being starved.

6. Eat mindfully, as much as possible. It’s not going to be perfect. You might feel distracted by all the chaos. But do try to chew and taste your food. Slow down as much as possible. It helps with digestion, and knowing when you are full. It also increases enjoyment.

7. Breathe. Make sure you are breathing into your belly. It helps your body and mind stay calm. You can put your hand over your belly to make sure it’s rising and falling. No one will notice. They are too busy with their own worries.

8. Pick something quirky and personal to be grateful for. It’s nice to be thankful for family, a roof over your head, and food to eat, but what about the fact that your kid finally passed his math test? That your dog got through a walk without rolling in goose droppings? That your favorite show just went to Netflix? You get the idea. Make it interesting; it’s much more powerful that way.

9. Remember to be gentle with yourself. So you ate too much pie, then cleaned out the Cool Whip container with your finger? It happens. It’s a tough day, and sugary foods help, albeit temporarily. Nothing will be gained by berating yourself. Research is quite clear that self-compassion is the only way to go if you are looking to change behavior. So try something more like: “Well, that’s not what I was hoping for. I know how stressed I get around _____; next time I will try _____ instead.” You will be much more likely to get back to healthier ways than if you abuse yourself.

And, by all means, if you come up with something else that is helpful, please share! I’m always looking for new ideas to add to the list!