There is plenty of science to convince us that social connection is key to our well-being. But relationships and family life can be complicated, often taking us on an emotional rollercoaster during the Hallmark times of the year.
Last week we covered how to navigate the holidays when certain stressors come up, whether that is crunching a few more hours at the office before heading out for the holiday weekend, whipping up your famous side dish, or gearing up for a jet-lag inducing flight across the country. This week, we are uncovering how to bring the greatest gift of love we can offer one another to the dinner table: mindfulness.
What Is Mindfulness?
‘a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness of the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensation.’
Family Life + Mindfulness:
Mindfulness in family life offers us a rich opportunity to practice presence and kindness in our relationships with others, adding frequent doses of forgiveness along the way.
A recent study supported the idea that mindfulness can help regulate our emotions amidst social tension. In one trial, more mindful spouses were able to maintain lower blood pressure and greater heart rate variability – indicating better recovery from stressors – while discussing marital conflict than people who were less mindful.
Another trial found that more mindful people seemed to be less distressed when they were excluded by others, and their brains showed decreased activity in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, too – a pattern associated with exerting less cognitive control over emotional upsets.
These findings suggest that mindfulness could help us manage our anger better – not by suppressing it, but by staying cool while anger passes through us.
How To Bring Mindfulness Into Your Family Dinner:
Starting at the heart of family life, the dinner table is an engaging and fun place to bring mindfulness into family life in a practical way!
Bring a little extra connection, tranquility, and meaning to the table this year with these four practical tips:
Put the electronics away
We get it, updating your instagram story with a steaming turkey day dinner plate pic seems like no big deal in today’s digital world, but for other family members, the technology may be the barrier between meaningful conversation and a full-blown argument.
Our world is full of distractions that make it difficult to be present in the moment, with technology being one of the most prevalent. Studies show that phones have become a persistent distraction. In fact, the average American looks at their phone 47 times a day.
Phones aren’t inherently bad, but these numbers suggest that many of us habitually and thoughtlessly turn to our phones all day long – a behavior that falls well short of mindfulness.
Let the dinner table be a no-phone zone, and while you’re at it, but that baby on airplane mode!
Bring Awareness To The Plate:
Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season. It’s the time of year for great food, good times with family, and celebration. Our anticipation of and obsession with food can seem at times like it’s the focus of the holiday. Many people struggle with eating mindfully on Thanksgiving and plenty find themselves in a food coma. Being more mindful throughout dinner makes us more present.
We can become so tempted by the abundance of delicious food, that we load up our plates, and scarf it down resulting in a 3-hour turkey coma.
Make this year different by practicing a few mindful eating techniques:
- Check-in with your body: see how (truly) hungry you feel and if there are any particular foods you’re in the mood for.
- Look at the food options: observe all the different foods available and how you can consciously portion out what foods are most appealing to you, with the consideration of how you want to feel afterward.
- Take a moment before you eat: look at the abundance of food, express your gratitude for your plate and surroundings.
- Pay attention to your senses: what are you smelling, tasting and noticing with each bite of food. Staying in touch and being present as you eat can enhance the overall meal experience.
- Check in again with yourself: as you’re eating, see if your desires changed at all, if your hunger changed and pay attention to that process BEFORE you get to a potentially uncomfortable spot.
Ask The Meaningful Questions:
Having a simple question that speaks to each of our experiences is a great way to be present. This also helps promote active listening at the table.
What do each of us most fundamentally need and want? Love and attention. Kindness and presence. Most of our lives are packed full, with many demands on our time. During the holidays, pause and give yourself, and each family member our most powerful gift – presence.
Below are a few simple, yet engaging questions to get the conversation rolling!
- Life-Update: What would you title this current chapter of your life?
- Gratitude: Share three things you are grateful for. It can be a thing, person, animal, or activity. Really think about it!
- Share appreciation: Have each family member go around the table and share one thing they appreciate about each other.
Practice active listening:
Active listening is a skill that goes hand in hand with mindfulness and requires practice.
‘Active listening’ means, as its name suggests, actively listening. That is fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker.
Below are a few simple intentions to formulate before going into a conversation:
- What can I learn? Think of the person as someone who can teach you.
- My response will come naturally. Suppress the urge to think about what you’re going to say next or to multitask.
- Stay open. Open and guide the conversation with broad, open-ended questions. Avoid close-ended questions that can be answered with just a “yes” or “no”
Using these tools is a wonderful way to help yourself manage the emotions that may arise during the holiday season. Practicing mindfulness can help reduce stress for the whole family and even develop connection to one another. This, in turn, leads to a fuller state of living with compassion and mindfulness.