E060 – The Festive Season Survival Playbook

boundaries communication healthy boundaries heart self-regulation tapping Dec 21, 2023

This blog is about surviving and thriving in the festive season—at family events, at parties, barbecues or braais or whatever you call them in your country. They could also be work events and mixers and other social and potentially stressful events.

I'll share five tips/tools/hacks/things to play with… I haven't got it all perfect myself, so I'll be using these when I need to! Watch the video below or continue reading to prepare yourself for your festive season socials.

But why would we want to even bother working on how we show up at these events over the festive season? Well, we spend a lifetime around other human beings, and for some of us these family events or social work occasions can trigger an automatic, conditioned shutdown mechanism, where we become small or less-than, or we become a lot—it's me, it's show time!

And the next day we might be like, “Oh, I feel like that wasn't great. I wasn't my best and now I feel ashamed,” or “That family member or that co-worker really triggered and annoyed me, and it's always the same. I started becoming spiky and spiny, or I shut down and became grumpy.”

But we have the opportunity to decide how we show up; it doesn't have to be forced upon us by our environment. So this blog is all about grabbing the opportunity around other human beings to work through the difficult stuff, and it’s about surviving and thriving in these occasions: avoiding shutting down and really showing up in a way that connects.

The first of the five tools is to deepen in presence, by which I mean we choose to be present. Go into each of these events with a bit of a strategy to double down on being there, really focusing on how you show up. Go in with an intention to stay conscious and not just wooze out and drop into your old conditioning where you end up getting angsty, angry, too much, too little—all of that.

Instead, go in with presence and a strategy, which you can enhance by breathing. Sitting at any of those tables or standing at a mixer with your kombucha, just breathe and ground yourself. This could involve feeling your lower body, really being aware of your body in the seat, becoming aware of your feet or of your butt and lower back in the seat.

So let's do that now, while we're here: slow down, become intentionally more present. Become mindful: Where am I? Okay, I'm here, and I'm conscious that I'm here. Aware that I’m aware—mindful and present. You almost become aware of a 360-degree awareness around you and inside yourself. Deeply, deeply present. This way we're much more resourced. We've got more choices. It’s like we’ve taken a big pause and said “Okay, I don't know ho this is gonna play out, but I'm ready to see.”

The second step might sound counterintuitive, because it involves putting yourself inside a protective bubble that separates you from everyone else. Before you even arrive at the event, surround yourself with an imaginary bubble, an invisible protective dome. You could imagine a perspex dome, plexiglass, a wall of mud, a wall of flowers or surfboards, or even some angry hummingbirds all just floating above you, keeping you completely separate and safe. Whatever works for you. So you can float into your gathering with a sense of separation, a sense of being inside yourself.

This technique is taught in some forms of relationship therapy, as well as in energy healing and many more practices. The idea is to put yourself inside this bubble, separate from everybody, so that you're less plugged into what everyone else is doing and less likely to be overwhelmed or triggered. This is great for highly sensitive people or empaths or people who are just generally sensitive. I'm a sensitive human being, and I find this really, really useful.

The third tip balances this. Having created this sense of separation, drop some of your awareness down towards your heart to be a little bit more heart-centered. This can involve a little bit of softening or warming up or choosing to be in the heart. It's a conscious choice: you could also stay up in your head doing your normal dialogue, trying to be witty or smart or whatever else might be happening up there. But you want to just drop your awareness down to be more heart-centered.

So the second and third tips balance each other: our bubble boundary gives us a sense of protection or separation from everybody, and we warm it up by consciously choosing to be heart-centered and to connect from there. You could say we're separate but deeply interconnected this way.

Tip the fourth: what to do with those family triggers or those emotional moments when someone gets to you. Again, using your boundary is very important, but now suddenly you've got emotions in your body. You might have a stomach that's turning a little bit or a solar plexus, just below the ribs, that's feeling like “See they did that thing again.” So you’ve got a body that’s been triggered.

Take a breath, take a pause, and take ownership that your body has been triggered. Acknowledge that it’s your body that’s been triggered, so you want to deal with your body. That's one thing you've got control over, or at least that you can work with.

Practically, cross your hands over at the wrists and drop them onto your legs. If you can do this beneath a table, just tap left and right very slowly, bringing awareness down to your legs. Become aware of the feeling of your hands tapping. Be aware of the feeling of your body in the seat, the heaviness of your body, and just keep bringing awareness down, and breathing… do this for a minute or two.

If you're standing in a social situation and can't be tapping your arms like that, tap your feet inside your shoes: tap, tap, tap… bringing awareness down into your lower body for a minute or two.

The goal is to regulate your nervous system rather than just let those feelings happen to you or hijack you, where you feel like “It's happening to me and I feel bad.” Instead, “It's okay, I feel bad. But I'm going to work with my triggered nervous system and see if I can bring it back into a state of regulation.”

When you've been tapping for a minute or two and regulated yourself somewhat, move your awareness into the feelings in your belly—there’s no need to go into the story, any of the “they shouldn't have said that.” Just go into the feeling: what am I feeling in my body and my belly and my chest?

Keep tapping, and notice what you're feeling without going into the story. Keep breathing and regulating as you connect with the feeling, allowing this bilateral stimulation to help you process the moment. So you're not running away from the feeling, you’re processing it.

If this is too overwhelming, if the feeling is too strong, then slow down, take a break—leave the table, go and resource yourself somewhere else. Go to the garden or the toilet and just breathe or have a cry or whatever you need to do, and then come back feeling a bit more regulated.

This processing of emotions can be really, really helpful. You can be triggered and untriggered in the space of three or four minutes, rather than carrying it for three weeks afterwards, which many of us do. I've definitely done that in my time.

The fifth tip or tool is a really sweet and poignant one that is taught in many traditions, and this is to die before you die—to be aware of the impermanence of all of this. You can be at a table with co-workers and almost imagine that this is a last supper, like you'll never see them again. What happens if I just don't make it home? Or that person that triggers me, what if I never see them again?

Well, for some of you that might feel like a bit of a relief, but move into your heart and just allow a sense of poignancy to take over. Let's just say it is a family member that triggers you—just try to have gratitude for the sweet, short time you have together. Feel into “I'm just here for a short time and everyone's trying their best, and we're all so human and imperfect and lovely at the same time.”

We’re not here for long, so try to move into a sense of poignancy or gratitude, forgiveness, and ultimately—hopefully—enjoyment, just finding joy in all of the beings that are with us, including the ones that trigger us. Our crazy, short human life includes the people we get on with like a house on fire as well as the ones that trigger us.

This is your short, sweet life, so move into your heart, into a bit of whimsical, humorous gratitude for all of our short, beautiful existences.

Those are my five yuletide survival tips. I hope you enjoyed them and that you’ll put them into action. Let me know what works for you—or if something else works for you, please share that with me too.

And have the best time being human with other humans being.