If your family is like mine and the other families I know, heading into December feeling like “I’ve got this!” is a daunting task. On top of all the usual ups and downs of family life, there are the added emotions that the upcoming holiday brings. Extended family complexities, holiday expectations for everything to be “merry and bright,” memories of loved ones that have passed, the high energy of lively young children… it can all be rather exhausting.

When you notice that your heart rate is rising, your shoulders are tensing up, and you are thinking, “This is not going to end well,” taking a mental step back and giving yourself some space can help you respond to a situation rather than react. When we respond, we are more mindful of our tone of voice, the words we are using and how our own emotions are contributing to the situation. It doesn’t mean that we are okay with any behaviour our kids (or others) dish out, but it does mean that we respond in a way that is helpful rather than in a way that adds to the situation.

Here are four strategies to help you take that mental step back so that you are more able to respond from a grounded place. You can try these strategies in the moment and see if they help. There might be one or two that work better for you than the others. Those are the ones you can return to whenever you notice you need to take a moment.

1. Name 5 Things – When you feel like your head is spinning and everything is getting overwhelming, take a moment to name to yourself five things you can see around you. You try it now. “I see a chair. I see a shoe. I see a clock. I see a window. I see a tree outside.” Bringing your attention to your sense of sight helps bring you back to the here and now of your body. When I do this, I notice my breath slowing down as I name the objects I am seeing. You can also do it by naming the sounds you hear around you. It does the same thing of bringing your mind back to the present. You can name the objects or sounds silently to yourself, so that even if others are around, they are unaware that you are practicing this strategy.

2. Ground Yourself – For this strategy, breath into your centre (about an inch beneath your belly button) and notice your feet on the ground, feeling where the soles of your feel make contact with the earth. If you are sitting, you can notice where your body touches the chair. Again, this strategy guides you back to your body in the present. It gives you a moment to take that step back and respond mindfully to the situation.

3. Breathe – Bringing your awareness to your natural breath is another way to settle yourself. You don’t need to change how you are breathing, just bring your awareness to it. If you have a particular breathing technique that you like, such as square breathing or belly breathing, you can use those as well. In the moment, simply noticing your breath will give you the pause you need to respond rather than react.

4. Notice Your Emotional Elevator – You can imagine your emotions as an elevator. At the top is where the high-energy emotions like anger and rage as well as excited and ecstatic live and at the bottom is where the low-energy emotions like calm and restful as well as sad and bored live. Taking note of where your emotional elevator is and then visualizing it going down (or up if needed) can help you regulate your emotions in the moment.

All of these strategies can be done quickly and without anyone else around being aware of what you are doing. If you are with your children, and it a situation with them that you are trying to manage, you can also practice these strategies out loud. Doing this models for them that we all feel overwhelmed at times and need to have strategies to regulate ourselves so that we can respond mindfully. It also gives them strategies that they might choose to use later when they need to pause and take a mental step back.

Do you have other strategies that you use? I would love to hear about them in the comments section.

Wishing you all a December that is filled with ease and moments of connection and joy,