By Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW
The holiday season is upon us. I haven’t even finished shopping or inviting guests over and I’m already fatigued. I have social engagements for five out of seven evenings this week. I’m also trying to bake a vat of coconut maple granola to give away.
Between going out for dinner with friends, dragging my kids to wholesome seasonal activities that they grudgingly tolerate, and generally attempting to trip the light fantastic, I will be sucking down a nontrivial amount of caffeine to counterbalance the exhaustion of social overstimulation. Technically I don’t have to socialize like a Hollywood coke fiend or bring the kids to hear a sixteenth century Viennese Pianoforte, see zoo lights and visit downtown for the gingerbread house display. I want to do all these things.
A friend once told me about a little known category called an “ambivert” which is a person with equal extroverted and introverted traits. That pretty much sums me up, as well as a lot of folks I know. On vacations, my favorite part is hanging out at the hotel room with my sweetie, a book and a cup of tea after sightseeing and before dinner. I wouldn’t want to spend the whole day cooped up inside, but the counterbalance of explore-retreat lends adventure a cozy perfection.
Here I am in middle age and I still haven’t figured out the whole-life pacing thing, but I am starting to understand my need for variety and balance. In my work as a therapist I’ve noticed that we course correct all the time. Work too much and you miss your kids. Work too little and you lose your sense of contribution. Exercise too much and you get obsessed and become rather boring company. Exercise too little and you become lethargic (and rather boring as well.)
Mental health is noticing when and where we are out of balance, and to GENTLY bringing ourselves back in alignment with our obligations, energy, and interests. Gently means not talking meanly to ourselves, while still being honest and affirming choice. In truth, have too many plans this week, but I still have choices: I can enjoy it or just deal with it or I can cancel/reschedule/leave early. When we assert choice (I want to do all these things) we are less likely to fall into resentment, irritability or self pity.
Now I have to go. The granola baking/gift wrapping/hair curling requirements of this evening’s festivities hum an urgent tune.