Hey out there League!
Black Friday/Cyber Monday is upon us! Like many, I get excited about aspects of the approaching holidays. I love the decorations, lights, and music. People are delighted at the magic of the season (at least until we get closer to Day Zero) and it’s fun to share that joy. We usually have a wonderful blanket of snow with solid ice on the lakes so it’s prime time to explore the wilderness winter wonderland. I even enjoy some of the shopping, especially checking out small, local shops.
But I also feel the pressure and stress of the holidays weeks before they even get started. We have blended families, so there are a lot of people to spend time with and shop for. There are several meals to plan. In our family, we also have two birthdays just before Christmas. The to-do list is long to begin with, but the list grows exponentially before anything starts getting crossed off. There’s decorating to do, baked goods to make, meals to plan, holiday travel to accommodate, gifts to buy and wrap – and all of it has to be talked about days-to-weeks before it even happens. To me, it feels like the holidays last two full months! And by the time they wind down in January, I am burned out and exhausted. To quote Frank Costanza, “Serenity now!”
A couple of weeks ago, I went on a weekend road trip alone to visit my son at college. It’s about a six hour drive through rural Minnesota, so I can turn up the tunes and enjoy a relaxing drive. I spent two nights in a cozy cabin-like hotel by myself, and it was the first time I was alone without the demands of daily life in many months. I highly recommend it and here’s why.
My husband and I both work from home (WFH) permanently. It’s been wonderful in many ways, and we’re grateful that we’re able to do that. But it also means we are always together. Instead of having a clear line between work and home, that line is blurred. We are busy discussing dinner plans while we are working, and now, holiday plans have bled into that as well. WFH has been great, but it’s also been an adjustment and has meant sacrifices I hadn’t really thought about. For me, that has mostly meant my time alone.
For me to really enjoy my time with people, I need a lot of alone time. I’m very introverted and introspective, and my social battery is pretty low. Quiet time alone is what recharges my battery. Both of us working from home meant I no longer had my mornings to myself. My time to recharge so that I could be the best version of myself had disappeared. We both have dedicated work spaces, so for us it’s not a space issue but rather that home life, and work life, fuse together in a way that is really hard to separate.
It seems like WFH has shifted home from a place of rest (even if there are always things to tend to) to a place with a consistent demand for productivity. Home used to be where I was to recover from the rest of life, and now it’s part of that same cycle. This change of events left me frustrated because I no longer felt like myself without real alone time.
Enter the weekend roadtrip retreat! The first thing I do when I am out of town is stop at the grocery store. I always get some yogurt, pre-cooked boiled eggs, fruit, and creamer for my coffee. That keeps me from hitting up the hotel vending machines. On Friday night I enjoyed a lovely dinner with my son and then had the evening to myself. I enjoyed the jacuzzi tub and went to bed early. The next morning I sat down to do my morning writing and realized I felt more myself than I had in ages. I still had plans, but the to-do list was much shorter and I could do everything the way I wanted, when I wanted. I enjoyed a mall Ruck session, but when I was tired of dealing with the crowds, I left. Often I am shopping with other people and have to keep going until everyone is done so I end up cranky. For every couple of hours that I was busy, I had a couple of hours of down time, and that turned out to be a great balance. I spent time with my son and enjoyed some shopping, but I took time to recharge before jumping into the next thing. That allowed me to better enjoy the things I did.
By the time I went home on Sunday, I felt a sense of renewal. I learned that I need to be asking myself more often whether I feel like myself. And when the answer is no, I need to take the time to figure out what it is that I need.
I can’t go away every weekend, but I realized that I can plan a weekend retreat during the times of year that are challenging, such as before or after the holidays. I decided I need to do this at least quarterly throughout the year. It's necessary time to exist as myself rather than always having one foot on the never-ending, constantly regenerating, to-do list.
A blog I read once called spending time in this way “self-gathering” which made sense to me. I have kids who are spreading their wings in the world, I want to prioritize my marriage and our home. I want to thrive in my work. I want to enjoy time with friends and family. As a result, I often feel like tendrils of me have been pulled in a million different directions at all times. The time I spent on a mini-retreat was like retracting all of those tendrils of myself that were scattered all around. It was the first time I truly felt whole in many months.
I highly recommend taking yourself on a little retreat. Maybe it’s for a day, or a weekend, or longer. Perhaps a family member is going on a trip and you can house sit for them. You could even take yourself on a date and enjoy a dinner and a movie on your own. Or maybe you spend a weekend in the wild hunting, fishing, or camping.
When you stop feeling like yourself, it’s time to bring all your pieces back together so you can remember. It helps with stress and anxiety. It allow you to focus on your needs rather than everyone else’s, and it’s a time to revisit what your priorities are without so much pressure from everyday life. I made a list of the things that I do that help me to feel “self-gathered” on a daily basis. The challenging part is that they take a decent amount of time to manage, but it’s what makes me a better partner, friend, parent, and employee. I need time daily to retract those tendrils, and then I occasionally need longer stretches where I can be reminded of what it feels like to be whole again.
Some of the items on my list:
*Time alone at home in a space that feels like only mine, to read, write, or do puzzles.
*Undisturbed workouts. Do Not Disturb/Focus mode will be activated!
*A set work schedule. This allows me to have a clear line between work and home time.
*Time in nature
*Time to work on my writing projects
We’re all renewed by different things. We all need a balance of time with others and time alone. Whatever that balance looks like to you, make sure you nurture it once in a while. Remember that “balance” never looks like staying in the middle all the time. It means we are always shifting from one end to the other, and when we go too far one direction, we need to move to the other side to even things out. As the holiday insanity gets underway, don’t forget to look after yourself. Take the time you need to retreat, in whatever ways matter to you, so that you don’t forget what it means to be whole and to breathe.
So many of us live daily lives that are heavily focused on the grind, which keeps our bodies and minds stuck in fight-or-flight mode because we never have a chance to slow down and remember who we are. It is vital to our health that we do so. The times we need it most tend to be the times we feel least able to do it. Prioritize yourself once in a while. No one will care if you bring store-bought cookies to the party instead of homemade because you opted to spend the morning taking care of yourself instead of giving into demands and expectations.
Stay sane, happy, and wild out there!