From Surviving to Thriving

From now until the end of the year, time seems to speed up for me.  There are fewer hours of daylight and it gets dark earlier and earlier as the trick or treaters photo: trick or treaters trickortreaters.jpgholidays approach.  I am very affected by the lack of sunlight and if you, too, experience the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder then you know what I’m going through every fall and winter in Ohio. I know, logically, that there is exactly the same number of hours in every day regardless of the amount of daylight.  Apparently there is a part of my brain that does not respond to logic, though, because after dark my body thinks it is night and therefore time to sleep.  Once the sunlight is gone, I have a very hard time leaving the house even if it’s only early evening.  I might make mental plans during the light of day, but once it looks like night it might as well be 3:00 in the morning as far as my body is concerned.  I feel sluggish and move in slow motion.  So while my schedule fills up with all the festivities of the season, I feel less capable of actually meeting any commitments.  At the same time, the calendar dates keep pushing me forward like I’m on a moving sidewalk, and ready or not I’m propelled ahead.   Have you ever felt this way?  It can rob you of the joy of celebrations anthanksgiving crowd photo: Thanksgiving 2010 DSC01947.jpgd leave you feeling overwhelmed.  If you can’t imagine how you will fit everything in and get everything done then you may feel more relief after an activity is over than genuine enjoyment during the activity.  I’d like to anticipate activities in a pleasant way and not let my mindset be one of just surviving the busy schedule.  I want to feel joy, not just obligation.  I want to be fully in the moment, not counting down the hours until I can mark another task off my checklist.  So how can we move past the legitimate demands of a busy schedule during the holidays and set the tone for creating good memories with our families?  I’ve found it helpful to recognize patterns in my family members and myself so that I can take these into account before committing to activities.  I know that one of my children is an introvert.  He likes people, but a little goes a long way for him and if he surrounded by people for hours on end it drains him and he needs some time alone to recharge.  Two of my children are definite extroverts who never tire of the party and are energized by being around other people.  Given these differences, I try to make allowances such as allowing my son to sit and quietly read a book during part of the event.  He’s not being disruptive and he’s less likely to feel agitated and over-reactchristmas gathering photo: Christmas Gathering Bryan010.jpg when he can have mini-breaks as needed.  One of my children needs more sleep than the others.  Knowing this, I try not to schedule her for events that will last too late into the evening or that occur on consecutive days.  I can’t always avoid having activities that occur at less than ideal times for my daughter, but I can limit the amount of time spent away from home even if it means we leave a little earlier than everyone else.  I try to be preemptive and prepare healthy, portable snacks so that even when we are on the go my children won’t become so hungry that they either become cranky or devour too many cookies and other sugary treats.  I actually keep snack-sized Ziploc bags full of healthy snacks in the console of my van, in case I forget to grab them before we head out the door.  Instead of trying to do everything myself, I have the children work alongside me.  They can fill snack bags with pretzels or carrot sticks.  They can help with wrapping gifts and putting stamps on envelopes.  If I didn’t have the children working with me I wouldn’t have nearly as much time with them and they would doubtless pick uptimes square new years eve photo: times square new years eve NewYears.jpg on my increasing level of stress.  Whether it’s baking or gathering needed supplies, I want my children to recognize that they make important contributions to the family. Planning ahead for my family also means taking into consideration the possibility of illness and how that could impact our ability to participate in all of the seasonal happenings.  I’d much rather add things in if we are able than fill up our calendar only to have disappointed children when they can’t participate in every possible activity because they are sick with a virus.  So I schedule the activities that are “musts” for my family, but try to leave our options more flexibly open for the possible addition of other events.  As for me and my struggles to do anything once it’s dark outside, I have a couple of strategies that I implement.   Whenever possible I try to have someone, preferably another adult, accompany me when I am going out at night.  Knowing that someone else is counting on me to do something with them helps me to force myself to take action despite my body’s reluctance to move.  Having the company of another adult distracts me from my feelings of utter lethargy so I can actually accomplish tasks.  I also know my tendencies well enough to recognize that it’s far better for me if I can schedule as much as possible during daytime hours.  I’m better rested and more alert when it’s light outside, so that’s the time when I can be most productive and enjoy what’s going on around me.  If the holiday season kicks you into survival mode, maybe it’s time to think about how you could move beyond just surviving to thriving.  Being able to say an enthusiastic “yes” to your family’s most valued traditions will take some forethought.  By considering your individual differences and the needs of your family members, you can strategically plan to fully enjoy the memory-making moments.

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