When Holidays are Hard: Increasing Nervous System Regulation through the Winter Season

When Holidays are Hard: Increasing Nervous System Regulation through the Winter Season


This time of year can be tricky. With shorter, darker days here in the Northern hemisphere, our mammalian bodies can trend toward hibernation and rest. But with the social, familial, and work demands of the season, rest can be hard to find.

When thinking about how to offer kindness and regulation to our nervous systems, there are two things to consider: How to do less of what feels hard, and how to do more of what feels good or resourcing.

winter cozy healthy seasonal nervous system

Less of what feels hard

Take a quiet moment to identify what it is that feels hard for you about the holidays and the winter season. It might be related to family dynamics or expectations, the pressure of finding and financing gifts or travel, or painful reminders of how things have changed. Here are some tools that might make things feel less difficult:

Consider how much social energy you have available.

  • You might imagine a gas tank in your mind’s eye and notice how much fuel is available for you. Or maybe you see your energy as more of a pie chart, and you might consider how much of your pie it would take to go to one, two, or three holiday gatherings. How do you want to parcel out your holiday pie?

Practice setting boundaries.

  • Consider what tools you already have for communicating your needs. Have you cultivated the skills of knowing what you need, and sharing that with others? Perhaps you can think of setting boundaries as a way of celebrating your own growth.
  • Saying no to things we do not have capacity for or just don’t want to do, and saying yes to things we are authentically excited about and have the energy for helps us feel our own agency. For many of us, this can be easier said than done, so be gentle with yourself as you get curious about the possibility of turning down an invitation or carving out time for yourself during any gatherings.

Build in a buffer before and after travel.

  • If you find yourself traveling this holiday season, see if it’s possible to give yourself transition time. If at all possible, take a day or two off on either side of any traveling to allow your system ample time to adjust to new time zones or environments, and to rest.
winter self-care nervous system coaching

More of what feels good

When you consider what makes this time of year enjoyable, what comes to mind? For some of us, spending time with loved ones, crafting, being cozy inside, or celebrating our traditions bring joy and satisfaction, though we all experience this season differently. Here are some ways you might bring some more ease into your holidays:

Create your own traditions.

Whether or not you spend time celebrating with family over the holidays, you might find healing in allowing new traditions to emerge. For me, an example is engaging in holiday gatherings with my friends, which has created space for more liberatory conversations around food and body image than I tend to find with my family.

  • What would your ideal holiday tradition look like?
  • You might notice who you would like to be there, what the environment would be, and what you’d like to be doing. Give attention to any sensations or emotions that arise in the imagining process, and if they are pleasant, allow them to guide the emergence of your new tradition.

Fill your gas tank.

We all deserve tender care regardless of our relationship with holidays. Some of my favorite self-love techniques for the holiday and winter season include:

  • Lighting candles, brewing hot chocolate, and watching wintery movies
  • Connecting with loved ones in low-energy environments
  • Yoga, baths, and foam rolling or getting a massage. Taking good care of my body feels particularly good this time of year.
  • Lots of soup and crockpot cooking

If you feel inspired, try out some of these practices, or make up your own. You may already have ways of taking care of yourself that don’t require much effort. Lean into those before feeling like you have to add something new.

Be gentle with your own heart.

This time of year can bring up a lot of emotions. Joy, connection, and gratitude, certainly, but also loneliness, grief, and isolation. Whatever arises for you, give yourself time, space, and whatever support you need to honor your feelings.

As you consider what you enjoy about this season, notice how your body responds to the different possibilities. What brings sensations of warmth and containment? Feelings of comfort or excitement? In what ways might you be able to carve out more time for these activities or practices?

The skills and practices explored here are valuable all year round. Whether we are finding ways to lessen the load or carving out more time and energy for the good stuff, our nervous systems will benefit.

Do you have any plans or intentions for taking care of yourself this holiday season? Let us know in the comments.

Learn more about Somatic Therapy + Coaching here.


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