Does the thought of hanging Christmas lights and attending holiday work parties make you want to grab your sleeping bag and run for the nearest cave? 2013 has been intense for many of us. We’ve felt overscheduled and overworked, and we’ve rarely had the chance to unplug. We’ve navigated big career and life transitions — and had little time to integrate these changes. Frankly, we’re exhausted. We’re ready for rest. Not a relaxed evening by the fire, but a serious stretch of lazy days, long naps, walks in the woods, deep, nourishing slumber and joyful, easy, simple connections with friends and family who feed us emotionally and spiritually. What we most need in the coming weeks is not the latest iPad or one last trip to the mall, but permission to rest, relax, unplug, and do nothing.
But with the holidays and all the activity and invitations that come with this season knocking on our door — what are we to do? I challenge you to tread the road less traveled and take a radical stand for what you most need this year. Consider the following five ideas:
• Schedule downtime now. Block out periods on your calendar during the holiday season for “dedicated relaxation,” where your only job is to rest. Schedule half-days, full days, weekends, or an entire week if you can swing it. Maybe you’ll feel like taking a nature hike when your period for renewal rolls around, or maybe you’ll be better served by staying in your pajamas, turning off your smartphone, sipping hot tea, and watching the leaves fall from the trees. Make downtime a priority and schedule it now so you can honor your commitment to deep, to-the-bones self-renewal.
• Just say no. Decide what’s most important to you and let everything else go. If it’s not an absolute yes, then it’s a no. Don’t want to miss Aunt Tracy’s special Christmas Eve dinner but feel exhausted at the thought of attending your neighbor’s cookie exchange? Just say no to the cookie exchange and let it go. You’ll be glad you did. The opportunity will come back around next year. Our quality of life is always enhanced when we let go of things — not when we add them.
• Ask for help. Give yourself permission to ask for and receive help, whether it’s with cooking, gift giving, socializing, or hosting family. Do it differently — be willing to let go of tradition for the sake of enhanced emotional well-being. Step out of your comfort zone and reach out to friends, neighbors, and coworkers and ask for their help during the holidays so you can create more space for yourself and your family to just be. What are three things on your plate right now that you could delegate, outsource, or ask for help with?
• Do less to experience more. Positive psychology researchers say we’re happiest when we keep things simple and have fewer choices. We create stress when we try to cram too much into our schedules and then try to control everything we’re juggling. My friend author Joan Borysenko says, “Your to-list is immortal; it will live on long after you’re dead.” How can you simplify your plans? (Do you really need to go chop down your own Christmas tree, make your mom’s famous stained-glass cookies, and host your husband’s department dinner?) A quiet evening of popcorn, hot cider, and great conversation is hard to beat. Do less, so you can experience more.
• Unplug and spend time in nature. My friend Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle, says, “Time spent in nature is the most cost-effective and powerful way to counteract the burnout and sort of depression that we feel when we sit in front of a computer all day.” I call nature the ultimate antidepressant and reset button. If anyone in my family is exhausted or out of sorts, off to the greenbelt we go. In fact, this holiday we’re completely unplugging and heading to the Davis Mountains in West Texas for a week to enjoy some of the darkest night skies in the U.S. Being in nature offers us nourishment and renewal on all levels — physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental. It is a powerful, restorative, and healing force. Use it!
Many of us feel an innate push and pull during the winter season. As the winter solstice — the longest night of the year — approaches, our natural rhythms are calling us to slow down, reflect, go inward, and contemplate where we’ve been and where we want to go. (Think of our hibernating friends, the bears — they’ve got it right!) Meanwhile, the world around us is swirling madly with activity and constantly telling us to do, eat, buy, and be more. It can feel quite confusing — and exhausting! And totally unsustainable.
I challenge you: do it differently this season. Pause and enter the holidays mindfully and with a clear intention. If the need for rest and renewal resonates with you this holiday season, make it your number one priority for yourself and for your family. Then you can bound — instead of crawl — into 2014, fully present, refreshed, and ready for the new year.
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