Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Challenge of Sanity During the Holidays...

Drawing new paths on my Zen garden.

As both the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012 hurtle towards us, it's easy to feel like we have to match that pace and shift our lives into overdrive.  With the buzzing, nearly crackling, energy of stress and anxiety all around us, shielding ourselves from it and keeping our heads above water can be a major challenge.  Shop for presents, plan parties, mail out holiday cards, write blog posts, etc., etc.  

And try as I might, even though I was doing everything I could to stay healthy and relatively sane, I could feel myself starting to sink below.  Shorter fuse, inconsistent appetite, empty sleep, and less frequent smiles - classic symptoms of being spread too thin, all of which I was trying to ignore.  

So sitting down to my computer one night with a deadline looming, I was determined to write despite my exhaustion.  But instead, I just alternated between writing, and then automatically deleting everything I wrote, and staring at a blinking cursor.  Finally, I set that project aside and decided to start reading other people's blogs, hoping that maybe I would find some kind of spark to get me back on track.

And that's when I came across the "Sanity Challenge."

Coined by Cheryl Harris at Gluten Free Goodness, she challenged readers during the month of December to write about goals that each of us could set to personally make our holidays "happy, sane, and healthy."  And rather than making broad, sweeping statements (e.g., "I'll be less Grinch-like), she encouraged readers to be specific to not only make our goals more manageable, but also to make sure we can be held accountable for progress towards those goals.

It's a short, concise post, so I actually read through it a few times.  Not because I didn't understand it, but more because I knew I had come across it for a reason.  I had been trying so hard to not give in to the pressures of the holiday, giving my all to resisting stress and illness, and making a concerted effort at presenting a happy face to the world.  And taking all of that in, the 'spark' of reading that post began to illuminate why none of that was working.

I was trying too much.

Rather than relax and flow with life, I was focusing all my energy on controlling it.  I was literally trying to "make it work."  And while it may be obvious from an outside perspective all the things I was doing wrong, for me, standing in the thick of it, I truly could not see the forest for the trees.

But as I've learned before, and as I was learning again, less is more.  So while everything around me charges full steam ahead and rises to a fever pitch, I am reminded that I have the power to do the exact opposite.  I can slow down, I can take my time, and everything will still be alright.

Which brings me to getting 'back on track.'  Here is the goal I have set for myself to help make this holiday season more "happy, sane, and healthy."  

I will set aside at least 15 minutes every day to read something that is not on a computer screen.

Just one goal?  Yeah.  As someone who would take the whole world on his shoulders if he could, this is a pretty big deal.

A stack of new books that I hope to start reading soon.

I love to read.  It sparks the imagination and it helps me to evolve into a better writer.  But the amount I read isn't in question here.  It's the fact that just about everything I do read is either on my computer or my phone.  And while that's not necessarily a bad thing, the fact that I'm reading on a device that I use for so many other things is distracting, and frankly, sabotage for accomplishing the things that I need to do.  I'll start with reading, but then an impulse will grab hold of me to check my e-mail, and then I'm on Facebook, then Twitter, and on and on... major time-gobbler.  So every day, I will step away from the computer and the phone and I will make time to read something that is printed.

I fondly remember reading books for fun, in a time where my time wasn't so micromanaged down to the minute.  And while I don't expect this simple act to get me back to that point in my life, it can at least serve as a reminder that my time is mine, and what I choose to do with it is up to me.  

While there are countless things that I would like to do, setting the expectation that I should be able to do all those things, and do them perfectly, is not in my best interest.  And when it comes down to it, is it in anyone's best interest?  Who wants to be around grumpy Jonathan?  Not even I want to be around him. :)  

So that's my answer to the "Sanity Challenge."  Thank you to Cheryl Harris, for throwing down the gauntlet, and thank you to Iris Higgins, from The Daily Dietribe, for sharing her answer in a post that continues to resonate with me to this moment.  Want to read other Sanity Challenge posts?  Here are some links, both current and upcoming:

Do your best to take care of yourself, not only in the holiday season, but every day of life.  Because by taking care of ourselves, we can then be more available to take care of others.  And in this cycle of giving and receiving, we can aspire towards happiness, not only for ourselves, but for all of humankind.


  1. I absolutely love your closing, Jonathan, because there's something in it that's so true. When we're not able to pause and be present with ourselves, it's nearly impossible to give others the gift of being fully there, either.

    I look forward to hearing about your 15 minutes of bringing the joy of reading in to your life this month!

  2. I love this idea! I used to read books all the time, and now I'm like you...facebook and all the online media gets in the way too much! I should do this too!

  3. Thank you, Cheryl! I'm looking forward to it as well. And hopefully after this month it will continue as a practice into the new year. Balance and sanity are always welcome in my life. :)

  4. Thanks, Iris! I'm already borrowing your idea, so I won't mind if you borrow mine. Yay for more sanity (or is it less insanity)... ;)

  5. Beautiful post, Jonathan! When I do read "real" books, I feel so much more relaxed and at peace, which of course translates into so much more in my life. I hope to do December Sanity post this week. I'm already giving myself a break, by not making it a mandate and not having to have it done immediately. ;-)

    Thanks for your post! Happy Holidays and December Sanity to you!

  6. Thank you so much, Shirley! That's a wonderful point- a ripple can turn into a wave, and if that ripple originates from self-compassion, the benefits are beyond estimation.

    Looking forward to your post! (No rush) ;)

  7. The sanity challenge is such a good idea! I think I should challenge myself to sit for a bit each day and stop making and planning and prepping for a few minutes. Hope you have a great holiday season!

  8. That sounds like a great idea, Lisa! Taking time for you is a gift only you can give yourself.

  9. I always need to sit down and read more books and get off the internet. I'm on the internet WAY too much and really need to cut down on it. It's a great way to connect with people but I remember the days before the internet even existed and I got by just fine! We really take what we have these days for granted sometimes.

  10. Agreed, Rachel. While everything can be more immediate and convenient with advances in technology, it's certainly a double-edged sword.


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