The holidays are here, Thanksgiving is over and the shopping season is fully under way, I can tell by the fact that driving in any commercial parking lot feels like I’ve been dropped into Death Race 2000. So this time of year people are pretty feverishly shopping and planning for vacations, visitors and holiday dinners. And of course we’re all doing it in an pandemic environment that makes everything harder. We’re also all still very much on edge as you can see by the ubiquitous freak out going on over the Omicron variant.
The fact is that holiday travel, the colder weather keeping people inside and flu season likely means we’re in for a fairly predictable COVID winter season spike. If Omicron is truly what it’s been billed to be so far, more transmissible and less virulent, it’s likely to be an economic issue and frankly a pain in the ass without being the life threatening issue COVID has been so far. I can say this for two reasons, first it’s being reported as such initially, and secondly, unlike the Delta spike, we have a much higher level of vaccination, at least in the United States. Of course, higher infections rates, even if the death rate doesn’t spike, will mean more closures and quarantine notifications. And likely more restrictions related to mask mandates and social distancing.
All of this will add an additional spike of stress to, what for most people, is the most stressful time of the year. So while I often talk about work/life balance from the perspective of keeping the work side of the equation in balance with life, this time of year it often bounces the other way. At this time of year, for a lot of businesses, things drop into a bit of a lull. In some countries other than the US, this time of year worklife almost completely comes to a halt. For those of us working in education we face a unique type of reality. First, everything accelerates to a fever pitch for a short period of time and then everything pretty much stops until early January.
So how do we keep our lives in balance during the holiday? I offer tonight three very specific suggestions and the first is something I talk about quite a lot, planning. You have to plan your time more, not less during the holidays. This will help you make decisions, perhaps you have invitations to multiple holiday gatherings. Making a plan will help make sure you don’t get overwhelmed or let people down. If you wing it, you may think you’ll make all three but without thorough planning you might end up getting locked into one and miss one or even the other two. So while it doesn’t seem very festive, setting and plan and letting the people you will be visiting know what it is, you can make multiple gatherings and not let anyone down. Also, by doing this, you might discover things. If you tell someone you’re not coming til later, you might find out that gathering is focused around dinner or that someone you particularly want to see will only be there early. Planning, although it may seem work-like, is very much your friend. It also may help you make the hard decisions like what events you truly can’t make it to, by making that decision early you can save harder conversations closer to the event when hosts are likely to be more stressed and emotional and reduce hurt feelings and guilt.
Self-care cannot disappear during the holidays and exercise in particular is even more important. During a time when we are likely eating more and less healthy than any other part of the year and we’re more stressed, it’s important to make sure we continue to exercise. You want to at least put a small dent in the extra calories you’re consuming and far more importantly work off the stress of the season. Since we often exercise alone, it’s also time to yourself to get away from the holiday madness for a bit. If you have little kids or a family you just can’t get away from, well then make exercise a group/family event. Walks in nature or even walking around holiday events, sledding or skating if you live some place with winter or similar activities can help you get the exercise you need to knock off the stressful edges. One particular thing I like, particular in places with winter snow on the ground, are night walks. Even a small night walk on trails or parks you know well, take on a completely amazing and adventurous quality at night.
The last one I’ve taken from a piece on a site called house of dragon, is called choose gratitude over guilt and it’s really fantastic advice. What this means is that we need to change our perspective during the holidays. Often when we decline an invitation we feel guilty, instead, you need to be grateful that someone wanted to spend time with you. You need to be grateful for your life and what you have, and make you and your closest family (selected or otherwise) the priority. You’re not required to make every party or family gathering, you’re not required to make any in fact. Remember to make you and yours the priority, express gratitude for what you can do and be thankful for your own peace of mind, peace in life and what happiness you have. You are not responsible for other people’s happiness, so do what keeps you and yours happiest during the holidays.
Also a suggestion on gift giving, for those who are close to you, take the time to think what will actually make them happy. Don’t forget the power of nostalgia, reminding people of their childhood or things they did with you when you were a child. Some of those simple reminders are the most powerful gifts. For those outside of that circle of those closest to you, don’t stress over those gifts, really at that level it is the thought that counts. So make the gift affordable and useful, it’s one of the reasons I am very fond of giving good food and wines as gifts. They show you care, and are things people can enjoy without costing you a lot of money.
Finally tonight, a note to my fellow introverts. You’re not responsible for the happiness of others, you don’t have to say yes to any invitation, there is no required time for attendance at an event. I know this time of year is tough, for those of us who really don’t like crowds or parties, we suffer this time of year in a paradoxical sort of way. First, we get hurt, because we keep fewer social connections we get so few invitations this time of year, and that reminds us we’re different, that we have a tendency to be a bit more lonely than other people. Secondly, we get committed to do work holiday parties and family events that we are incredibly uncomfortable attending. While also hurting people’s feelings by turning down invitations to gatherings because they often don’t understand why we do that. Forgive yourself for saying no, it’s ok to do what keeps you happiest and feeling safe this time of year. Also, if you are absolutely committed, there are sometimes work or family functions you can’t avoid, remember you do have some control. That’s right, you may have to attend, but it’s still your life and you are responsible for you, so show up, do your hellos and to quote Paul Simon, slip out the back Jack. While there may be 50 ways to leave your lover, there’s also 50 ways to leave a party. You have no obligation to say goodbye to the hosts or anyone else, so leave when it’s most comfortable for you, quietly, without explanation and without guilt.
I’m hoping you all have a wonderful holiday season and remember to take care of you first, celebrate second. ~ Rev Kane