The festive season is a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness. However, for many, it can also be a period of heightened stress, anxiety, and emotional challenges (Smith et al., 2018; Johnson & Williams, 2020). Juggling family gatherings, social events, and the expectations of the season can take a toll on one’s emotional well-being. Below, you will find practical strategies that combine mindfulness with insights from somatic experiencing and polyvagal theory to foster emotional balance.

Set Realistic Expectations with Somatic Awareness:

One primary source of stress during the festive season is often unrealistic expectations. Somatic experiencing emphasizes the mind-body connection, acknowledging that emotions are not only experienced in the mind but are also felt in the body. When setting expectations, tune into your body’s signals. Notice physical sensations, tension, or discomfort, and adjust your plans accordingly. For example, before planning elaborate holiday events or agreeing to participate in any, notice your body’s reaction when thinking about preparations or imagining yourself in certain places. Take your body’s response on board, and if needed, consider scaling back and opting for simpler celebrations aligned with your well-being.

Mindful Breathing and Relaxation Techniques:

Incorporating mindfulness and relaxation techniques into your daily routine is always a good idea for both your mind and body, supported by multiple studies (Jones et al., 2019; Brown & Black, 2021). Practices such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help manage stress and promote emotional balance. Take a few moments each day to focus on your breath and center yourself, especially during hectic times. Mindful breathing aligns with polyvagal principles as it stimulates the vagus nerve, supporting a shift from stress to relaxation. Practice mindful breathing regularly to support your nervous system in maintaining balance.

Prioritize Self-Care:

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, it’s crucial to prioritize self-care. Often, we lose ourselves between preparations and social plans, starting the New Year exhausted rather than rested. Ensure you get enough sleep, maintain a balanced diet, and engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. It might be a quiet moment with a book or a walk in nature rather than another “end of the year catch-up.” This may not align with others’ expectations, so continue reading for help with setting boundaries. And remember, there’s no harm in rescheduling some of the plans for January; it’s helpful to have something to look forward to in the New Year too.

Reflect on Gratitude with Somatic Presence:

Amidst the chaos, take time to reflect on what you are grateful for. Expressing gratitude shifts your focus from stressors to positive aspects of your life, fostering a more optimistic and balanced emotional state. Somatic experiencing encourages cultivating gratitude with a sense of embodied presence. As you reflect on what you are grateful for, notice the sensations in your body associated with gratitude. This somatic awareness enhances the emotional impact of gratitude, promoting a positive and balanced state.

Establish Boundaries:

Setting boundaries is essential to maintaining emotional well-being. Be realistic about what you can handle, both in terms of social engagements and personal commitments. If you can, recognize your own and others’ nervous system states during social interactions. Ask yourself questions like: am I relaxed and peaceful, or is my heart beating fast, and am I feeling a familiar discomfort in my stomach when talking with certain people? If you sense signs of activation or overwhelm, establish boundaries to create a sense of safety. This might involve taking breaks, finding quiet spaces, or communicating your needs effectively. If you struggle with this, consider using Non-Violent Communication (NVC) by Marshall Rosenberg, which provides a constructive approach:

  • Express Feelings: Use “I” statements to express your feelings without blaming. For example, say, “I feel frustrated when certain things happen.”
  • Share Needs: Clearly communicate your needs without assigning blame. For instance, “I need more understanding when discussing certain topics.”
  • Active Listening: Practice active listening to understand family members’ perspectives. Reflect back what you hear and ask clarifying questions.
  • Avoid Judgments: Steer clear of judgments and labels. Focus on the impact of behavior on feelings and needs to encourage open dialogue.
  • Seek Solutions Together: Collaboratively find solutions that meet everyone’s needs. This fosters a more harmonious festive environment.

Example: If a family member consistently brings up a sensitive topic, and you notice yourself getting activated, express, “I feel uneasy when this topic comes up because it touches on some personal challenges. I need a space for a more private discussion to find a solution that respects both of our needs.”

Staying emotionally regulated during the festive season requires a combination of self-awareness, self-care, and practical strategies for managing stress. By setting realistic expectations, prioritizing well-being, establishing boundaries, and embracing flexibility, you can navigate the challenges of the season with greater emotional resilience. Remember, honoring the mind-body connection is a powerful way to prioritize your emotional well-being during this potentially challenging, yet joyous, time.