Creating a “Safe” and Connected Holiday Season
“If you want to improve the world, start by making people feel safer.” – Stephen Porges
I just spent Thanksgiving weekend with family from my mother’s side, the Millers. They smile with their eyes. They smile with their whole face; they are truly excited and grateful to see me. Greetings and goodbyes include long hugs that release a healthy dose of oxytocin. My nervous system relaxes, and I just kick back and enjoy being with them. Fully connected and safe. Wouldn’t it be nice to feel that way all the time?
As a Polyvagal Informed Therapist, I have been trained to see the world through a lens of safety.
To identify fear in people and facilitate a transition back to safety. To do this, you must understand human nature. Our neurological design supports a need to be seen, heard, and feel accepted. We want to know we are not alone. Isolation is a threat to our species. When we are alone, we feel suspicious and more afraid. There is a lot to be afraid of in our world, but taking a position of protection instead of connection will naturally create more fear. How do we create a safe environment, one that is conducive to connection?
I had the privilege of spending a week this fall at the Polyvagal Institute Gathering. Set in the serene community of Atlantic Beach, Florida, therapists, and healers from all over the world gathered to join a think tank of individuals who are behind a movement to spread Polyvagal Theory application into the education, business, sport, medical, and therapeutic worlds. All with a mission to create safety, so that we can rise to our most human potential.When our bodies are in a state of fear, we are unable to access the creative, curious, courageous, and confident parts of ourselves. When we are clear-minded and calm-bodied, we feel more compassionate and connected to others. Spending a week with likeminded individuals was somewhat utopic. Our leader, Dr. Stephen Porges, neurobiologist and founder of the Polyvagal Theory, is the real deal. He lives and breathes his work with a kind face, a smile and twinkle in his eye, and a gesture of touch or a hug. He truly believes in creating a safer world.
So how do we make the holiday season more “safe” and connected? Here are three simple steps:
First, carry with you a mantra of gratitude.
What if you approached this holiday season with a grateful heart? I know the holidays can be a time of grief and stress, but know that you can be sad, overwhelmed, and grateful. Gratitude can change the molecular structure and chemistry of the brain. It creates an effect in the nervous system, leaving you more peaceful, less reactive, and less defensive. In other words, you’re more social. Your heart beats out a message or vibe to others that indicates you are safe.
Second, genuinely smile.
When we were mandated to wear masks during the pandemic, I got in the habit of looking for “smiling eyes.” Neurologically speaking, we have a built-in radar system that seeks out safe faces for connection. Our lives depend on it. Skip the Botox and expensive eye cream and let those crow’s feet speak! Take a moment to look at people in the eyes and smile, sending a message of “peace on earth.”
Third, remember to breathe.
If we can keep our nervous system calm, it helps co-regulate others nervous systems. Breathe in slowly and exhale completely. Use your belly to breathe. It’s the diaphragm that “brakes” the anxious nervous system, so skip the chest breathing this season. So when you start to feel stressed, stop and take a conscious break to breathe. Those around you will also benefit from it.
We live in a world of division. Let’s experiment, if only for six weeks, with making this holiday season safer and more connected. Happy holidays!
Visit my website to learn more about my counseling, consulting, and coaching services as well as my current courses and recent Safe and Sound Protocol certification.