A Mindful Thanksgiving
We all know that Thanksgiving is about, well...giving thanks. We take time to go around the table filled with an abundance of food to express our gratitude and all the things we are thankful for. Now don’t get me wrong, sharing gratitude is an invaluable practice, but I want to invite you to add another invaluable tool to your holiday toolbelt this year...mindfulness. Thanksgiving for many people is lots of family, friends and food. While these things are often something to look forward to, for some, indulging in good food is a way of coping with uncomfortable family situations during the holidays. Have you ever left a Thanksgiving dinner feeling drained, lethargic, irritated, checked out, or just exhausted without knowing why? If you have, using mindfulness can give you more clarity about what’s causing you to feel this way. Once you have clarity, you then have the opportunity to decide how best to deal with the situation you're struggling with.
What is mindfulness?
You may have heard this word before, but what does it really mean? Mindfulness has become a trendy ‘buzzword’ that people often use as a blanket solution for when someone they know is struggling. This can look like “Oh, you just need to be more mindful’, or ‘Mindfulness can help with that’. While these statements aren’t completely wrong, they lack the depth and meaning of what mindfulness actually is...and when used this way, ironically, isn’t very mindful.
“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” This definition is from: https://www.mindful.org/what-is-mindfulness/. This sounds simple enough, but can be a bit challenging if you’ve never done it before. Similar to gratitude being a practice, mindfulness also takes practice. The good news is that you don’t need any special equipment or knowledge to do this. You can practice mindfulness right here, right now.
PAUSE FOR A MOMENT
Are you sitting or standing?
Where are you? (take a moment to look around the room you're in)
Is your mind busy? (are you having racing thoughts?)
See if you can just notice that your mind is doing whatever it’s doing without judgement.
How do you feel? (Do you feel calm, irritated, anxious, antsy, heavy?)
Be curious about how you feel without judgement or trying to solve it.
Take a deep breath and feel the air move in and out of your lungs.
Continue to breathe, noticing how your body feels with each breath in and out.
Spend another moment just being exactly where you are, right here in this moment with complete curiosity and without judgement.
How do you feel now? Do you feel more calm? Maybe you don’t feel much of anything other than thinking this is strange. That’s OK. This can feel strange if you’ve never done it before. Now, I’m not saying that this is going to suddenly help you be more in control. I am saying that if you’re open to the experience and make it a daily practice, you can start to have more of a say in how you respond to people and situations, instead of reacting out of your emotions, which can lead to more chaos.
The science behind mindfulness
Humans have a tendency to be habitual. This is based on survival instinct. We repeat behavior that has kept us safe in the past. If we have a history of using food available at Thanksgiving for comfort when we’re feeling anxious around family, we’ll keep doing the same thing because the comfort gave us a feeling of safety. This means that we’re not really aware and in control of what we’re doing. Rather, we’re reacting out of our primitive survival brain to keep us safe. In order to have any control of what we’re doing, we need to access the part of our brain that’s responsible for decision-making and problem solving. Practicing mindfulness moves us out of our primitive survival brain and into our complex thinking brain.
If you feel like you have to survive Thanksgiving, mindfulness can help you be more aware of what it is that's overwhelming you. It also provides you the space to pause before reacting so that you can decide how you want to respond to a situation. This can look like stepping away when tensions rise and things get heated, checking in with how your body feels after you’ve finished your first plate, or taking a deep breath when you start to feel anxious amid the chaos.
Here’s a simple check-in practice you can easily do throughout your holiday.
Take a slow and deep breath from the stomach
Is your mind racing?
When did your mind start racing? What happened right before?
Notice how you’re feeling without judging it. Be curious.
Are you anxious? Sad? Angry? Numb?
Notice the feeling without trying to solve it. Just let the emotion do what it needs to do (it will pass).
How does your body feel? (Do you feel sick, relaxed, heavy, or restless?)
Ask yourself what you need right now at this moment.
What can you do to prioritize your wellbeing right now?
Take another deep breath from the stomach while really listening to what you need.
You can do this as a check-in throughout the day or when you can feel that you’re really struggling. Notice how you handle your day differently from taking even just one or two moments to practice mindfulness.
Hoping for you a holiday of mindfulness and wellness in a way that helps you take care of you. Happy Thanksgiving from Lindsay Perry, LPC at Grounded In Truth Counseling!
For more mindfulness practices and meditations, visit the links below.
If you struggle around the holidays and you’re interested in scheduling an appointment or have questions about counseling, call (832) 639-4043 or contact me here.