Learning to regulate ourselves is one of the most important tasks we go through in life, however most of us did not have good role models. Most of our families and communities do not regulate themselves well, and we were supposed to learn how?
Well we didn’t. We learned to yell, scream, hide, isolate, and numb instead of really learning how to feel our feelings and process through them. What makes it even harder is so many of us have experienced some form of trauma in our lifetimes. Trauma disrupts and deregulates the nervous system making it hard to be accurate about what we feel and the intensity of our feelings given our current situation, not the one from the past.
As we move toward the holiday season and all its busyness. Its focus on connecting with friends and family, and its focus on comfort (foods, drink, cozier clothing) understanding how to regulate ourselves becomes more important than ever. Here are some steps to make sure you make it through the holiday season feeling a bit more calm and focused on making those good connections rather than frazzled and numbed out. Below outlines 5 ways you can make sure you are regulated this holiday season:
- Check your nervous system temperature
- Sleep hygiene
- Food and mood
- Relationships that matter
- Move your body
First, you must understanding and have a sense of your own nervous system. What is it like to be in your body? Do you feel grounded most of the time? Do you feel like you are not safe in your skin? Do you feel like your bucket is always full and spilling over, or do you feel like you have a lot of room to handle whatever comes up? Some of us feel on edge a lot, some of us do not. Getting a feel for your situation will help you begin to recognize and understand yourself better. Then use grace to help give yourself a break. If you are someone who feels your bucket is always full and there is no more room, you most likely struggle with overwhelm and maybe anger or depression or collapse (avoidance, isolation, hiding from life, procrastination, etc). Even those of us who feel we have a lot of space get that overwhelmed feeling sometimes. This gives you a baseline to help you plan and figure out how much downtime, type of movement, and rest you will need.
Next, check out your sleep patterns. Are you getting enough sleep? Most research shows us the average person needs 7-9 hours a night to feel rested and ready for our day. If you have shortened this task as part of your regular routine, you are already starting with less room in your bucket. I hear people tell me all the time, “I do not need that much sleep” or “I can’t sleep that much” outside of the rare few, most of us do need that much or more. You’ve just conditioned your body to need and work on less. Not the best way to be ready for anything that comes your way. If you aren’t getting at least 7-9 hours a night, how can you get more? Can you add just 1 hour more tonight? If that’s too much add 15 minutes more per night until you reach the goal amount of 7-9 hours. Small changes help your body get into the routine, fall and stay asleep. If you are struggling to find the right sleep hygiene routine read more about that here. On the other hand some of get more than 10 hours of sleep a night. This also causes problems in our system. If you are one of those, examine why you are sleeping so much. If you are finding it is because you feel overwhelmed and lost in the world or do not want to face the world, it is time for a mental health check up. Begin to use an alarm or the light of the day to remind you to get up. It doesn’t matter if you do not get dressed or ready for the day right away, just help your body by getting out of bed, drinking some water, and doing a little bit of movement to get started and stay on a schedule.
Third, take a look at how you eat. Food and mood run together. If you are filling yourself with items high in sugar, low in nutrients it is like asking your car to drive down the street with no gas in it. You are running on fumes and are likely to feel the effects of outside stress much quicker and more intensely. Again, you bucket does not have much room for more if your body is trying to get enough fuel to make it through your daily tasks. During the busy holiday season so many of us are eating whatever is put in front of us at this party or the next. We may be holed up at home eating whatever feels good because we are stressed by the season – more people at the grocery store, the endless advertisements, and the constant barrage of what the culture says we should be doing right now. Many people put on weight over the holiday season due to stress, lack of sleep, and overeating. Pick and choose which items are important for you to eat. Do you love Christmas cookies? A special cake your family makes every year? Eat those things but watch portion sizes and how you talk to you body about the foods you are choosing. Saying to yourself “this is going straight to my hips” as you pop that cookie is not helpful and creates an internal response system that says “ok, I guess she wants this on her hips”. Make sure you are choosing foods based on enjoyment and watch portion sizes. It will lower your stress levels and help you let go of weight rather than retain it around your belly.
Finally, relationships. Many of struggle around the holidays because our relationships are difficult. Many of us want deep connections and are scared to be vulnerable enough to get them. Many of us come from families or communities where our true self may not be accepted so we shape ourselves to fit the group we are with and it feels exhausting. Some of us find ourselves in down right abusive relationships unable to set the right limits and protections for ourselves while in that person’s presence. Make sure you set the boundaries you need to be healthy. It does not mean you do not have to attend the party, but you do not have to stay the whole time. Or can you go, enjoy yourself with all the people you want to be with, and ignore or limit the time spent with the person who is emotionally or verbally abusive? This can be tremendously difficult. Partly because your nervous system is ready for the attack and sets you up to be on edge (bucket more full) which creates a need for regulation which may be food, drink, or people choices who are not the most supportive for your system and actually keep the problems going. If you are struggling to have healthy relationships, it is time to seek help. Repatterning past relationship models is possible, but can be difficult to do on your own – you are in it, making it hard to see other options. Seek help, it’s a much more supportive process when you have someone helping you work on building healthy relationships.
Lastly … movement matters. Everyday we have to move, our bodies were built for it. How much movement are you doing everyday? Many people cut back on the amount of movement they do in the winter months due to colder, longer days. If this is you how can you build movement into your environment? Some of us are just more busy. We enjoy the parties, cooking, decorating, and wrapping for festivities. If this is you, make sure you are fitting your movement into your tasks. Things like taking the stairs, parking and walking, squats between wrapping sessions, and counter pushups while cooking go a long way to keeping you on track and motivated to continue accomplishing your health goals in spite of all the extra items you’ve put on your agenda. Planning is a big deal here. If you do not create a plan and stick to it, you will have a much harder time reaching your goals. If you put it on your calendar, you are much more likely to make sure to keep your “appointment” with yourself. Here’s a full body workout you can fit in throughout your workday. This way you are done by the time the workday whistle blows and you can head off to that participate in festive events ready with one more thing crossed off your to do list.
In the end, getting through the holidays is not that much different than getting through life. As a result of extra items on your to do list and more people out and about your regular tasks may be more time consuming. Dealing with people who may not be your favorite or drive you up the wall with questions and comments you do not want to answer or respond to may result in feeling a bit more frazzled and vigilant in your skin. If you can stay focused on your health goals, keeping yourself aligned with your life vision you can make it through the holidays reaping the joys of the season and leaving the garbage behind. It just takes a little planning, a little effort here, goes a long, long way.