As we close out 2018, I believe it is safe to say….it’s been a year. A year of continuing triggering politics, a year encompassing traumas, and a year of high stress levels. What can we do with all of this that leaves us feelings overwhelmed?
Much like preparing an earthquake kit, we can prepare an emotional earthquake kit. It doesn’t mean it has to make you the happiest or even be the MOST fun. Like any emergency kit, it serves a purpose- to help us through the crisis as it happens, then allowing us to survive the crisis/event until we can access other help outside of ourselves.
What does this look like?
I personally like to recommend a self-written letter, written realistically and with acceptance:
“ Hey self, I know these past few days have been difficult and triggering for us- and that is okay. The good news is, we planned ahead of time on how to deal with this, so please read this letter all the way through. I know that hearing about ______ is triggering and will create a fight. When it happens, we are going to walk out of the room.” It can also look like self-coaching: “ I know it is difficult to not get angry with ____, and know it’s okay to feel angry, but we don’t have to act out of anger. We can do this instead…”
Look at you, you are so wise and rational in letter form! Whatever the letter is, is can be used when we are unable to access the more rational, problem solving bits of our brain for when we are overstuffed, over stimulated and overwhelmed. Hate the letter? Shred it and stop on it to release some of that internal energy.
I also recommend for volatile or tense family situations to ensure alcohol is not a factor. We just aren’t our best selves when we over drink and the same applies to others. While it is common to enjoy some wine, champagne or whatever else with a holiday dinner/party, if you can foresee this being a mitigating factor to family arguments, it may be best to preemptively remove the alcohol in the house. Our brains get drunk from the front to back, so that means the parts of our brains that whisper to us “ it’s not worth it to engage in this” or “ you probably shouldn’t reply on that Facebook post of Aunt Sally” are the first to become disinhibited.
Okay, so far I have recommended writing and taking away alcohol, so what other things may be useful for self-regulation?
Have you checked to see if you are breathing? When we experience stress, excitement or become filled with dread, our bodies make our breathing fast and shallower. This is done through the nervous system, and outside of our immediate awareness. When our breath becomes shallow and irregular, our heart rate becomes irregular. Soon you are experiencing physiological panic. When our breath & heart rate aren’t aligned, it can wreak havoc on your system both physically and emotionally. See if you can work on matching your breath with your heart rate, visualizing slowly pumping air into your lungs and slowing down your heart rate. The visualizing will help connect you with your body. Speaking of bodies- how is your posture? Are you tensing in your shoulders, neck or back? Our emotions can inhabit certain places, making the physical body aware and react before we can emotionally become in tune with what we are experiencing. Look to your body for clues on your emotional state. If you want to add an extra festive splash to your intentional deep breathing, try blowing bubbles! It’s fun, interactive and a great way to tangibly have your breath in bubble form. If you are a current or prospective client reading this, yes, we 100% can bring bubbles into session!
Not into breath work? Try writing out or bullet pointing your emotions. By writing down our experiences, we are able to understand them through left & right brain integration. Curious about that process? Click here: https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-health-benefits-of-journaling/
Other means of “manually” calming down your nervous system from holiday fight/flight/freeze/try not to react to THAT comment, is to hum or sing. Humming and/or singing can help. Why intentionally belt out the best of ABBA? When we engage in verbal music making it takes intentional breathing to do. Not into singing? You can chant your Mamma Mias instead, as chanting is a body awareness practice. Certain studies have shown chanting reduced anxiety & depression through blocking stress release hormones, and deactivates the limbic region of the brain ( reacts to potential dangers and is involved in communicating the mobilization for fight, flight or freeze). For some reason (that I won’t google at this moment) it is something to do with the vibrations of the chanting/Omming that seem to calm and regulate our system.
Now you have your activities to do to help keep you regulated well into 2019! I hope everyone has a wonderful safe New Year.
Alexis has been a part time contributor to the online website Patientworthy which is dedicated to education and awareness of rare and serious diseases. Links to articles written by Alexis: