As we approach Christmas and other holidays, we wanted to take a moment to address the stress factor inherent this time of year. Let's be honest, even those of us that love the Winter Holidays can admit that stress is a factor in our lives this time of year. Luckily awareness around natural patterns of the season itself will help us make decisions that keep stress levels low.
These Holidays take place leading up to, on, and the other side of Winter Solstice. What does this mean? Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year. Most all of Nature has entered into a relatively inactive phase. This matches not just the weather outside (which is rainy and cold as I write this), but the solar cycle itself. In Chinese medicine, we can see life and health as a balancing of yin and yang energies. Yin represents the condensing, dark and passive forces of nature, whereas yang represents the expansive, bright and active forces. Yin would be night, yang, day. Yin would be winter, yang would be summer. That one must follow the other was observation of this very basic law being played out in every aspect of life. This is the cycle that rejuvenates all things. Spring's new growth is fed from the decay of last Autumn.
If any of us want to try and challenge this basic law, try going a few days without sleep. Without the rest we get at night, the effectiveness of our days very quickly disintegrates. The activities of our days are served absolutely by the rest we get at night. The same holds true of the cycle of a year. The more rest and rejuvenation we get by taking advantage of the "nighttime of the year" (winter), the more energy we have as the next year begins.
Instead of taking advantage of this dark, yin time, most of us are running around like the proverbial headless chicken. We stay up late, eat rich foods, eat LOTS of sugar, drink more alcohol than usual, spend time screaming all over town to buy gifts (often causing financial concerns), and generally wear ourselves out.
Before you start screaming party-pooper, let me say that none of these things is inherently bad! Its just that they take a toll on the body. AND that the body would rather not be paying these kinds of tolls at this time of year. The body would rather be resting and restoring.
So what I'm saying is this: The Holiday season might be stressful at anytime of the year, but because it takes place at the most yin time of year, the stress on the human being is exacerbated. We must whip our tired bodies and souls into performing when they have earned themselves a good rest.
So what can we do armed with this awareness? Though this wisdom probably inherently makes sense to many of you reading this, we live in a society that does not value rest and rejuvenation. On top of that, many of us have all sorts of traditions requiring our observance. My answer to the above question is this: Make choices.
Knowing what we now know, make choices to honor our own health. We cant change the season, but we can take advantage of opportunities to rest when the opportunity presents itself. We can set boundaries for ourselves on just how many parties we'll attend, how much we'll allow ourselves to eat and drink, how much money or time we'll spend on gifts. We can prioritize getting a certain amount of sleep each night (to the extent that is under our control). We can moderate travel plans to avoid undue stress. Though there are bound to be forces we will not be able to change, if we begin looking, we often find we have much more choice than we think.
This often comes as a relief to patients that are dealing with health concerns. "You mean, I don't have to be crazy this time of year?" NO! These are your choices. Given the permission to cut things out and take it easy, people often have the courage to let go of traditions or habits that haven't made them happy for years. That usually makes them happy. And shouldn't happiness be an essential element of the Holidays?