Have you recently caught yourself thinking about the upcoming vacation with a mixture of anticipation and dread? Certainly, the prospect of spending time with loved ones, enjoying good food and exchanging gifts is appealing. But for most of us, traveling, shopping, decorating, and cooking while juggling childcare, and our regular jobs and obligations can feel overwhelming. We tell ourselves that we will rest after the celebrations are over, but in reality, we may end up exhausted and irritable before the holidays even arrive.
Of course, pushing to get things done in a short time is not a new problem. Even in pre-industrial societies, there were seasons when people worked long hours planting or harvesting crops, hunting for food, or preparing food to store for winter. But in those pre-electric days, there were also times when people had a lot of downtime, and maybe even got bored of the lack of activity. Unfortunately, in the 21st century, we have maintained the attitude of “making hay while the sun shines,” but we have done away with compensatory rest periods since our modern sun never sets.
Thanks to electricity, we can continue to work well after dark and use alarms to wake us up, even if we haven’t slept enough. We also have many more options for how to spend our time than people had in the past. From books to TV, movies and live shows, there are always more stories, channels and movies than we can fit into our schedules. Therefore, whenever we make a choice about what to do, we are also aware of what we are missing. This fear of missing out can be so powerful that some people become paralyzed and do nothing while others push themselves to exhaustion.
It doesn’t help that the system we rely on to manage our choices and experiences, the brain, has largely evolved according to the old rules. A structure called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, deep in the brain, is sensitive to light/dark signals from our eyes and regulates our circadian rhythm. Everything from our alertness or hunger, our reaction times, our body temperature and our hormones depend on this circadian clock. But our lifestyles often upset our brain’s timer, as we ignore our brain’s need for sleep and end up functioning less efficiently while experiencing emotional lability and fatigue.
Our perception of time is not only a function of our circadian cycles. A number of structures in the brain contribute to how we perceive and process time in the context of our current thoughts and attitudes, and the situations we encounter. When we are bored or uncomfortable, time passes very slowly. When we try to do several things at once, it can feel like flying. When we do something we really love, we lose track of time. Cultural factors also influence the perception of time. A psychologist named Robert Levine has conducted time studies in several cultures and countries, and found variations in the speed at which people speak, walk, expect to wait for others, and adhere to time. clock or mechanical time tracking instead of focusing on nature. time markers such as sunrise and sunset.
So how are modern Americans, living in a world flooded with light, sensory information, entertainment options, expectations, clocks and deadlines, expected to meet their many obligations, while managing their physical and mental health? The key isn’t buying a new planner, working to cram more into your day, or skipping sleep to “catch up.” Instead, we need to work on lowering our expectations of what we can and should do. The phenomenon that some call “silent shutdown” may be an effort to do just that. People in many job fields have decided to stop working overtime to achieve unrealistic success goals. In the wake of pandemic-induced quarantines, most of us have felt a sense of disorientation when entertainment options we took for granted such as movies, restaurants, sporting events and theaters suddenly shut down. . However, many of us also appreciated the sudden calm and chose not to return to the frenetic pace we maintained before the pandemic.
But when it comes to the holidays, saying we’re going to slow down and doing it are two different things. Commercial pressures on us to follow the latest trends, the desire to provide our children with magical moments, or to create or recreate our own meaningful experiences can lead to feelings of exhaustion, disappointment, resentment and anger, none of which contribute to the happy end of the year celebrations. This may be the year to speak honestly with the people around you. Do your colleagues really want an office party or is it an obligation? Can you band together with others at your workplace to change the expectation that you have to answer emails after hours or take shifts when someone else calls in sick ?
What holiday traditions do your family members really enjoy and what would they give up? Can you break down the list of things that need to be done to get everyone contributing? What if you decide to rest and take things slower rather than unpacking every decoration in the attic? Do you have to see everyone you love at Christmas, or could you spread the visits over a longer period so you can enjoy each one? Since you can’t add more time to a day, the goal is to stop spending more time preparing for the holidays than enjoying them. When we make more deliberate choices about how we spend the time we have, we are less likely to lament the passage of that time.
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