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  • Sara Winnick, MA, LMHCA

It's the Most Stressful Time of the Year

3 Gifts for Your Nervous System this Holiday Season


We were barely out of October when I first heard Mariah Carey’s Christmas hit on the radio. Orange and yellow leaves still clung to the trees that lined my street, and my insulated jacket hadn’t even been pulled from the back of the closet! As the holiday season grows longer with each year, so does the period of stress many of us experience during the holidays. A quick survey of those close to me identified loneliness, family conflict, financial strain, endless to-do lists, and lofty expectations to be chief among the causes of the mounting overwhelm associated with the season. If you pause for a moment to examine that list, you may even add a few more.


In my work as a therapist, I often ask my clients to pause and pay attention to their bodies’ cues; a practice I integrate myself throughout each day. While this is often difficult for clients at the beginning of therapy, this practice is a necessary step toward helping my clients identify their own feelings, and ultimately, their needs, so that they can care for these needs in a satisfying way. This time of year, especially, I notice my body holds more tension in my shoulders and upper back, and my gut is quick to respond to cues of danger; a clear signal that I’m in need of some gentle tending.


The best kind of “tending” is attuned, meaning that it responds to meet the need in a way that allows the nervous system to regain a sense of safety and security. Over time, I’ve created a personalized “menu” of ways I can meet my own body’s need for safety. This kind of work is wonderful to do alongside your trusted therapist, but is also accessible outside of the therapy room, as well, especially if you’re a reader.


If your interest is piqued, below are THREE fabulous book titles that guide the reader toward a stronger understanding of their own nervous systems, as well as specific steps toward tending to their needs so that the reader can begin to feel a greater sense of peace, even amidst the busiest holiday seasons.


  1. The Wisdom of Your Body: Finding Healing, Wholeness, and Connection Through Embodied Living by Hillary McBride, PhD

  2. Anchored: How to Befriend Your Nervous System Using Polyvagal Theory by Deb Dana, LCSW

  3. Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode--and into a Life of Connection and Joy by Aundi Kolber, LPC


Wishing each of you more peace, presence, and the gift of gentle tending this holiday season and into the New Year!


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