It’s coming. That sometimes not-so-cheery time of year when the entire family gets together, whether you like it or not.
Individuals stressed about the nearing holidays got a bit of a breather last week when life coach and yoga instructor Lori Bisser led IndyBar lawyers in the practice of meditation and mindfulness.
“In my research around holiday stress, I found that the holidays present different challenges for different people,” Bisser said. “The overarching themes include over-scheduling, over-eating, over-drinking, over-spending and that obligatory time with difficult relatives. In all these scenarios though, whose actions do we have control over? Only our own.”
Bisser offered the group a chance to practice guided meditation, which she says can offer peace during this hectic time of year. Metta meditation, also know as loving-kindness meditation, is the simple practice of directing well wishes toward others without judgment or expecting to receive them in return.
“Place feet flat on the floor, uncrossed. Sit up tall. Put your hands flat on your legs, face down,” Bisser instructed. “Take a deep breath, cast your gaze down at something in front of you. As you exhale feel everything condense. Close your eyes. Continue to center with breath, drawing breath in and out, allowing some space to totally arrive in this moment.”
Then, she instructed the group to repeat these phrases in their minds: “May I be well. May I be safe. May I know love. May I live in joy and peace.”
“It may seem selfish to wish all of these things just for you, but if we can’t wish these things for ourselves,” she said, “how can we wish them for other people?”
The benefits, she added, are intrinsic. Meditation can increase positive emotion and social connection, while also decreasing migraines, chronic pain and PTSD. It can also activate empathy, compassion and emotional processing in the brain.
Next, Bisser had everyone lay down and remember their favorite and least favorite holiday memories. If people were in those memories, whoever they were, she instructed everyone to wish them well.
“Mindfulness can’t change Uncle Bob’s political commentary or the passive aggressive mother-in-law jabs. But it can affect the way we respond, which is the only thing we have control of,” she said. “Politics, lifestyle shaming, finger pointing — negative feelings are easy to find, they are right below the surface. We want to honor these as much as the positive ones, because they’re still very much a part of life.”
Another way to avoid getting drawn into other people’s drama is to be the watcher, Bisser said. That way, you can remove yourself from the negative and simply be the person observing, like watching it play out on a movie theater screen.
“Here, we can know the truth of how it is, and accept them just as they are,” she added. “In mindfulness, we don’t push anything away. We don’t shove anything down, but we don’t have to go to the worst thing either.”
Or, if that doesn’t seem manageable, Bisser suggested making cringe-worthy moments lighthearted by playing “dysfunctional family bingo.”
How it works: Pair with a trusted family member and share the funny, strange and craziness that personifies your family. Fill them in and scramble them in the squares. Then, shout “bingo” when you get one.
Examples from her personal family bingo sheet included instances like “political discussion goes awry,” “unmarried niece is asked when she is going to find someone” and “Grandma chases son with scissors because his hair is deemed too long.”
“If you don’t have an ally on the inside, it can be fun to meet a friend a few weeks ahead, pre-holiday and then at the event call or text each other ‘bingo’ when you win,” Bisser said. “Feel free to add stakes, loser buys lunch at an after-dinner de-brief.”
All in all, Bisser reminded the group that we have no control over the behavior of those around us, especially our families.
“If you’re like many people, dealing with relatives around the table at the festive feast could have been fodder for a SNL skit,” she said. “But being the watcher and allowing yourself to lightheartedly enjoy the show can ease a little bit of the holiday stress.”