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‘I’m a Movement Therapist, and These Are 3 Simple Exercises I Do to Calm Down When My Family Is Driving Me Up The Wall’

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Jordan Galloway

The holidays are here, and with them comes more opportunities to spend time with your nearest and dearest. And that’s a gift unto itself. Strong social connections are good for our mental health, decreasing feelings of anxiety and depression, which tend to spike this time of year, as do symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. That’s not to mention the added stressors that the holidays themselves can bring. (Think: travel, packed schedules, additional spending.)

But while on the one hand, spending quality time with loved ones has its benefits, on the other, it can be challenging—and not just for folks navigating dysfunctional family dynamics, either. Even in healthy relationships, it can be hard to maintain your emotional equilibrium with so much extra stuff going on. Suddenly, things that’d normally not bother you—like your sister borrowing your sweater (without asking) or your mom commenting on your hair (again)—are enough to put you on edge… or tip you right over it.

This is super common. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to help calm down your nervous system when the holiday madness knocks it out of whack. Take breathing exercises, for example.

But in the heat of the moment, one of the best ways to reset is by taking what Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT, a board-certified dance/movement therapist and licensed clinical professional counselor, calls a “bottoms up” approach through self-regulating exercises to calm down. “When our nervous system is stuck in a stress response, we can’t reason our way out of it—we have to feel our way,” she previously told Well+Good.

To that end, here are three simple self-regulating exercises Hornthal uses to calm down when she’s feeling fired up. And now, you can too.

1. Step away

“It is really important for me to get personal space, to breathe, to think, and to just be,” Hornthal says. “This entails taking a few minutes in my bedroom, office, closet, or even bathroom alone without any interruptions.”

2. Find your feet

Rather than adhere to the old adage of “putting your feet up” when she’s feeling stressed, Hornthal does the opposite in order to get grounded. “I make sure to put my feet firmly on the floor or a firm surface to maintain connection to myself, especially when others are demanding or expecting things from me,” she says. “It is important to ‘stand my ground’ and ‘stand on my own two feet.’”

3. Stretch out

As much fun as being surrounded by loved ones can be, being in such close proximity to so many people can also feel overwhelming to your body. In which case, it’s important to allow yourself to take up space.

“When I am surrounded by a lot of people, it’s easy for my body to become more confined and constricted,” Hornthal says. “Stretching, yawning, and reaching allows me to maintain expansion in my body, which translates to an open mind. This also helps me respond rather than react to my family.”

Try this stretch routine one Well+Good writer says feels like drinking a cup of chamomile tea: 



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