The holidays are fast approaching, and many of us are heading home to spend time with family. For some, this means confronting challenging political views and challenging interpersonal dynamics. As far as mindfulness is concerned, these are the moments where the rubber meets the road!
If you’re anxious about holiday family time, here are six tips to keep your mindfulness and compassion alive:
- Schedule time to connect with friends. Though you may be across the country from your social circle or romantic partner, a few well-placed phone calls can provide a much needed dose of connection and co-regulation. Let it be a good 20 minutes, and be present for it—find a quiet place, lie down, and soak in the connection. No need to complain about Uncle Bob’s misogynistic comments—you can talk about anything! A large part of the psychological benefit that comes from connection comes regardless of the content being exchanged.
- Keep your meditation practice going. Holiday schedules often disrupt the normal routine, but you already know how meditation calms and supports you, even if it’s only 5 or 10 minutes. It can be particularly helpful to lean on practices which focus on emotion. Two of my favorites are Lovingkindness and Noting Feeling States. Either of these practices can help you stay grounded in your emotional experience and out of painful rumination/trying to fix others. If unpredictable schedules and family demands challenge your practice commitment, consider meditating very first thing when you wake up in the morning, before even getting out of bed.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep keeps us resourced and clear-headed. It can support you in using your tools and staying out of bad habits during the day. And in support of quality sleep, try to avoid eating within 3 hours of bedtime. That late-night pint of Dark Chocolate Coconut Bliss (yes I have my favorites) feels good in the moment, but digestion can make sleep restless. If it’s possible to maintain consistent sleep and wake times, this too can help maximize the quality of your sleep.
- Forgiveness and empathy for family members. It’s a pretty fair bet that people will continue to be the way they’ve always been. You know yourself how hard it is to change habits in a deep way. So when you get that predictable, painful response from a family member, what is your tendency—do you rage in reaction? Do you shut down? When we have deep history with someone, we often respond to a given moment of conflict with the full weight of the past, blowing things out of proportion. What might it mean to see the vulnerability or the fear that is behind someones insensitivity? Is it possible to stand up for yourself without being unkind? Is it possible to convey how something makes you feel, without demanding that someone change?
- Be patient and forgiving with yourself. If old, unpleasant habits reemerge during time with relatives, it doesn’t mean you’ve “backtracked” in your personal development. Challenging relationships, distance from your social community, and disruption of routine can all add stress. In times like this, we tend to fall back on old, familiar patterns. Sometimes we can intervene and do things differently, sometimes not. If you say something you regret, there’s always room for apology and repair.
- Notice the good! Our natural biological instincts tell us to look out for potential threats and pay attention to unpleasant experiences. This is called the negativity bias. Not your fault! It’s just part of the software. That said, you can deliberately choose to soak in the good. Feel the moments of connection. Enjoy the youthful exuberance of your nieces and nephews. Take in the crisp winter air. Appreciate the food. Start conversations with those relatives who make you feel good. Appreciate the moments of connection, even if they are few and far between.
I wish you a sweet, connected, nourishing holiday season.