Congratulations, you’ve survived Thanksgiving (whether you celebrate it or not). What was it like this year?
When I was little, my various families put on the big Thanksgiving dinner ritual, complete with kitchen disasters, drunken spectacles, and screaming matches.
But today, thankfully, my spouse and I keep our celebrations low-key. We make it a simple day of rest, reflection, and renewal, and we definitely don’t travel, not even for camping trips.
Still, I try to be aware that the holidays can have an effect on me, and seek to minimize the negative impacts. After overeating on suboptimal food, the biggest danger to me from a holiday, whether I’m involved in any rituals or not, is armoring.
Holiday symbolism can stir up memories of drama, and those memories can replay beneath my conscious awareness. As I stiffen against the pain they cause, bit by bit I turn to ice, both inside and out. When the pattern finally breaks through to my consciousness, I realize I’ve been suffering for several empty hours or days–nothing’s gotten done because I haven’t been able to move, I’ve been so tight and stiff.
My most effective strategies for breaking this pattern, and taking off the armor, are:
- Trigger avoidance
- Calming supplements
Here’s how these show up for me.
- Trigger avoidance. Once upon a time, I worked in retail. It wasn’t in a mall or a big box store like we see today; it was a mom and pop drugstore, with a post office contract station in the back. Holidays were a blur of irate customers ready to defend their prescriptions, their gift purchases, and on-time delivery of their packages to the death. Today, a store full of decorations and holiday muzak makes me tense up, ready for an onslaught of verbal abuse. I do all my shopping online, and if anything needs to go to the post office, I ask my spouse to take it.
- Calming supplements. With the constant management of my overexcited sympathetic nervous system, this is something I do all the time; but when holiday parties come around, I plan ahead and carry extra. My go-to nerve tonic used to be kava, but it’s being replaced with L-theanine, and I use phenibut and reishi mushroom too. Supplements don’t help if I fight against their effects, though, so I remind myself that I’ve taken a dose, and tune in to the kinesthetic changes they create.
- Visualization. Whether they reflect the original trigger or not, rumination loops have to be broken. The most direct, although challenging, way I do this is to play a mental movie where I am feeling the emotion I have been armoring against, and the outcome is positive. For instance, if I’m armoring against wanting to be seen, I imagine opening up to a friend, and the two of us becoming closer for it. I might have to play the visualization many times until it stays on track from beginning to end, for instance, the friend and I hug in the end instead of fight.
- Movement. It does for physical rigidity what visualization does for emotional rigidity. I’ll force (and I do mean force) myself up off the couch and shake out my body, do some stretching, or run my hands over my body to bring back awareness and acceptance.
What strategies do you use to hack your suit of armor? What challenges do you face in taking it off and keeping it off? Leave a comment and let us know.