Family driving you bonkers? Calm down before dessert with these get-zen-quick tactics.
You love your family, but whoa—the holidays seem to bring out the worst in them. All at once.
“The holidays are stressful for many reasons,” says psychotherapist Sarah Farris, L.C.P.C., founder of Chicago Mind and Body therapy. “You’ve got travel, finances, end-of-year work rushes—and then you put all of these stressed-out people together in one room. No one’s really equipped to best deal with complicated relationship dynamics that might already be at play.”
While you can’t control how people act, Farris, says, you have complete control over how you respond—and that’s the key to maintaining your sanity.
Here are four meditation hacks that can help you find centeredness in the midst of a chaotic family—all achievable in two minutes or less.
Holiday Hack #1: Ask Yourself, “What Am I Feeling?”
Here’s the crucial part when someone stresses you out: Just notice, don’t judge.
“Removing judgment takes some practice, but it gives room for individuals to experience whatever they authentically feel at the time—be it restlessness, frustration, or even anxiety,” Farris says. “When one moves away from resisting discomfort, they can strengthen their ability to handle unpleasant thoughts and feelings, inviting room for change.”
It can also help to think of yourself as an impartial bystander or even a narrator describing what the protagonist of the story—you—is feeling, calmly and without bias.
For example, when Aunt Gertrude embarrasses you at the dinner table or an in-law makes an under-their-breath quip, Farris recommends pausing to notice the sensations you feel. Maybe your heart races or your stomach churns. Or maybe it’s a thought or emotion that you just can’t shake. Notice that feeling, without judging or beating yourself up for getting frustrated.
Holiday Hack #2: Boost Your Heart Rate
When you’re feeling anxious or riled up, physical movement can help burn off some negative energy. Plus, it doubles as a way to take your mind off of your stressors and focus it on your body and breath.
If you can slip off to the gym or a walking trail for an hour to get your heart rate up, go for it. But if a full-blown workout isn’t exactly feasible with your crowded holiday schedule, as little as 60 seconds of physical activity in the next room can help relieve loads of stress, Farris says.
Try holding a plank for a full minute, performing two to three sets of 15 pushups or squats, or even just taking time to stretch.
Holiday Hack #3: Focus on Your Breath
Diaphragmatic breathing is pivotal for relaxing the central nervous system in times of stress and anxiety, says Farris. By increasing parasympathetic (rest and digest) activity and dialing down the sympathetic (fight or flight) response, breath work opens up the possibility of diffusing family disputes rather than fanning the fire.
“Whether you feel insulted or overwhelmed, pause and take a few deep breaths before articulating your feelings or responding to others,” she says.
Count to four as you inhale, letting your abdomen—rather than just your chest—inflate. Hold for four more counts, then exhale for another four. Repeat until you feel like you’ve gotten ahold of your nerves and can give your opinionated relative a cool and collected response.
Holiday Hack #4: Say One Thing You’re Thankful For
Things won’t go perfectly over the holidays. And while it might sound trite, there’s still a lot to be thankful for. Practicing gratitude, a common theme in meditation, helps focus your energy and attention on things that will still matter a year from now, Farris says.
“Say out loud and with intention, ‘Maybe X didn’t go as I wanted it to, but I am thankful to have Y,’” she says.
For example, maybe you didn’t get the bonus at work you were hoping for, but you’re still able to provide and give gifts for your children or grandchildren.
And while your family’s antics might be a major stressor this time of year, there’s likely comfort in knowing that they love and care for you in their own quirky ways.