Story by Sue Burns

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hanksgiving is almost here, and this year it promises to hold more of everything — both the blessings and the challenges — than it usually does. The ongoing ups and downs we’ve experienced since early 2020: lockdowns, economic fluctuations, mask mandates, vaccine anticipation, doubts and side effects, a turbulent presidential election and more have made it a roller coaster of a journey for everyone. 

It’s no wonder that we’re elated to return to (some semblance of) normalcy, ready to celebrate Thanksgiving with all the trimmings. The ability to truly gather together in person is something no one takes for granted anymore. And while we are excited to welcome back our traditions, we know that they sometimes bring some uninvited guests — drama with relatives, political discussions, missing loved ones who are not at the table. How can we prepare ourselves to enjoy every moment of the family time we are about to be gifted with? Mindfulness.

Mindfulness, the practice of being in and appreciating the present moment without judgment, is an ever more popular practice, with good reason. Myriad research studies indicate that practicing mindfulness improves our mental mood, increases positive thoughts, and helps reduce anxiety and emotional reactiveness. Physically, studies show mindfulness may also be beneficial for our hearts, brains and immune systems.*

Before the big day, take time for yourself. Sit with your thoughts and acknowledge what you’re looking forward to and what, if anything, you may be anticipating with some trepidation. Know that your feelings are valid and normal. Before you knock on the door or open yours to your guests, take a few minutes to breathe and visualize the happiness and love you want to infuse in the day. Encourage others who may share their worries to do the same. Establish some ground rules to help avoid conflict (no talking politics is always a good idea).  

Soak in the atmosphere. Won’t it feel wonderful to be wearing sweaters and scarves on a cool, crisp November day? When you sit down, offer to say grace. Appreciate the beautiful table settings, the candles and the smiling faces around you. Allow everyone to express what they’re grateful for. Chances are the table will be laden with many of your favorite dishes. Eat slowly and savor every bite, the flavors of fall and the holidays that only appear at this time of year, bringing back memories of childhood and cherished moments, and connecting us to loved ones who may have long since passed.

We all get caught up in moments where our patience may be tried — and it’s not uncommon for them to happen during holiday gatherings. After these months apart, it would be natural to fall into old patterns without thinking. Rather than letting these potentially intense moments discourage you, view them simply as opportunities to breathe and reestablish your presence in the here and now. Mindfulness is a practice, a road filled with bumps and switchbacks. Hold space — be “there” — for loved ones who may need extra comfort and reassurance; most of us do right now. 

As we focus this year on the joy of being together and do our best to let the little things go, we’ll create truly special moments we can share and treasure far beyond the holiday. 

Happy Thanksgiving!