The pandemic has put a dampener on many families’ Thanksgiving plans this year, as CDC guidelines discourage any indoor gatherings with people outside your immediate household. But gratitude isn’t cancelled.
“Traditional holiday dinners may not be possible right now, but it just might be the perfect year to deepen your relationships with loved ones in a new way,” says mindfulness expert Julie Potiker.
Here she gives her 5 tips for a more mindful pandemic Thanksgiving.
1. Stay connected:
Human beings are wired for connection, which is one reason this pandemic has hit people’s emotional well-being so hard. Just because you won’t be there in person like you normally would be doesn’t mean you have to spend the day alone. Practice mindful self-care and initiate a plan to connect outdoors or on video chat for Thanksgiving. You’ll lift your own spirits and others’ at the same time.
2. Arrive mindfully:
I recommend taking 5-10 minutes to transition from your everyday world into the holiday family gathering world — even if you’re gathering virtually. That short amount of time can mean all the difference between how you show up. Try listening to a free guided meditation on the Insight Timer app. There’s a fabulous guided meditation by Rick Hanson called “Coming Home to Happiness” that is eight minutes long. It guides you to leave what you don’t want to bring with you in a suitcase outside your front door. It’s awesome.
3. Respond rather than react:
Holiday gatherings are a beloved part of our culture — and they’re also notorious hot spots for awkward or heated conversations. Even if you’re seeing loved ones for a short outdoor gathering or a holiday video chat, you can improve the odds of your interactions going smoothly by practicing the PAUSE.
Put a colored dot sticker on your computer, on your jacket, on your wallet or your purse — wherever you will most easily and often see it. When you see one of the stickers, let it remind you to pause and take three deep breaths, making your exhale a little longer than your inhale. (For example, breathe in for a count of four, out for a count of six.)
Just that brief pause will break you out of the cycle of ruminating and worrying. You can even attach a happy memory to the sticker and recall it in your mind each time. That way, when you pause, you are installing a positive mental state. Take a breath or two and push that positive state into a neural trait, making yourself happier and more resilient.
4. Practice acceptance and forgiveness:
Family gatherings can be especially triggering if there are unresolved issues between family members, and we can get triggered regardless of whether we’re on screen together or around the dinner table. Try a guided meditation for forgiveness and letting go. The Insight Timer has a category for forgiveness, with meditations and talks from some wonderful teachers.
5. Start a gratitude practice:
A simple way to get started with gratitude practice is to keep a journal. Notice times when you feel joy during the day, then take in that good mental state for a couple of breaths, allowing it to turn into a neural trait. What fires together wires together! Before you go to bed at night, answer these two questions in your journal: What are you grateful for today? What did you enjoy today?
For a Thanksgiving gratitude spin, you could invite loved ones to join you in this gratitude practice, whether on the holiday itself or for the week leading up to it. Then, share some of your gratitudes with each other to celebrate and connect.
Continue the practice year-round to form your gratitude practice into a healthy lifestyle habit and reap the many proven benefits, such as improved physical and mental health, better sleep, better self-esteem, and much more.
Julie is the author of Life Falls Apart, but You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos.