Struggling With This Holiday Season and Feel Overwhelmed – Need Grounding (Part 1)
Struggling With This Holiday Season and Feel Overwhelmed – Need Grounding (Part 1)
Dear Tacit,

I am struggling with this holiday season.  I feel so overwhelmed that it is sucking the joy out of everything I have planned.  Suggestions?

Signed:  On Overload

Dear On Overload,

Seldom does a day go by that many of us don’t feel a little kerfuffled.  We are busy people, there is lots to do, and the pressure, stress and responsibility that we feel can become overwhelming at times.  The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can often seem to make things even worse.  A little natural grounding can help!

When life gets to be too much, our emotions tend to take over more than we realize.  The nervous system goes into overdrive, our amygdala gets “flooded” and our minds start to fill with anxious and negative thoughts.  These thoughts can focus on the past and the mistakes we think we might have made; or they can also focus on the future, as we try to outguess what’s coming so we feel more in control.  The common theme behind these thoughts usually tends to be critical self judgement.

Grounding is a term used to describe any technique that helps to bring a person back in contact with the present moment.  According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is the act of “paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment in a non-judgmental fashion.”  These kinds of activities help our instinctual brain recognize that it is safe (which calms our amygdala and lessens our feelings of stress).  When we practice grounding, we specify our attention and focus (regain control over our thoughts), allowing the creation of calmer moments in our brain.  We shrink the lens that we are looking through.  We stop the noise and we quiet the negativity.

Research shows that consistent use of grounding techniques improves the brain’s ability to process information, strengthens the immune system, lifts negative mood, decreases stress, and reduces brain related problems as we age.  These activities help narrow the range of our conscious thought patterns; they create a feeling of control; and they allow us to regroup whenever we are feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

So, what exactly are examples of grounding activities?  The most obvious is the act of deep breathing. Whether we are practicing box breathing (breathing in for a count of 5, holding for a count of 3, breathing out for account of 5 and holding again for a count of 3 – then repeat) or straw breathing (breathing in for a count of 4, holding, and then breathing out for a count of 6), deep breathing sends a message to our instinctual brain that we are safe.  After all, no one breathes slowly and to capacity when they are being chased by something scary/are truly in danger!

Once you have mastered the basics of deep breathing (and the light headedness and dizziness you might initially experience stops), perhaps try 4, 7, 8 breathing.  Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, and breath out for a count of 8.  This pattern is a self-hypnotic formula that will calm your instinctual brain within 3-6 breaths, when done correctly – but it takes practice! The rhythm must be very steady.

Here is another way to use your body to help reassure your brain that you are safe. You can use cold water/ice or the cold ground outside to help shock you body out of the emotional reaction and into a cognitive self assessment.  Our brain is designed to focus on the most concerning issue it is sensing, and you can control that by drawing its attention away from the past/future-focused worries you are experiencing and more to why you are suddenly so cold.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2 – we will explore more grounding techniques that can help calm the overwhelm and refocus the mind on the current moment, allowing us to feel truly safe and in control once again.

Take care!

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