by Danielle Taylor, PsyD
The holidays can be a wonderful and stressful time for many people. All of the merriment, especially for those creating the magic can take a toll on the mind and body! Thanks to the work of many mental health professionals such as Deb Dana, Peter Levine, and Bessel van der Kolk, we know that the mind and body are linked and that our emotional experiences live in our bodies even after they occur. Talking things out with someone you trust or with a licensed professional mental health provider is essential to maintain health but sometimes you’ve just gotta move to release a challenging experience and to regulate your system. Here are 5 moves to try:
- NOTICE & CONNECT. Try to tune into what is happening in your body throughout the day so you can become more accustomed to its cues. For example, you might notice your stomach gurgling-is it time for lunch or are you experiencing worry? Take a moment to observe what is happening in your body without judgment and then get curious about what it means. Over time you will become more successful at picking up your body’s signals and connecting them with feelings or situations which will help you to be more responsive to its messages and needs. It can sometimes be helpful to place a hand where you notice activity as a way to acknowledge it.
- BREATHE! When we are experiencing a big emotion we often hold our breath without even realizing it. If you are feeling frozen or distracted take big inhales to move more air and energy into your body. If you are experiencing anxiety or anger, take big exhales to move energy out of the body. After you’ve created some space check in with yourself and get curious about what those feelings were trying to tell you.
- MAKE SOME NOISE. Sighing and yawning are two natural ways that our systems try to “downregulate” or release energy and restore balance. We can tap into these processes by intentionally sighing, humming, or even singing. This is why after a stressful day some intense car karaoke can leave you feeling renewed!
- SAFE TOUCH. Hugging a loved one, yourself, a pillow or a stuffie can help soothe your system. Petting animals can also support a return to regulation. Any touch should always be consensual and feel safe for all involved.
- TAKE A HIKE. Exercising, especially in nature, supports the processing of emotions and experiences. Being immersed in the forest or even looking at nature scenes can create a sense of connectedness and calm.
- BONUS MOVE-STORE IT FOR LATER! When you are having an experience where you feel safe and regulated try to soak it in fully so you can call it to mind later. Notice what your senses are experiencing, if there are particular colors, sounds, temperatures etc. Really tune into the “felt sense” of what is happening with your body, emotions, and thoughts. Deb Dana refers to these moments as Glimmers and to tuning into them as Savoring. After you’ve identified a few Glimmers, try to call them to mind later and see if you can re-experience that sense of connection and safety.
By paying attention, over time you will build a deeper connection with your body and all of the information it is relaying to you and how that influences your unique human experience. By honoring its stories and needs you will build your capacity to navigate whatever comes your way. While you can do this independently, it can be helpful to have a guide on this journey so working with practitioners who are trained in body-based or somatic techniques can be helpful.