A few years ago, I moved from the sunny beaches of Southern California to the cool forests of the Pacific Northwest. I know most of you will think that’s crazy, but I’ve found I do better in cooler environments.. Plus I loooove all the plants, water and greenery here. It feeds something in my soul. (Side note – I recently had a Mayan nawales astrological reading and was told I do best in cold forests and by lakes, which confirmed this was a good move for me!)
One of the challenges I knew I would have to face is the long, overcast winter here. It doesn’t get too cold, but we do have many, many months of short days and overcast skies with no sunlight in sight. A friend of mine here recommended this book on the Danish idea of Hyyge and it started me thinking about how to cultivate happiness in winter.
I think that most of us have a wide variety of things to do when the weather is sunny and warm that we associate with happiness. Hiking, swimming, picnicking with friends, going to the park with our dog and more. But what about in winter? Do you have a host of go-to activities that bring you happiness in the winter?
I made it my goal to create such a list of winter joy activities that are easy and cheap. I now make sure that I do at least two of these things each day so that I can avoid the doldrums of winter.
Here’s my list:
- Hot chocolate: Make your own, don’t use the powdered mix, because it’s exactly one-million percent better. I use 2 Tbs Trader Joe’s unsweetened cocoa powder, and mix with 1.5 Tbs sugar and about ¼ cup of any type of milk. Microwave for 30 seconds (just long enough for the milk to get hot) and then stir the sugar and cocoa into the milk. Fill the cup up to the top with milk, add a square or two of dark chocolate, and microwave again for 1-2 minutes, or until it gets to the temperature you like.
- Candles: You can never have enough candles in the winter. I like scented ones that make my whole living room smell of winter goodness like cinnamon, clove, balsam, and fir. I take a trip to Home Goods at the end of Autumn and stock up on enough yummy smelling candles to get me through the winter.
- Fairy or x-mas lights: Oh, the joy that a string of little white lights brings me. I put fairy lights in glass jars, string them up around my windows, and wind them up and around my plant stand. There’s something about those small, white lights that just feels joyful.
- Use your fireplace: If you have a fireplace, use it often! I’ve started lighting fires during the day while I’m doing my healing sessions and it’s so, so cozy. There’s something primal and comforting about the heat, sounds and sights of a fire.
- Mull something: Mulling spices can be added to wine, spirits or apple cider to make a delicious warm winter drink, but sometimes I just put some in water and simmer for a few hours. It makes my whole place smell amazing.
- Blankets, Blankets, Blankets: I have cozy, soft blankets on every chair, couch, and bed in my house. This one from Barefoot Dreams is my favorite but really anything soft and comforting will do. Also, pillows, pillows, pillows – same idea, make it comfy and cozy! Bonus if you have a dog or cat that will cuddle with you under the blanket.
- Intentionally scheduling connection time with friends and family: Research has shown that connecting with others is vitally important for our mental and physical health, but it’s easier in the warmer months to have moments of connection and conversation seamlessly when we’re out and about going about our day. In winter, when we spend more time inside, we need to be intentional about making sure we have those moments of connection and conversation throughout the week. I make sure to be a bit extra when it comes to scheduling phone conversations with friends and making dinner or coffee date plans with friends. I make more of an effort to chat with people in line at the market or at the dog park. Putting effort into connecting with others pays off, as even a small moment of delightful chit chat can make my day.
- Baking and cooking: Yes, I am starting and ending this list with food. I love to bake and cook, but don’t do so as much in the summer when it’s hot. In the winter, warming my house up with something in the oven or with a stew that’s simmering for hours seems like a much better idea. If you’re adventurous, make things from scratch. If not, buy a cake mix, some puff pastry dough, or a par-baked bread and throw it in the oven. (There’s nothing like warm buttered bread from the oven when it’s chilly out.)
I hope this helps spark some ideas for you to help get you through the winter months. And let me know what your winter joy activities are! I’m always looking to expand my list.
In various healing traditions, it’s believed that different parts of our body correspond to diverse emotional states. From the harmonious balance of the Yin and Yang in Chinese medicine to the holistic equilibrium of the three Doshas in Ayurvedic tradition, these ancient teachings have long highlighted the relationship between our physical and emotional selves. Today, let’s delve into the intriguing connection between two parts of our digestive system: the pancreas, often linked to over-planning and undue worry about the future, and the small intestine, associated with discernment – distinguishing what serves us from what doesn’t.
The pancreas, a vital organ, beckons us to the importance of living in the present. Responsible for both releasing essential hormones like insulin or glucagon and secreting digestive enzymes, its optimal functioning requires an acute awareness of the here and now. Yet, for many who are ensnared by the chains of future anxieties or the shadows of the past, the pancreas may act prematurely. Overactive pancreases might release an excess of digestive enzymes or prematurely discharge insulin or glucagon. In contrast, for those grounded in the present, the pancreas astutely observes what is ingested, producing the right balance of digestive enzymes. Similarly, insulin and glucagon production ideally should be a present-moment response to our body’s blood sugar levels.
The small intestine, our body’s center of discernment, can also bear the brunt of excessive worry. Acting as a gatekeeper, it discerns between nutrients to absorb and waste to eliminate. However, when one struggles with personal discernment, the small intestine might falter, leading to issues like inadequate nutrient absorption or even the onset of leaky gut syndrome. Discernment, in essence, is akin to maintaining healthy boundaries. It challenges us to ask: Do we recognize what truly aligns with our essence? Can we assertively decline what doesn’t resonate, making space for what genuinely nourishes our soul?
Our digestive quandaries could be reflections of deeper emotional challenges: excessive worry or an impaired sense of discernment. To begin to heal you must immerse yourself in the present, unhindered by past regrets or future anxieties. As life unfolds, continuously question – is this in harmony with my true self? Should I embrace this or make space for what truly resonates?
And if you find yourself seeking deeper insights into these interconnections, or need guidance to navigate them, don’t hesitate to reach out and book a consult call with me; let’s explore these dimensions together and chart a path to holistic well-being.
The week before last was a really hard one. On top of a very busy week with work and some challenging situations with clients, I found out a friend had passed away and someone else who’s like a father figure to me is declining fast with dementia and probably only has a few months left. By the end of the week, I was fried. I could feel how much I’d pushed my nervous system through to just make it to the weekend and how badly my nervous system needed some space and time to release and come back to a calm, balanced state.
I decided to plan a 2-day nervous system reset over the weekend, and it worked wonders. By the end of the two days, I felt calm, I had more energy reserves, and I had a more balanced perspective on all of the things going on in my life.
I want to share what I did over the course of 2 days to let my nervous system heal and reset. I share this with you knowing that I have a lot of privilege and not everyone can implement these strategies like I did, but I’ll share them in the hopes that you can make a version of this work for you.
Here’s what I did over two days to reset and heal my nervous system.
- Sleep-Centric Day 1: Day 1 was all about sleep. I let myself nap as much as I needed to. I woke up on Saturday around 7:30am, napped from 9-10am, napped from 2-3:30pm, napped from 5-6pm and then went to bed at 10:30pm.
- Meditation-Centric Day 2: Day 2 was all about meditation. I picked one meditation that I love and that feels relaxing and I did it on repeat throughout the day. I woke up and meditated before I even got out of bed. About 2 hours later I did it again. Throughout the rest of the day I meditated whenever it crossed my mind, probably 6 or 7 times throughout the day. I then did it one more time in bed before I went to sleep. Here’s the one I chose: https://youtu.be/XHvtIcaD194?si=FZCS60wAXA6p277b (I do love me some TNH!)
- Digital detox: I put all devices on do not disturb and only checked them once or twice a day. I also avoided TV or other entertainment media. I know that “relaxing” by scrolling social media is actually anything but relaxing for my nervous system. Social media and most entertainment programming are designed to interact with our brains and bodies to activate us and release dopamine and other activating neurotransmitters. I could also tell that I needed a break from communication –every time my phone chimed with a text or email, I could feel the overwhelm rise up in my body. My emotional cup was totally full and even friendly messages felt like too much for me. So, my phone went on DND and got stowed in a drawer so I couldn’t see the screen. If I did see a message, I asked myself if it was something that absolutely couldn’t wait 2 days for a reply. If it was something that did need a reply, I gave myself permission to write as simple and short of a reply as I could, even telling a few people I’d get back to them after the weekend.
- Engage in Joyful Activities: I only did activities that felt good to me. On day one, I did some laundry and picked up around the house a bit. On day two, I walked to the market to get ingredients for one of my favorite things to cook and took my dog to the park. If the thought of doing the activity caused me any feelings of stress or “should” then I didn’t do it, knowing that it would get done at some point, just not now. In between napping, meditating, and doing these few things I mostly read and listened to music, making sure to pick things that felt calming and joyful. Basically, I asked myself, “will this contribute to my peace, cam and joy?” and if the answer wasn’t a whole body “hell yes!”, then it was a no.
- Easy-to-Digest Diet: I ate one easy-to-digest food for the whole time. Digestion takes a ton of energy and our nervous systems are interwoven into our digestive systems. I wanted to make things as easy as possible for my body, so I bought a big bag of organic yellow potatoes and ate boiled potatoes with salt and butter for the whole first day and until dinner the second day, when I made one of my favorite nourishing meals. I also made a point of drinking lots of water throughout the day. This step isn’t for everyone – I tend to have a small appetite and it feels good to do this every now and again, but if this feels like it would be a stressor on your body, don’t do it! Trust your intuition on this one.
Our bodies inherently seek equilibrium, but occasionally we must intentionally afford them the recovery time. This 2-day plan will give your body the space, time and care it needs to do just that. If you decide to try it, I’d love to know your experience!
There is mounting research showing the massive effect on our health of a well-balanced psychosocial ecosystem. A psychosocial ecosystem includes things like our roles, our social connections, and our daily routines. If we are feeling stress or imbalance in any of these areas, it hampers healing, especially of chronic conditions. Let’s look at these three areas and how they impact our health and bodymind.
Our roles are the “parts” we play in our lives. If you think about the credits at the end of a movie where it says “mother” or “bank teller” and then lists the actors’ names, this is like the roles we play in our lives. We all have multiple roles, like “friend”, “daughter”, “co-worker”, “employee”, “crafter”, “film buff” and many more. Each of these roles brings some sort of meaning to our lives and each of them is fulfilling in a different way (some more than others!) The key is to look at where the stress lies. Which of these roles are stressful? Are there any of these roles that we simply hate? If there are roles that are causing you stress or unhappiness, then it’s important to look at how to modify them or get rid of them all together. For example, if being a “daughter” is stressful because your parents are toxic, how can you lessen the time and energy you spend on being with them? How do you lessen the role of “daughter”? However, if a role brings you calm and joy, then look at how you can increase that role in your life. For example, if your favorite part of your job is being a “co-worker”, how can you increase opportunities to interact with others at work?
Social connections are the people we have in our life. This could be family, friends, co-workers, pickleball buddies, online gaming friends, or our favorite waiter at that restaurant we go to – anyone who you know and have some sort of connection to. It’s been shown many times over that the quantity AND quality of these connections is incredibly important for our health. So, even if you don’t feel like you have a ton of good quality relationships right now, you can start chatting with folks at the dog park or in line at the store and even that will have beneficial effects, as the quantity and quality of social interactions are both health-promoting. When you make that connection with another person, even a short interaction, it starts a cascade of healing chemicals in your body that positively affect your nervous system, immune system, mood, and more.
Our bodyminds love routines because they love familiar things. We love to feel the calm predictability of something that we know is going to work out in the same way it did before. Bonus points if we know it’s something that will make us happy or fulfilled. Routines can range from where we drink our morning coffee or tea to what aisles we go down first in the supermarket to our daily yoga or meditation practice. When our routines get thrown off, we often become stressed because we don’t know exactly how things will unfold. So take a look at your daily routines at home and at work. Which ones bring you joy? What is it about them that makes you happy? Can you bring more of that into your life? And if there’s some part of your day that seems to feel chaotic or unpredictable, can you bring a routine to it so that it feels more predictable (and therefore less stressful)?
Where can you make some changes to your roles, social connectivity and routines in your life? Remember to start small and build from there, even small changes can make a big difference over time and we only start making bigger changes by starting small, getting positive feedback, and then wanting more.
What one thing can you change today?
Determining Your Sympathetic Nervous System Response Type
If you’re looking to recover from childhood trauma or C-PTSD then I want to know what kind of F*er you are.
No, not that kind of F*er! I mean, yeah, sometimes even I’m the asshole, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
Your particular F*er type is derived from the 4 types of sympathetic nervous system response, also known as the “4 Fs” in physiology.
When we’re in a stressful situation, our nervous systems switch from calm parasympathetic mode into stressed-out sympathetic mode. Stressed-out sympathetic mode is super useful for getting us out of a potentially harmful situation, like almost being hit by a car or seeing a rattlesnake on a hike.
But what happens when most of life is a potentially harmful situation? What happens when you spent your childhood feeling neglected, scapegoated or silenced? It turns out, your nervous system acclimates to this and decides “stressed out” is just how it is. So instead of having your normal state be the calm, serene parasympathetic mode, your “normal” state becomes a stress response.
This is what causes the true damage of C-PTSD. Over time, this stress response becomes a trauma response, and we experience much of life as if it’s unsafe or harmful.
One of the pillars to healing trauma is to retrain your nervous system to have a more healthy baseline, a “normal” that looks like being in parasympathetic (calm) mode most of the time instead of sympathetic (stress) mode. So, it’s really important to know what kind, or type, of stress or trauma response you tend to have.
This is where the 4 Fs come in.
The stress or trauma response is divided into 4 types:
- Fawn (aka Appease)
To determine which kind of F*er you are, take a look at the following descriptions, and see which one(s) fit you best. Sometimes, we tend toward two response types, so there may be more than one that fits.
Fight: If you find yourself having a short fuse or easily getting annoyed at people or situations, then you may have a strong fight response. A healthy fight response is designed so that we can attack when threatened, like when someone fights back when a mugger tries to grab their purse or wallet. But when the fight response becomes a trauma response, we tend to go into anger/fight/annoyed/dismissive mode whenever we feel slighted, ignored, or threatened. It sometimes even surfaces to preemptively avoid a potentially triggering or stressful situation, aka “strike first and ask questions later.”
Flight: Are you someone who finds a good reason to suddenly leave your new job or break up with the new person you’re dating? Do you find that the thing you *knew* would be the right next step for you never seems to be right and isn’t what you thought it would be? Then you might have a flight response.
The flight response is designed so that we leave a potentially dangerous situation, like when someone yells “fire!” in a movie theater. However, if most of life was a dangerous situation, then the flight response can become a trauma response. This is especially true if the dangerous situations you were in as a child were emotional abuse, gaslighting or manipulation. You learn that emotional closeness is inevitably followed by betrayal or heartbreak, so you learn to leave as soon as something starts to feel good or emotionally nourishing. While this is an unconscious response (nobody thinks,” this relationship is awesome! I think I’ll sabotage it.”) it is something that you can often see as a pattern in hindsight.
Freeze: Many predatory animals (including humans) are much better at perceiving movement than form or color. So in order to avoid being caught or attacked, many prey animals (including humans!) have developed a hide and freeze response where they become very still, hyperaware, and try blending into the background in the hope that the predator won’t be able to perceive them, and will eventually give up the hunt and go away. When this becomes a trauma response it can look like introversion, dissociation (depression, ADHD, or frequent daydreaming), or shyness (social anxiety or agoraphobia). Many times, this is a preemptive freeze response, where if we check-out-before-we’ve-even-checked-in, we can avoid any potentially dangerous or triggering situations.
Fawn/Appease: So in keeping with the “F” theme, the 4th F is fawn, but TBH I like appease better — it’s a more accurate descriptor. Have you ever had a creepy guy say something that felt awkward or kind of freaked you out? Like, your spidey senses say, “let’s get away from this guy and make sure he doesn’t follow?” but instead of punching him in the face and running away (hello, fight and flight!) you smile and say, “Yeah, haha. You’re totally right. Thank you!” and then you say it was nice to meet him, and you gotta go meet your friends or something like that? Then you have experienced the fawn/appease response! (Interestingly, this 4th sympathetic type of response was only added a few years ago when researchers started studying how women respond to stress and found that it was different than men’s response.) What happens when this normal stress response becomes a chronic trauma response? It can look like people pleasing, HSP or high empathy, sensory processing issues, codependency, or a fear of conflict or confrontation.
My F*er type looks like freeze with a big side helping of fawn/appease. What does this look like in my life? Here are three examples from yours truly.
When I was little, I was painfully shy. I was scared of meeting new people (especially adults), and I would run behind my mom, grab onto her leg and start to cry if anyone talked to me. This shyness was a trauma response of both freeze and appease. The “freeze” part was running, hiding and refusing to speak. The “appease” part was putting my mom back into the center of attention as the “good mom” who was protecting her child. (A good survival strategy for being the child of a narcissist is to always put the focus back on them, in any way you can.) Fortunately, I’m not shy anymore, but I can easily see how this could have become social anxiety or even agoraphobia if I hadn’t addressed it.
I’ve also noticed that my hearing is really damn good, I can often hear sounds that are too quiet for most folks. I know this is from “freezing” and listening very closely (hyperawareness) from my bedroom whenever my parents came home. I became an expert in listening to determine their mood: How were their footsteps sounding on the floor? How forcefully did they open or close the door? Which room did they go to and what were they doing in there?
I’m still working on the appease response of people pleasing and fear of conflict. This is a big one for me as the fear of retribution or angering people is still embedded in my nervous system, and I don’t want to do or say anything that could potentially upset or disappoint people. I call myself a “recovering perfectionist” because this used to mean always being as perfect as possible and never making a mistake in order to minimize the chance of retribution, but I’ve been working on allowing myself to be a messy human and sometimes miss the mark without fearing repercussions.
Why is your F type important to know? There are two main benefits.
The first is you can more easily and quickly recognize and address the trauma response when it comes up. For example, if I know that I am avoiding sending an email because I’m worried about the recipient’s response, I can say to myself, “Ah! That’s my appease trigger” and I can use one of my tools to comfort, soothe and care for that inner child part of me.
The second is that it helps you figure out how to “complete the stress response” so you can get back into that calm, parasympathetic mode. For example, after a stressful day I often pick solitary “freeze” activities to reset my nervous system where I can be quiet, still and alone, like meditation, reading, watching movies, or crafting because I know that my nervous systems feels most safe in these activities and will be able to unwind and clear out any residual stress. If I were more of a “flight” type, then going for a long drive might help me reset into parasympathetic mode.
I hope this helped you identify your mix of parasympathetic responses and I’d love to know what type of F*er you are!
Drop me a note, and let me know because I like hearing from all you F*ers out there.
And don’t forget — while you may be shy or short-tempered or a chronic daydreamer, YOU ARE AN AMAZING GOD(DESS) WHO HAS SURVIVED SOME EPIC SHITSHOWS. I see you in all your human, messy glory and I love and admire you all the more for it. Rock on, my warrior friend.