Oh, the holiday season. It comes every year, and brings with it many varied dynamics. Lights, excitement, and gifts are, for some of us, shadowed by the looming dread of family tension, food morality of what’s good or bad to eat or not eat, and our own inner conflict of the expectations of this time of year. Social media and TV commercials encourage us to buy the next best present or decoration in order to distract and avoid this dread, but it never quite gives us the peace we are seeking within our lives, does it?
There is another way to move through this holiday season, one that grounds you in relief. ring your wise body with you, trust that if you feel panicky or worried when knocking on the door of your childhood home, attending a social event or in the hustle and bustle of a department store, it is for a good reason. Sometimes this anxiety belongs to the present moment in preparing your nervous system to be ready to respond to crowds, noise, and comments on your appearance, your political opinions, your future plans, or about what you are eating or not eating. These topics are uncomfortable, but you can choose to move into your body, feel this tension, validate your urge to fight, flee, freeze or people please, and take action based on your values. This may be to set a boundary, leave a room, calm your nervous system with mindful breathes, or seek out support.
If the idea of boundaries and seeking support fills you with dread, move into your
body sensations; notice and honor them. That is your wise body checking safety in this moment and reminding you that standing up for yourself or seeking security in another person has proven unsafe at some point(s) in your life. The holiday season is prone to trigger memories of physical, social, or emotional lack of safety leading to panic and anxiety responses of fight/flight/freeze/people please even if the current situation holds general safety and does not necessarily require self preservation. This time of year often holds expectations that we interact with family members who have been abusive and/or neglectful and whose actions created a lack of safety in times past. Our wise bodies remember this and will react in effort to ensure safety.
In these moments, move into your wise body. Do a quick body scan, starting at the top of your head and just notice areas of tension in your body. Acknowledge, feel, and name the sensations. Some examples; “I feel pressure in my chest”, “I feel tightness on either side of my throat”, “I have jittery movement in my stomach”. As you name them, really focus on how they feel until you find some release of the body sensations. If you don’t flee from the body sensations, your body will calm. Check your surroundings, if safe, repeat to yourself “I am safe” as many times as is needed. Make decisions from the best version of yourself to set needed boundaries.
How and when you set boundaries is up to you, but some general examples are walking away, deciding not to go in, or utilizing statements like “that’s not something I want to talk about right now”, “let’s keep our eyes on our own plates”, “please don’t comment on my body”, “I need a moment”, “I don’t agree”, “No, I’m not able to do that”, “I don’t know yet”, or “I don’t like to be touched”. Once the boundary is set, safely discharge your body’s energy through letting out a deep sigh, walking quickly to the bathroom or around the block, shoveling snow, or whatever action you have the urge to engage in that is safe for you to do. All animals utilize discharge after a high energy situation by shaking out their bodies, running, or play-fighting. Trust your wise body to know how to safely discharge and only keep the peace that belongs to you.
These are often new ways of engaging and anytime we want to connect to shifts in how we respond we need to practice. A practice to start now is to consider what you value and what boundaries you would like to set around what is appropriate and not appropriate to you. Personal values are fully up to you! Some general ideas to consider are what you find most important in your relationships to self and others, how you prefer to spend your time, money, and energy, and causes that are important to you. Once you have a good idea of personal values and boundaries, you can include your wise body in holding these and grounding in them.
To do this, take a moment and connect to an area of stillness in your body. Close your eyes and take deep, mindful breaths, breathing into the space right behind your stomach, before your spine, in between your hips. If this doesn’t feel still and calm then try your hands or just be curious of your body sensations and find a still spot in your body. Once you find a spot of stillness, focus your attention there for a few breaths. Next, focus your mind on your values and the boundaries you want to set and breathe them down into this spot with the intention of holding them there. Do this for several minutes a few times a day. When you feel panic, anxiety, or worry, access this spot of stillness. Breathe into it, and filter any comments, expectations, and self talk through this spot before you decide on next steps. Go back to this area anytime you need to ground yourself in order to speak and act from your personal values.
You deserve a truly joyous holiday season. Decide what moments, events, and people that bring you joy and focus there. If after you center and ground and anxiety or panic still shows up, it is ok just bring your wise body with you. If in the new year, you are yearning to learn more about your wise body and connecting to it then consider signing up for our 10 week reflective group course: Creating Body Wisdom.