The Best Holiday Gift? Nothing


This blog post is inspired by my dear mother. She and my father are in the midst of selling their home. They are trying to downsize, and it has had her in a tizzy. My mother is a high-energy individual who is as quick as the wind. This 76-year-old woman rarely sits still and always has some sort of project to do during the day, such as painting her bathroom, cleaning the baseboards or cooking all kinds of Polish food.

Her new love is a Fitbit, which she received for her birthday 6 months ago. She has since achieved the Serengeti and Italian goal: she has walked enough steps that are equivalent to the length of Italy and the Serengeti (more than 700 miles) in under six months. This is how my mother has been for as long as I can remember, which is why the past two months have been disturbing for me.

This house thing has really pushed her over the edge, as Realtors can show up with very little notice, not to mention excess cleaning and packing, which puts her normally fast system into overdrive. This has resulted in her not sleeping at night, experiencing joint pain, and complaining of always being tired because there is always something that has to be done. She goes to bed exhausted but her brain is unable to shut down.

The holidays, something she used to enjoy, has now become a burden and inconvenience, which saddens me. Pointing out the obvious fact to her that she is overdoing it and her body needs to slow down falls upon her deaf ears. She feels obligated to maintain this ridiculous pace to get through the holidays and hopefully sell her home.

Get Personal

Martina Sheehan and Susan Pearse speak of this epidemic in their book, Wired for Life: Retrain Your Brain and Thrive. They explain how western society has us constantly going, moving, competing and staying busy. Many of us were brought up where hard work has higher pay-offs than taking time to relax and play. Think about it. The average person is always doing something. (Obviously, if we want a paycheck, this is essential, but I’m talking about other instances.) At lunch, many of us are on our phone instead of giving others our undivided attention. When we wait in line, instead of observing our surroundings, we have a need to be entertained and the cell phones appear once more. This is something that keeps the mind busy but unproductive, the authors surmise.

Unplug to Recharge

Researchers show when we try to multitask, our IQ drops to that of an 8-year old due to our constant distraction. We are always ‘plugged in’ and as Kenny Chesney sings, ‘we can’t turn it off.’ This type of lifestyle ignites our nervous system which makes it harder to shut down at night, resulting in less REM sleep, the kind our bodies need to regenerate. It also taxes our adrenal glands starting a whole series of stress responses detrimental to our bodies. MRI’s of the brain show certain areas of the brain lighting up with busywork, as we are on autopilot.  However, the same brains light up in completely different areas, deeper areas, when we are doing nothing at all. Watching TV, listening to the radio, and thinking of our’ to-do’ lists still trains the brain of busywork, but sitting in the sun or in nature quiets this autopilot and we become aware. This awareness is the part of us that gives us those ‘ah-ha’ moments as we connect to the inner parts of us that get drowned out in everyday life. (Remember, 95% of our behavior is automatic and subconscious.)

Give Yourself a Special Gift

This Christmas season take a break. Turn off the cell phone and do nothing. Just for a little bit. Maybe stare at the Christmas tree, actually observe the pine needles and smell the scent. (Use pine-scented plug-ins in case of artificial trees and just pretend.) Talk more. Hug harder. Smile wider. Sleep in. Give your body the best gift that it absolutely needs this year: a chance to rest and restore. Hopefully, you and my mom will survive the holidays and be ready to start the New Year relaxed and renewed. 

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”- Ghandi

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