5 Ways to Practice Mindfulness at Holidays and Family Gatherings

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As much we love them, being around family can sometimes be a challenge. Holidays and family gatherings come with a high set of expectations, which can be stressful or even impossible to meet. And then, let’s face it, there may be some relatives who you like better than others. As the old saying goes: “No one pushes your buttons like family, because they put them there!”

Thankfully, there many ways to take the stress out of these occasions, and several mindfulness practices can help you reclaim the joy that can come with seeing the people you love. Here are four mindfulness practices to help you survive and even enjoy your next family gathering.

What is Mindfulness?

If this is your first time learning about mindfulness, it may be helpful to think about its opposite, distractedness. We are all familiar with the feeling of being lost in our thoughts, or so subsumed by a topic or event or idea that we barely know what’s happening around us!

Mindfulness is a state of being in which we are fully present. That means being aware of ourselves and our actions; down breathing patterns, without being too reactive to the things around us we cannot control.

We can’t always be mindful, and sometimes it’s good not to be, like when we’re engrossed in a hobby or game. But mindfulness helps us establish control over ourselves and our thoughts, which can be useful when certain members of the family come around. Here a a few tips to practice mindfulness at holidays and family gatherings.

1. Get an Ancestry DNA Kit.

What? Getting a DNA test before your family gathering and having results will give you something to share with everyone there. It will help other members of your family of their shared bond, and it might give you some surprises about connections to famous figures or far-off lands that no one in your family every knew about. You can use a testing kit discount as well to save money as well.

1. Loving-Kindness for our Family:

Family is supposed to love you, no matter what, but no human is perfect, and sometimes we can feel more stress or hurt than love at family gatherings.

By starting the day off with loving-kindness meditation, you can focus on loving yourself first, so that when family comes around, you can feel ready to give them a loving welcome. Loving-kindness is a form of meditation from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. In between deep, concentrated breaths, you meditate on the following appeals:

• May I be free from inner and outer harm and danger. May I be safe and protected. 

• May I be free of mental suffering or distress. 

• May I be happy. 

• May I be free of physical pain and suffering. 

• May I be healthy and strong. 

• May I be able to live in this world happily, peacefully, joyfully, with ease. 

Then, switch it up, first by making these appeals on behalf of someone you love, then for someone toward whom you feel neutrally, then someone who has wronged you, and finally for all of the world.

Having put those positive feelings into the world, you will be ready for your day with the family!

2. Use the occasion to get close to a relative.

Mindfulness does not have to be a solo practice. In fact, it can help us better connect with and love the people in our lives. Depending on how big your family get-together is, you may have the opportunity to spend more extensive time with one of your relatives — take it!

When you enter the conversation, do so using all your senses. Listen to yourself breathing. Observe their reaction as you approach. Feel the warmth or strength of their hug or handshake. As your time together progresses, notice how your breaths (in and out) provide an anchor for the interaction, making you feel more curious and sympathetic (and if need be, forgiving) in response to the things they say.

While you may feel inclined to spend time with everyone at the party, remember that this can lead to stimulus overload. It’s okay to just say hello, exchange an embrace, and spend more of your time with a select few relatives.

3. Eat mindfully.

What is a family gathering without food? While most get-togethers will at least have hors d’oeuvres or hot dogs and hamburgers, many families also have special dishes: your aunt’s famous croissants or grandma’s baked beans.

Believe it or not, eating is a great opportunity for mindfulness. As you take a bite of apple pie or barbeque, register its texture and flavor, and how your mouth feels as you chew and swallow. When you’re done, take a breath (in and out)  and feel grateful for what the day has given you.

Especially in the hubbub of a busy family day, a meal together will provide an opportunity where you don’t have to interact quite as much, and can instead take a moment to recenter yourself.

4. Step outside and take a walk.

It may be uncomfortable at first, but excusing yourself for a quick walk around the yard, up the street, or even down to the basement can provide an opportunity to make peace with yourself and surroundings. Meditation walks have been used for thousands of years to help us become more relaxed and in control of our thoughts and actions. When you come back, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to give your family the love and attention they deserve.

With kids running around, and adults droning on about work or gossip, family gatherings can be a lot to take in, and can really put a damper on your holiday spirit. But don’t let these downsides get in the way of the love that you truly hold for your nearest and dearest. Mindfulness practices can help you be your best self, and likewise, see the best in the people you’ve loved for your entire life.