Do you ever feel like you need a vacation after your vacation? As Clark Griswold can attest, family vacations can often be hectic and stressful rather than the relaxing or adventurous vacation you had in mind. Whether it’s the weather that ruins your plans, unexpected tantrums (your kids or yours) caused by a change in routine, competing preferences, or just the natural clashes that can take place when spending time with family members you don’t often see, family vacations can be fraught with stress and anxiety.

Those who have developed the skill of mindfulness tend to be able to deal with emotions and stress better. They are less reactive, less anxious, less depressed, and experience more positive emotion. Mindfulness generally refers to the ability to focus one’s awareness fully on the present moment with a nonjudgmental stance toward external and internal experiences.
These practices related to mindfulness can help you make the most of your family vacation, rather than spiraling into anxiety and frustration:

1. Listen deeply without judgment to your family members.

Put your phone down. Let your vacation be a time to connect with each other without the distractions of media, sports, school, or work. Be curious; ask questions; acknowledge and accept their thoughts and feelings without letting your attention drift.

2. Pay attention to your own feelings without judgment.

It’s okay to feel disappointed or irritated. It’s okay to think “I wish this would have happened… I would have preferred this…” without making demands of yourself or others and without playing the “should” shame game. When a thought or feeling comes to your attention, name it, accept it, and let go of it.

3. Accept the limitations of a vacation and of your family.

This vacation is not going to be everything you wanted. Your family is not going to cooperate with all of your expectations. When you accept this, you find a beautiful simplicity in what is, in the present, without trying to control everything and everyone around you.

4. Stay present. Enjoy the moment.

Pay attention to the sensations around you, whether it be an ocean breeze, the smell of grandma’s house, or the sound of the rain pattering on your tent. Keep your thoughts from drifting to things you will need to deal with back home or how great your last vacation was. When your mind does wander, purposely come back to now. Recognize that you’ll never experience this moment again.

Mindfulness meditation is a practice often used for personal wellness, but the interpersonal benefits are evident in any anxiety-provoking situation, like the family vacation. It can set a tone of peace and contentment rather than allowing complications or stress to dictate the mood. It can allow you to keep your cool even when your vacation plans may literally be going up in smoke on the side of the highway. Take it all in! The car breaking down could be the best part of your family’s time together!

by Angie Sumrall (Psychotherapist Thriveworks—Marietta)