Photo by Reynzo on Unsplash
By Kellie Mox
“Have a day.”
These were the wise words of my therapist many years ago. She would offer them up like a gift as I left her office each week. Decades later, her words still speak to me—and now to others, too, as I pass along this gift.
Without an adjective, this sentiment feels incomplete, I know. But I believe the words send a more powerful message this way, one we need to hear—that it’s okay to have a day that’s not great or even good, and that it’s okay not to label it. It’s an affirmation of sorts, a recognition that we can have an experience or feeling today, and then another day will come, bringing with it new experiences and new feelings.
By nature, humans are constantly shifting. Neither our smallest cells nor our biggest feelings are static. Yet our culture perpetuates the notion that women should not outwardly age, that we ought not create waves by expressing anger or sadness, that we must have it together all the time, and that we ought not need help in the process. In other words, it’s not okay for us to “have a day”—to fluctuate and flow with the ups and downs of our lives.
As a result, many women feel pressure to be positive all the time. Or they feel stuck in a state of high stress or in an emotionally or physiologically shut-down state, perpetually numbed out. In addition, many feel isolated and alone in this. If left unchecked, these static states of being can lead to insomnia, anxiety, weight gain or loss, muscle tension, chronic pain, frequent colds, and even chronic illness as the mind, body, and spirit attempt to get our attention and return from a static state to a more naturally harmonious, flowing place.
The truth is that we can learn to ride the waves of our stress, our emotions, and our lives in a way that restores our natural rhythms. When we flow up and down, in and out within a healthy range, rather than being shut down or stuck on high, we begin to sleep better, and our appetite and satiety regulates. Our immune systems come online, our tension and pain recede, and we’re more at home with our feelings. It’s a process that takes time and effort, as well as a willingness to jump in wholeheartedly. It can be uncomfortable to defy our cultural programming and do the work of creating new patterns in our lives. I know, because I’m learning how to ride the waves in a new way, too—and it can be a wild ride.
So, how do we do this? How do we “have a day” and ride the waves as they come? It’s an enormous topic, but I’ll offer up some thoughts here as they relate to the body, our feelings, and social connection.
Our autonomic nervous system (ANS) is perhaps the most important place to start when creating more flow in our lives. The ANS, which comprises the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest/freeze) systems, operates largely without conscious effort. It regulates everything from digestion to heart rate to respiration to sexual arousal.
When our ANS is dysregulated due to chronic stress, physical or emotional trauma, or other factors, it’s hard to ride the waves of life comfortably. Our bodily systems can get stuck in fight, flight, or freeze modes, and our basic functions can be impaired. Some people try to mask these stuck states in unhealthy ways, such as with excessive exercise, drinking, eating, or sleeping.
Our bodies, however, need to ride the waves of the stress cycle. That is, we need to be able to respond to stress and then return to a state of rest and repair—much like a sound wave, our ANS needs to be able to fluctuate up and down within a regulated range. And we need to learn to tolerate the sensations that go along with those fluctuations.
By working with the body and the breath, we can actually learn to “down-regulate” or “up-regulate” our systems so they respond more appropriately to stress. For many of us, this calls for professional support from a yoga class, bodyworker, or trauma-informed coach, to name a few. But we can also promote nervous system health on our own with things like intentional, mindful exercise, which serves to discharge stress from our systems. We can pause at regular intervals throughout our day to check in with our body and respond to its needs. We can give ourselves permission to not have it together all the time, and let some of those balls we’re juggling fall to the ground (and know it will be okay).
Having children has taught me a lot about how we experience our feelings and how our culture impacts that experience. My mantra for my children is this: Your feelings are okay, and it’s okay to express them—but you need to learn to do it in a healthy way that doesn’t hurt yourself or others.
Unfortunately, so many of us have internalized messages that our feelings, especially negative ones, are not okay, and that our expressions of them are problematic. As a result, we don’t allow our big feelings to come up and out like they need to. Why hold back tears or resist feeling angry when, like waves on the shore, the feelings come in and they go out—if we allow them to flow?
In a day, week, or month we will cycle through feelings that are both comfortable and uncomfortable. When we trust this cycling and that our discomfort is not permanent, we can lean into it more and surrender to the movement in and out of these feelings. When we practice mindfulness by noticing and naming our feelings, we also allow them to flow more freely. And when we learn to express and release our feelings mindfully through journaling, music, or connecting with a friend, for example, we can “have a day” without feeling the need to change it in any way.
We are social beings. Even the most introverted of us thrive on meaningful connections with others. We aren’t meant to navigate life alone or even just within our nuclear families. We really do thrive with a tribe, even if we need to re-energize alone. Connecting with others is an evidenced-based way to promote nervous system regulation and reduce stress. A hug, a caring conversation, or a game of catch can all settle a stressed system.
In this realm, too, we move through cycles of connection with and disconnection from others. Furthermore, we may fluctuate in our focus on connecting with others versus connecting internally with ourselves. We need to give ourselves permission to shift between these states while staying mindful of our patterns. If we tend to isolate ourselves, we may work on asking for help from others and providing support as well. If we tend to put up walls when times get tough, we may need to proactively set boundaries for others that will support us feeling safe to reach out. If we are perpetually engaged with others to avoid focusing on our own feelings, therapy may feel like a safe option, so we are with someone as we go inward.
Almost twenty years after my therapist invited me to “have a day,” I’m still inspired by the notion. Let us stay curious and open as we move through the up and down, the in and out, of life. Let us embrace and own the cycles and fluctuations. Let us give ourselves the freedom to ride the waves of our feelings, our bodies, and our lives.
Kellie Mox catalyzes revolutionary healing for women through powerful conversations and whole-health mentoring. She is passionate about authentic, meaningful connections—to the self, others, and the world—and believes that healing flourishes when we strengthen these connections and embrace our wholeness.
Kellie is a certified coach and a student of homeopathic medicine with a master’s in health behavior and health education. She works with women virtually and in-person from her home base in Ann Arbor, Michigan.