We know it’s crazy to get nuts around the holidays. We know it’s a huge commercial enterprise devoid of spirituality. But also, somewhere deep in our psyches, we want the good parts—family, friends, people; getting together to connect, laugh, eat, and catch up.
It’s a struggle that repeats itself every year, like clockwork. We are surrounded by the glitter of Christmas lights and the plethora of cheap, tinselly crap draped over everything. And we endure it—perhaps even add to it—because of a deep yearning to feel caring and love, to nestle warmly among our loved ones.
For us in the Northern hemisphere, that desire is the most natural thing in the world this time of year. Winter. There is less sunlight. We are less inclined to go out after work when it’s darker and colder. This is normal and natural. Even though we are fairly well insulated from the dropping temperatures, our bodies notice and want us to slow down a little, sleep a little more. Snuggle.
But unlike our fellow earth dwellers, we have the ability to light up the night. We can cheat the darkness as much and as brightly as we want. Unfortunately, this is not always a plus. Circadian rhythm is the 24-hour clock our bodies live by. And the biggest factor that can “reset” our clocks is light. That’s right; we can affect brain chemistry and our own internal clock with light. Darkness tells the brain to produce melatonin—what we need to sleep. Screw that up with light, especially LED light, and you may be artificially keeping yourself awake. Not exactly what you want to do going into months of colder weather and shorter days, with a body that may need more downtime to bolster itself against winter.
So, just when we’re in a place where we’ve seen that this is a good time of year to be circumspect about how we spend our energy, what’s that looming over the horizon?
First Thanksgiving, and next The Holidays. Just as our bodies are trying to respond to the seasons appropriately, we get hit with a six-week period of shopping, cooking, cleaning, traveling, and other frenetic activity. It’s no wonder many of us dread this time of year! And it’s no wonder we get exhausted, sometimes sick—and depressed.
Stop the Madness! Slow Down!
What can we do to get through this time of year and make it to that other overblown holiday, Valentine’s Day?
Yin and yang, my friends.
Part of the depression about winter and the holidays is that we get too yang—expansive—at a time we need to be more yin and turn inward. Yang is heat, the energy we rely on to keep us going through the winter. It is also what we use to deal with the world outside our winter cocoons. When we go overboard during The Holidays, we spend too much yang. The resulting depletion is subtle and deep. We are literally turning our backs on what we need most and going with what we need least: more activity, less sleep, often a deep desire to “make it perfect” for your kids, your spouse, your extended family.
Add to the physical depletion financial worry, guilt over where we failed, and girding against cold weather and super-crowded public spaces, and it’s not hard to see how we can actually damage our bodies, along with our bank accounts, during this time of year.
Far from maintaining that The Holidays are bad for our health (I’m no neo-Scrooge), I know they can actually be good for us. We all need connection with loved ones and good friends. It’s how we flourish as individuals and survive as a society. And that’s where the focus of this season must be. We need to think before we act. A pre-dawn line at a big box store for the latest flat-screen in order to elicit a scream of over-the-top surprise is not connection or love.
Meals taken together, real conversation with good listening on everyone’s part, small but thoughtful, useful gifts, and above all, the realization that this is what we have: the people, the times of our lives when we feel the caring and love from one another—this is what sustains us through the winter, and will leave us with memories of holidays that form an important part of a life well-lived.