What is it about this time of year?
The days are incredibly short, the weather doesn’t make it easy to venture outside, and thoughts turn to holiday trips and family gatherings.
This year, I am having more of a visceral reaction to the season than I remember having. Perhaps because I’m better tapped into my body and mind—perhaps I’ve always felt this way in December but just have tried to push through, to keep to my usual schedule and goals.
This year, I have a particular sense that all I want to do is eat and sleep. I joke that I’m turning into a bear because it seems that I’m going into hibernation.
But why not?
Our bodies—along with nearly every other living thing on this planet, from cyanobacteria to jellyfish to dolphins—have a built-in circadian clock. One that has been trained over millions of years to cycle with the sun. Our hormones flux with the time of day, driving our most basic instincts and moods. This clock doesn’t just tell the time for us, it is the source of time for us. It doesn’t ring at dinnertime, it makes us hungry at dinnertime. Evidence of its control over our body’s time is evident in jet lag: it desperately tries to keep our hormones on a cycle even when the external cues that drive it (namely, sunlight) have changed.
We used to sync our lifestyles with this clock, as well. Our modern lives, though, insist on being in charge. Our work hours don’t change just because the days are shorter. Our commitments don’t change, our daily routine insists that we still wake early and get the kids off to school and ourselves to work and take care of errands and chores and hobbies in our leisure hours.
And then we wonder why we view holidays as a source of stress rather than a source of fulfillment from being around loved ones. We wonder why we’re run haggard by the end of the year.
What if we allowed ourselves to hibernate? Not like a bear, disappearing from life for three months. But in small ways that give us the freedom that comes from relinquishing control over what our bodies are adapted to do. By embracing the way my body and mind feel with the short days and colder weather, I can nourish them in the ways that they need, instead of fighting them at every turn.
I can recognize the craving for comfort foods and give myself soups and warm meals rather than berate myself for eating nothing but pasta and cookies. I can recognize the craving for extra sleep and trade off an hour of writing for an extra hour in bed, knowing that next year I’ll be rested and ready to start up on a few projects and classes again, rather than berate myself over hitting snooze six times. I can recognize the craving for nesting and appreciate the extra snuggle time on the couch, rather than berate myself for “wasting time” in the evenings. I can recognize my lower energy levels and move my body in ways that are life-giving and that don’t wear me down, rather than berate myself for not wanting to run in the cold rain.
I can recognize that the rhythm of my life needs to change in order to feel balance at this time of year, and look for ways to adapt to the new rhythm, rather than forcing myself to maintain a schedule that used to work and then wonder what’s wrong with me if I don’t feel good.
Holidays are about who and what are the most important to us. Reflection and looking forward. Let’s not lose ourselves in the process. Let’s slow down enough to tap into the deepest parts of ourselves and honor those parts first and foremost.