Thanksgiving: 3 Tricks to Staying Mindful in the Middle of Food, Family and Holiday Mayhem

surviving thanksgivingThanksgiving is a plethora of triggers. There’s tons of food and tons of family. That alone can do it for most people. Then there are all the underlying anxieties that can show up… in laws, conflicting family values, impossible expectations of perfection and of course the last election.

This morning as I was driving my kiddo to school I noticed I was easily getting annoyed with her. She wasn’t getting her seat belt buckled fast enough. She was talking too loud. She was reminding me it was laundry day, and that the dishes needed to be done. I was quickly losing my cool. What the heck?! Thanksgiving is still 3 days away, and it’s already throwing me for a loop.

Luckily I realized what was going on. I was living in the future. I was worried about how it’s all going to get done and where all the time to do all that needed to be done was going to come from. As soon as I realized I was future fearing I was able to take a deep breath and begin to notice the moment. Warm car. New car. Sweet kid. Crisp fall day. Sun shining. This moment was ok, even better than that… it was good.

The trick is going to be remembering (isn’t it always!) to stay present for the next few days and through the day on Thursday. So… I started doing some brainstorming on ways I can stay present during this, more than usual, stressful time. Hopefully they will help me stay calm and centered and allow me to enjoy the holiday. (and you too!)


 1. Catch It and Remember

It’s completely normal that our brains go on uncontrolled spiral descents into crazy land. Normal. The key is catching it. Like this morning when I caught myself getting grumpy for no real reason. It was because I was descending into the future. When you catch yourself you can remember to come back to the present moment, breathe, get centered again.

What to do now: Identify your descent behaviors. When your brain is taking you to crazy town how do you act/react? When you are really clear about how you react and behave when you’re moving away from the moment it makes it easier to catch it. I know I get snappy and grumpy.  Knowing that creates a little footnote in my brain. Now when I start getting snappy my brain sends me a little message saying… “Hey! You! You’re getting your snappy pants on… time to take a breath.” The more you listen to that little voice, by taking a breath and coming back to the present, the more often the messages will be sent and the more you’ll find yourself in the moment instead of in the future (or past) freaking out.

2. Decide ahead of time.

This is probably one of the best things I’ve learned to do. When I wake up in the morning I make a decision. I decide how I want to feel and how I want to act that day. It sounds crazy, but it totally works. When you make a decision ahead of time, you arm yourself with the clarity that allows you to remember. If you’ve got nothing to remember, you can’t!

What to do now: In the morning (or RIGHT NOW if you haven’t yet) choose how you want to feel. Choose how you want to behave through this day. Do you want to feel light and hopeful? Do you want to be overjoyed? Do you want to feel loving? Whatever you choose is perfect, there are no rights and wrongs here. What about your behavior? How do you want to behave? Do you want to be loving? Kind? Considerate? Compassionate?

When you make these decisions it sends the message to your brain that this is the path you’re on. Your brain (and the Universe) will conspire on your behalf. Your brain will be open to noticing all the things around you that can help you be, do and have the things you’ve decided on.

In the beginning you may find yourself forgetting you’ve made these decisions, and that’s perfectly ok. It happens. This is a practice, not a perfect. It might help you to set an alarm for yourself. Set it at intervals through the day, and know when the alarm goes off you’re going to check in with yourself. How are you feeling? How are you behaving? If you’re not on track it’s a perfect time to step back on the path. No judgement or beating yourself back up, just another decision to step back on the path. (that IS the practice of it all… noticing and stepping back on the path).

3. Slow Down!

Yes, there are a million things to do, and probably twice as many things to trigger you into the spiral into the future or the past, I understand that. Whether you’re Aunt Sally is driving your bonkers, the table of food in front of you is completely overwhelming, the dog just ate the cherry pie off the counter, or your in laws are bashing Obama again, slow down.

When you slow down you give yourself space to make a decision. You give yourself a pause where you can take a breath. You create a pause where you can choose. Where you can remember.

What to do now: Here’s a few ways you can slow down in the middle of the mayhem. If someone says something that gets you a little fired up… pause. Literally, see a big pause button in your head, and hit it. See the world stop. Take a breath, and remember how you want to feel, and act in this day. You’ve already decided, now you have to remember.

The kiddo going bonkers, driving you crazy, getting lippy, embarrassing you in front of company? Take your little munchkin by the hand (gently) and take them into another room. Tell them how much you love them, and appreciate them. Give them a big hug and breathe. I used to think this was the dumbest thing in the world, when I was in the middle of wanting to kill my kiddo, but if you can do it. Your heart will melt and you’ll remember how you want to feel, and act… and you’ll be able to do it!

Food. There is so much of it on Thanksgiving and it can be a huge trigger for many. There is no rule that says you have to eat EVERYTHING on the table. Grab small portions of the things you love the most, and eat them slowly. Take small bites. Chew (more than you might think is necessary). Taste the food. It’s so easy, after spending the whole day cooking to just sit down and wolf down the food… remember to enjoy. The key to mindful eating is being there, in the moment with the food you’re eating. If, by chance, you have the game on, go ahead and turn it off during dinner. Talk to the people at the table. Conversation will help you slow down and not eat so fast. Check in with your body as you’re eating. Are you feeling satisfied? Are you feeling full? There’s also no rule that says you have to finish everything on your plate… it’s ok to stop when you’re satisfied. You can always have more later if you wish.

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful, and it’s much easier to be thankful in the moment. Hopefully these tips will help you stay present, and remember to breathe.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Jackie Lee Zen Wahm

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