Winter is here, along with shortened days, colder temperatures, and the hectic holiday season. Coping with holiday stress makes it hard to maintain motivation, especially when the dark and dreary weather outside urges us to stay in bed. I offer some perspective:
The holiday season means your work routine is frequently interrupted by major and drastic changes. During the holidays, we must switch our focus toward the people in our lives, as we stock up on presents, decorate our houses, send out cards, and visit friends and family. All of it takes time away from our dedication to our work. However, it is necessary time, because we must always adjust ourselves to maintain the dynamic balance between our social, work, and personal lives.
We are more susceptible to seasonal illnesses. Long winter months means more people stay indoors, spreading the potential for getting sick. Hence, we must take special care of our health. I turn inward toward more self-care, in terms of getting enough sleep, managing the holiday stress, and spending time outdoors in the precious sun.
The end of the year approaches, and we may not have reached the goals we had set ourselves out to do. Those 2016 New Years resolutions have been long forgotten, and in the blink of an eye, 2017 approaches. I find myself asking, “Did I do enough?”
It is no wonder that people succumb to the winter blues! After all, in addition to that burning masochistic inner drive to succeed professionally, we now must also struggle with how to carve out time in an already busy schedule to make that perfect roast for the company pot luck, or to think of the perfect gift for Aunt Tam, without breaking the budget!
The solution to keeping your sanity and relieving some of that holiday stress? Take it easy on yourself, but don’t give in. What I mean by this, is that the balance between our personal, professional, and social lives is always dynamic and in flux. This season is less about “me” time, and more about us, them, and their time. Roll with it, knowing that once you’ve slept off the hangover, you will get up, shake it off, and get back to work (to the sound of Jingle Bells):
Let go of the guilt: With Thanksgiving, I’ve struggled with my every day professional writing, and have not met those daily writing goals for a few days. However, hiccups in your work should not be wrought by guilt. Although we should not live our lives by our excuses, we may have different priorities, right now. That’s really okay.
Reprioritize: Work may temporarily take its place on the back burner while you visit Uncle Hieu, who lives eight hours away, and looks forward to seeing you once a year. A friend of mine frequently reminds me, “You’re not going to remember what month you finished your dissertation proposal, but you WILL remember the day you spent in the snow fortress hucking snowalls at your kids and their neighbors.” Balance means the things in your social life are just as important as the things in your professional and personal lives. So, instead of your goal being 500 words today, maybe your goal will be, “Have a meaningful and enjoyable conversation with grandpa without mentioning politics.” (Which, in some cases, can be even more challenging than getting your thesis chapter written!)
Strategize: My advisor once told me that we should “touch” our work each and every day, so that we stay connected with it (and it’s easier to start back up again). Perhaps today, you won’t move mountains like you normally would. Instead, settle for little, doable goals each day. For example, during Thanksgiving weekend, in between the anime marathons, I kept a journal nearby, and post-it notes. I would write one tiny goal (e.g., read 2 paragraphs from article X) on a post-it, and stick it on my desk. When I finished that, I’d cross it out, then add a new post-it with a different tiny goal. However, I also have a large overarching goal to shoot toward (e.g., my big goal is that by Tuesday, I will have my theory chapter draft turned into my advisor). More than ever, choose reasonable over ambitious goals so that you can accomplish them while keeping the guilt monsters at bay.
Take care of yourself: Unplug from overstimulation. Give yourself moments to reenergize and ground yourself. Breathe, meditate, do yoga, take a bubble bath, take a walk… Remember that self-care is important! Create moments of calmness amid the changing chaos.
Be fully present: Fully enjoy the moments you spend with other people. If you can, disconnect yourself from work and leave it at your desk. Believe me, it will be there waiting for you when you get back! Don’t let it spoil the time you have with your loved ones. Make every moment with them count!
Choose kindness, and remember to smile, even when you may not feel like it: Little things can brighten your mood, and the mood of others. If you can make someone’s life just a little more joyful or easier today, then do it – even if it just means a smile or a kind hello (even if they don’t return it). Despite being frazzled from holiday shopping, smile anyways. You may be surprised at how that can instantly lift your mood.
Think forward: You may be busy roasting chestnuts right now, but 2017 is coming. 2016 is almost over, so use this time to cut your ties to the year, let go of any regrets or misgivings, and prepare yourself for another opportunity. Maybe you didn’t make some of those big goals this year. That’s okay. During oh, the time between Dec. 26th and Dec. 31st, you can make a battle plan for the next year.
Lastly, enjoy the holiday and the wonderful cheer it brings. It only comes once a year, after all!