- Lee Lovett III, LMSW & Pamela Newman, LCSW-C
Staying Calm, Cool and Connected this Holiday Season
With the Holidays rapidly approaching, there are a mix of feelings. While we are often excited and joyful, we can also be stressed and a bit on edge, antsy; there’s a lot to do in terms of cooking, cleaning, and gift-giving. You may be hosting other relatives or traveling. Whatever your plans, it can be an overwhelming time and the feelings of warmth and connection with your loved ones can get lost in the midst. Trying to manage your stress and stay calm will go a long way – hopefully you can devise a plan ahead of time. Formulating a plan for how to manage stress around the holidays can certainly be done with a loved one; perhaps this can be a bonding experience and a fun activity to complete together.
This “togetherness” of the season is sometimes overlooked; more specifically, the feeling of connection, where, on a physiological level, attunement is taking place. Our nervous systems react to one another; as social beings who need connection, we can help regulate (calm) or dysregulate (upset) each other. We are wired to recognize the emotional state of those around us and respond accordingly.
There is a calming state we experience when we are around those we love and we feel centered, safe and grounded. Consider how you feel when holding a new baby, a puppy or a kitten or when you are at ease with someone you love. This is called “Co-Regulation.” This concept is what keeps us in balance when things are off. When we are co-regulating with another person, we feel calm, safe and positive. Tension dissipates, and we’re able to lean into the present moment with each other.
To effectively Co-Regulate, we need to hone self-awareness. Are you aware of your internal and external body cues? Do you recognize the internal cues that tell you when to eat, when to sleep, when to wake up, when to socialize? What sensations do you experience when you are stressed versus when you are calm? Perhaps you do know but don’t actively consider these signals, brushing them to the side. However, it’s vital to put ourselves first and foremost so that we can adequately look after others and strengthen relationships. Looking at your household, do you notice that one member of the family will not be able to self-regulate properly in the face of another dysregulated member?
Children are very good at sensing when someone is dysregulated. They find it unsettling and may act out when they see others are upset. Our kids look up to us as role models, and we can set a good example by keeping our cool, and practicing the following specific skills:
Check in with yourself and see how you are feeling. If you notice yourself getting more irritable, short with others or frustrated, first identify what is happening to make you feel this way. It’s important to play around with the self-talk, too. We can practice asking the following before responding to a situation: “Is the reaction that I’m about to have the most productive way of responding to my child? Is this their issue or my issue? Are my needs being met? Am I feeling out of control? Am I feeling irritated by this behavior? Do I feel like I need a break?”
Slow Down Your Breath and Speech. Try neutralizing your tone and pace. Try not to be condescending; slow yourself down and just talk. You can try placing your hand on your chest and notice your heart rate and then practice “paced breathing” (i.e., an inhale for 4 seconds, hold deeply for 5, and slowly exhale for 6 seconds).
Make Eye Contact. When your loved one is having a difficult time, or simply needs some attention, do your best to look them in the eyes, and focus on seeing and hearing them. For kids, you can try to bending down to be at their level. You might even want to internally set an intention, saying aloud in your head: “I see you. I’m with your right now.” Prior to looking at your loved one, you can try imagining a waterfall or a sunbeam falling over your head. Then, gently make eye contact. This immediately fosters a sense of safety and gets our nervous systems connected.
Touch. (Make sure that your loved one isn’t opposed to this last step) if they are open to being touched, try gently placing your hand on their shoulder. Perhaps give them a hug. You can also soothe yourself by touching your neck, and by placing one hand on your heart, the other on your stomach. Again, with kids, we are trying to set an example. Our kids learn so much from us by watching our movements and actions. You can self-soothe together, in real time, experiencing the calming effects.
While practicing the above, outlined skills, we can consciously and appropriately respond as opposed to negatively reacting. Keep these Co-Regulation tips in mind as you navigate through the holidays. These tips will surely stave off some unnecessary stress and tension, and will in turn foster stronger, more meaningful connections amongst your loved ones. Happy Holiday and stay safe!