During this season of giving thanks, we have the opportunity to appreciate and express gratitude for the many blessings that nourish our “sense” of well-being. At the same time, our nervous systems can be challenged in responding to changes in daily rhythms of light and dark, sleep, eating, and physical activity. For people who are sensory sensitive and rely on routine, predictable sensory experiences to function well, the holiday season can be a strain on one’s inner resources and adaptability in managing the day to day.
To help balance the effect of the stressors of the season, it is important to take care of the needs of our nervous system which influences immune health, sleep, and mood. It may be helpful to think about how to maintain some basic rhythms and routines in these areas:
- Sleep: going to bed at a similar time with adequate time and space before bed to downshift into sleep and waking in time to start the day without rushing.
- Exercise: making time for physical activity that brings joy, pleasure, and stress release.
- Nutrition self-care: taking care to drink and eat soothing and nourishing foods, such as herbal teas and soups.
Invoking feelings of genuine appreciation and heartfelt gratitude can nourish our nervous system and overall “sense” of well-being. Incorporating a gratitude practice into the day is a simple but powerful way to build resilience to stress while staying grounded. In my own wellness practice and in working with youth and families with mental health needs, I have appreciated the evidence-based teachings, tools, and practices from the non-profit HeartMath Institute, whose mission is to help people bring their physical, mental and emotional systems into balanced alignment with their hearts intuitive guidance. The simple three-step HeartMath Appreciation Tool of focusing on the area of the heart while breathing evenly in and out of the heart area a little deeper than normal and generating and sustaining a positive feeling of appreciation for a few minutes can help balance the nervous system. Doing this exercise with the sensory support of weighted items is particularly calming in my experience.
Visit the HeartMath website for free visual and audio resources for this gratitude practice. HeartMath resources and tools available for veterans and their families are also available. Wishing all a Happy Thanksgiving.
Hollie Marron, OTR/L