How to avoid being triggered by your family during the holidays
The holidays are the perfect time to reconnect with your family—which, for many of us, brings up mixed emotions. We love our families and we want to see them and spend time with them. But for many of us, family members also have a unique ability to drive us crazy, causing us to fall back into old patterns and making us feel like we never left.
This holiday season, if you start to get triggered by your family’s annoying habits—or you find yourself reverting back to your childhood role in a maelstrom of dysfunctional family dynamics—remind yourself of one thing. All those reactions, whether they're justified or not, are reactions. They're just patterned responses to some stimulus—and those reactions usually happen entirely on automatic pilot.
When a certain someone makes a passive-aggressive comment about your weight or a pointed joke about the fact that you’re still single, wouldn’t it be nice to find a way to create a gap between what they say and your reaction to it? To create a little cushion of time for yourself so you can be less reactive to triggers?
A good place to start is by activating your postural balance so that your movement coordination reflects a calmer, more creative use of your central nervous system.
Start taking care of our nervous system by taking care of your head. Your head is subject to the actions of your neck. Freeing up your neck is the key to taking care of your head, and therefore yourself.
You don’t need to be an anatomy expert to know something about your neck muscles because they get super tight when we're tense. The neck has layers of muscles, some close to the spine, others creating the graceful shape of your neck. These muscles move your head and manage your balance.
Take a moment to get more in touch with your neck. Start by nodding your head for a moment and feel the muscles around your throat and the back of your neck. Turn your head side to side, looking right and left. You'll feel muscles move but also stretch. Tilt your head like you're listening to your shoulder, first on one side and then the other. You'll feel a lot of stretching and contracting going on.
So, now that you’ve found those muscles that move your head and directed your awareness to them, what if you soften those muscles instead of tightening them so you aren't pulling your head at all?
When you soften those muscles, your head is much freer, and the spring-like action of your spine can release. Without pressure from tight neck muscles, the weighty head can actually rebound upward, allowing your stature to expand. Back muscles and spinal discs that were compressed can follow along in spring-like release. Breathing becomes less compromised by musculoskeletal pressure.
This anti-triggering movement frees your brain up and out instead of pulling your brain down and into your body and mindless reactivity. So give it a try next time the holiday cookie tray gets passed around. Freeing up your neck/head/back relationship will give you a cushion of time for being less triggered.
What can you do in the cushion of time you’ve just found? Take a minute to appreciate being unhooked and take your attention off yourself. Observe your family members neck and heads in action. Notice how they're moving (or not moving) and what's happening with their balance. Are they scrunching down on themselves? Are they moving easily with lots of flow?
Chances are that you've been unconsciously mirroring the tension of the people around you. If they're holding an opinionated position in a conversation, they're probably also holding a rigid physical position. If you can un-position and be more flexible, you’ll have a great advantage. You won’t be stuck.
So how does ease and freedom in your neck help you be less reactive emotionally? Flexible neck/head/back coordination goes along with resiliency. Whereas tension makes us more self-conscious, release of tension enhances our awareness of what's going on moment-to-moment around us. Like other vertebrate animals, we’re more rigid when we’re on alert and more plastic when we’re at ease.
When you "unset" your neck, you're moving out of your old patterns. You're opening up the possibility that you don't have to react to your usual triggers. You're opening "up and out" to new experiences with your family. And they’ll be experiencing you as your most resilient, calm, and joyful self.