As Thanksgiving approaches this week, it is a good reminder towards gratitude and rest. However, at many family dinners, that calm and grateful demeanor can be hard to maintain. If family dinner, for you, feels nourishing, encouraging and recharging, that’s great! You likely do not need to read further. If thinking about Thanksgiving with the family already has your jaw clenched and you’re having stress dreams, this article is to support you. Here’s a few ways you can maintain mental balance during the holidays.

 

  1. Validate Yourself

It is completely normal to feel the full range of emotions towards your family members and often swing wildly from one moment to the next. You may feel a warm tingle at the sight of grandma’s apple pie but still be seething with anger at her insistence you only date people from your same cultural background. You may initially like being asked about your job, relationships and lifestyle only to end up growling internally as it goes from interest to interrogation. YOU ARE NOT A BAD PERSON. You aren’t crazy or ungrateful. It doesn’t help to internalize your family’s judgement of you. And they aren’t bad for judging, it’s a natural human tendency. But that does bring me to point two…

Validation sentence starter: “It makes total sense that I feel…because…”

  1. Boundaries

You can set boundaries for yourself. And your family will likely have reactions to your boundary setting. Just because somebody doesn’t like your boundary, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set it. Their reaction is probably more at your ability to take care of yourself, which they may never have felt supported enough to do. However, by modeling it, you encourage it in them as well. Just prepare for a reaction, I like to think of it as almost an automatic thing, more that they just need to expel energy than something that actually needs a response. Automatic responses from family when you set boundaries may have you feeling guilty. Instead of personalizing, think of the reaction as an expression of discomfort your loved one just needs to expel, not as actual commentary on you. Vulnerability expert Brene Brown boils it down to this one question you can ask yourself: “Was I clear on what’s okay and what’s not okay?”

  1. Effective Responding

Here is a skill to keep in your back pocket that many people forget to use when setting their boundaries or asserting their needs:

Reinforce– In this case, reinforce means explaining how your boundary is not just good for you but for the other person as well. This is not manipulation, it should feel true. For instance, if you start feeling overwhelmed and need to take a walk, here is how to reinforce:

You: I think I need to talk a walk.

Mom: Oh no you don’t, I need your help and I’m just asking a few questions.

You: Mom, I’m getting overwhelmed and I don’t want to get into an argument with you, I want to enjoy our time together [reinforcing how this is good for your mom, not just you]. I think the best thing for me to do is take a walk.

Mom: Fine (eye roll)

Notice how I did not include your mother being overjoyed at your boundary setting. Very rarely will someone say “Great point! Go take a walk with my blessing”. People will be irritated with your boundaries, you need to be able to take a reluctant agreement to them sometimes while the other person processes their own feelings about it. Making someone like your limits is not the point, but at least pointing out how this may benefit them does make it easier.

Practice: Loving Kindness Meditation

I love this practice of Metta meditation, otherwise known as loving kindness meditation, because I find it creates more patience and less agitation with people I am frustrated with. In the same way sometimes, a text feels easier than a face to face conversation, this can act as mental preparation before taking on the real thing. There are different examples of this meditation script, I’ve included a script I think can be helpful before family dinner.

Take a three deep breaths into your belly. Feel the surface you are sitting on beneath you to ground yourself in this moment.

In your mind’s eye, imagine someone you love dearly, this can include a pet. Think of a person/pet for whom it is easy to feel positive feelings about. Face them in your mind’s eye and say silently

May You Be At Peace

May You Be At Ease

May You Be Well

Pause for a moment and notice how that feels. Take another deep breath.

Now in your mind’s eye, imagine a neutral person. Someone you have seen but have no particular attachment to. Maybe this is a barista at a nearby coffee shop, someone you see in the elevator at your office building, or a postman in your neighborhood. Face them in your mind’s eye and say silently

May You Be At Peace

May You Be At Ease

May You Be Well

Pause for a moment and notice how that feels. Take a deep breath.

Now in your mind’s eye, imagine someone you are having difficulty with. It doesn’t have to be the person in your life you have the most difficulty with but think of someone who you have unpleasant feelings about right now. Face them in your mind’s eye and say silently

Just like me, You want to be at peace

Just like me, you want to be at ease

Just like me, you want to be well

Notice the subtle shift in dialogue and how that felt to express to this person. You don’t need to feel a certain way; the goal is just to notice exactly how you feel right now. It may be the same, there may be more unpleasantness of less. Just observe what happens for you.

Now see yourself in your mind’s eye and say silently to yourself

May you be at peace

May you be at ease

May you be well

This may be pleasant, neutral or unpleasant to say to yourself. Just noticing and taking a deep breath.

Optional:

Now see the world’s population in your mind’s eye, however you imagine that. Say to the world

May you be at peace

May you be at ease

May you be well

So, your Thanksgiving may not be perfect, and you may still get agitated. Just know, we can’t practice we all have room for improvement within ourselves and within our families. Progress not perfection. Happy Thanksgiving!