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  • Writer's pictureRoxy Humphrey

Navigating the Holiday Overwhelm

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

Almost every year, I notice my anxiety increases over the holidays. I feel my chest tighten and my heart rate increases as I think about the “to do” list that fills this season. On top of that, I also notice an increase in existential angst bubbling up. I wonder about the impact of this season, particularly the celebration of Christmas, on the earth that sustains us. I notice my grief for and despair about the world rises.

And yet, I am often baffled by my own choices in this season as well. I often make decisions for which, in hindsight, I am not always proud. I buy more presents that I know will end up in the dump and I spend over my budget for fear that I will disappoint others. I eat and drink more than feels good in my body, and I end up doing more busy work than really being with the people I love.

As I have learned more about the nervous system over the past number of years, I believe the change in my behaviour during the holiday season has to do with the fact that, during this season, I am more often outside of my own regulated state, in which I am calm, openminded, grounded, and connected to my own values. Instead, I am orienting more within a state of activation, where I am in a fight/flight/freeze zone. There’s extra stressors all around and my adrenaline begins to pump more through my body. I am not, in this state, able to make thoughtful, conscientious decisions.

Does this sound familiar to you at all? If so, perhaps you will join me in trying some new grounding practices during this season. My hope is that, in engaging in these practices, I will be able to look back and feel better about my actions during this time of year.

Here are a few practices that I am going to try out:

  • Notice the glimmers….

This term, coined by Deb Dana, suggests that we intentionally take them to relish in small moments of delight, satisfaction, or ease. In taking time to intentionally notice these moments, it has the impact of soothing the nervous system and moving us to a state of regulation. When we are activated, we cannot experience a sense of joy or satisfaction, so it helps us to move towards a more grounded place in our bodies when we bring our awareness to them and even try to linger in them a bit longer.

  • Smell as an invitation to slowness

Since the holidays are full of amazing smells - cedar boughs, fresh baked cookies, mulled cider, cinnamon scented candles - I am using the moments in which I notice the smells around me to intentionally slow my breathing down and take three long, slow, deep breaths in and out. Breathing slowly and deeply is a way to settle and soothe the nervous system because it tells the body that it is safe enough to breathe in deeply.

  • “There’s a part of me that is feeling…”

Often when I am distressed, I feel overwhelmed with emotion, which makes me feel stuck and unable to cope with whatever it is that is the source of my distress. For the past year, I have begun to use the phrase “There’s a part of me that is feeling…” before I name my own emotion and this has helped me to separate myself from the emotion that is overwhelming me. It has also helped me to become aware that simultaneously, I can feel other emotions as well. This gives me some options and agency in how I experience my feelings. Once I have separation from the overwhelming feeling, I can soothe and settle myself, rather than continue to be flooded.

Perhaps you will join me in practicing some of these strategies to settle and soothe the nervous system? Or, even better, perhaps you will adopt your own strategies that work best for you. Either way, I wish you all peace within your nervous system this winter.

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