The holidays are coming. They are supposed to be a time of pleasure and relaxation, enjoying family, friends and food away from the daily grind. However, keeping up the traditions and organizing the gatherings that make the holidays special can be so demanding as to keep us up at night. If you have trouble finding peace during the holidays you are not alone.
Insomnia could be called the 21st century disease. Falling asleep, staying asleep and getting enough sleep becomes ever more difficult especially as one gets older — and everyone in the population is getting older. Couple this with the increasing number of studies that show that lack of sufficient sleep is a major contributor to ill health and disease. In addition to wondering how we are going to prepare for the holidays in time, we now stay awake worrying about not getting our sleep!
Many causes besides the usual annual excitement are mentioned for our inability to doze peacefully at night. One suggested cause is not getting enough exercise or perhaps getting too much vigorous exercise too late in the day. Drinking too much coffee, alcohol or even water (think bathroom visits) might keep us up at night. And very often blamed is screen time. Apparently, the specific kind of light our various electronics emit convinces some primitive part of our brain that it is still daytime and one should be active and not at rest.
It may not be the blue light from our screens that keeps us awake and restless. It may be the content of what our devices deliver. We see hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Terrorists and terrorism always make the headlines. A day does not pass without political leaders saying and/or doing something really dumb. We are endlessly reminded about murders, kidnapping and other crimes. Even commercials contribute to our unease by subtly implying that we are not good enough unless we buy whatever they are selling and all our holiday celebrations look like they were put on by a rock star.
Our uncertain, crazy world and all the demands we face can lead to more than insomnia. Psychologist Larry Green notes that it can lead to panic attacks and depression. As a result, we face a diminishing sense of self and a decreased ability to cope with life in general. The Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year celebrations become even harder in these situations. However, he offers two helpful ideas for finding peace that will enable us to deal with all that faces us. One involves how we interact with others and the other concerns how we treat ourselves.
The first prescription that Green offers to move from pandemonium to finding peace is civility. Manners help. Talking politely rather than cussing in every sentence really makes a difference, as does avoiding name-calling and bullying. Almost all faith traditions have some version of the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We all want to be treated politely, considerately and with respect. Especially at the holiday season, we should start treating others that way. And, through our schools, the ballot box and other means, encourage this kind of behavior in our children, our leaders and the general population throughout the year.
A medieval rabbi named Hillel suggested an easy way to apply the golden rule. He said ‘what is hateful to you, do not do to others.’ There is endless debate and always will be about what is good and how to do it. However, most of us are very clear about what we do not like. Being yelled at and being ignored are two things that come to mind. Making sure that we do not do to others what we do not want done to us will go a long way to bringing more civility and civilization into our world and our lives.
Treating ourselves better is very simple. All we have to do is remember that we are human beings. Anxiety often arises when we stop thinking of ourselves as human beings and think of ourselves as human doings. We have to be doing something and the thought of doing steals our peace of mind. Ironically, dwelling on doing often makes us less able to get anything done. Instead, we worry about what we have or have not done and what we should be doing.
Green feels that taking time out to stop doing and just be goes far in eliminating depression and enabling us to cope. He suggests the old and often ignored idea of taking a day off a week to rest. The idea that both we and the world can survive and even thrive if we step back for 24 hours seems almost blasphemous in our 24/7 world, but it can be done. You can even disconnect for that length of time. All the people you do not reply to right away have dozens of other messages to keep them occupied until you get back to them. You will be rested and refreshed once you go back to the busyness of daily life. You can also find strength in the knowledge that, looking forward or looking back, your day to recharge is never more than three days away.
Another increasingly popular way to be a human being instead of a human doing is meditating. A few minutes or up to an hour of daily quiet time goes far in calming our minds. It enables us to deal with all the noise, uncertainties and changes that are out there. It can even help us sleep better at night and enjoy the pleasures and treasures our holidays are meant to provide.
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