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Combining prosperous work lives and balanced personal lives
December 2002

My goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and prosperous life.

Afraid of the Dark

If you live in the world's northern hemisphere, you are seeing the days moving towards their shortest on Dec 21, the Winter Solstice, the day in which the axis of the world is tilted so far away from the sun that the day will actually be a night, a 24 hour long night. It is no wonder that various religions and cultures have some sort of holiday or feast organized around themes of light. The celebrations often have some element of combating the darkness by bringing in the light. This may be a good time of the year to reflect on the meaning of light and dark in your life.

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Darkness: the Physical Side
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What is sometimes called the Holiday Blues is probably more a case of the Winter Blues. If you have an urge to crawl into bed and hibernate until the crocuses bloom or at least to go home right after work and hunker down, blame your fear of the dark on your cave ancestors. Mammals including humans can be divided into two groups, those that see well during the day and those that see better at night. Our ancestors had good reason to stay in their caves from dusk to dawn: human eyes have never adapted to see well in the dark and we have plenty of predators who have great night vision.

Ever since Edison invented the light bulb, we think we can stay up all night reading, working, and watching TV and still function the next day. We're just not made that way. We are still constructed to follow the rhythms of light and dark. Shift workers, even those on night shift for years, have a hard time adapting to being their brightest at night. If we were as sensible as our cave ancestors, we would spend more time sleeping as the light decreases. Even our agricultural ancestors had slower schedules in the winter. They sharpened their plows and picked out seeds from the catalogues during the shorter days. Candles were expensive and labor- intensive to make so once the sun went down the people had enough sense to go to bed. It is hard to imagine this way of life today. As one school child said when learning that Abraham Lincoln studied by the firelight while the rest of the family slept, "Why didn't he just turn the lights on?"

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Winter Blues
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If you are one of those people who flags in energy, needs more sleep, or even gets depressed at this time of year, you may be light sensitive or prone to winter depression. If you suffer from the winter blues, here are some tips:

  • Try going to bed earlier than in the summer.
  • If you have to extend your day, get up earlier.
  • Spend some time out in the sunlight especially during the morning.
  • If your lifestyle choices require you to leave home in the dark, return in the dark, and spend the whole day in an office without a window, get outside at lunchtime.
  • Keep up your exercise routine even if you feel sluggish. It really helps.
  • Don't increase your sweets or alcohol intake even though you might crave them more at this time of the year. While the sugar hit feels good in the short term it will make you more sluggish later. The average American gains 8-10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.
  • If you can't do any of the above or still feel sluggish after trying these, talk to your doctor about ordering a special light box with full spectrum light. No, the light bulbs in the plant section at Home Depot won't work. Your health insurance may pay for the expensive but useful light boxes because they are treating a diagnosable disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder. Some patients find the seasonal addition of an antidepressant helpful. A one hour walk in the sunshine is more effective than 2 hours in front of the light box.
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Holiday Blues - just in case
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Some people do have issues with the winter holidays. Here are common complaints and some suggestions:

  • Too much emphasis on gift giving and materialism. Solution: set limits on your spending and put the emphasis where on the kind of celebration that matters to you.
  • Too many social activities: Solution: same as above. Decide how each social activity fits into your sense of meaning and purpose. Are you going to events that really matter to you or just because you are invited? If your business depends on entertaining, does it have to be done at this time of the year or could you do your clients a favor and have a festive event after the holidays are over?
  • Too high expectations: Solution: Life is not always a Hallmark card. Some years are more difficult than fun especially during times of losses, poor health, relationship estrangements, or unemployment. One of my colleagues who lost his father a few months ago said, "I'll be glad to say goodbye to this year."
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Darkness: the Emotional Side
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Sometimes it is not the darkness outside but the darkness inside that can cause the blues in this season. The fear of the dark extends to our souls as well as our bodies, as we have an innate instinct to flee from or avoid anything that isn't pleasant including:

  • Painful loses
  • Conflict with others
  • Work that feels too demanding
  • Parts of ourselves that we don't like
  • Parts of our loved ones that we don't like
Here are some ways to bring some light to those kinds of darkness.
  • Deal with losses by facing your grieving instead of ignoring it. Giving in to the urge to cry and reminisce will help you move through the grieving.
  • Learning to master conflict so you don't fear it so much. Dealing with conflict is a skill you can learn from a book, workshop, coach or therapist.
  • Do easier work or find a way to break hard things into easier, smaller steps. Sometimes we are too close to the situation to figure out how to do this so get help and support to feel more competent and less overwhelmed.
  • Accept yourself as less than perfect. Perfectionism is not philosophically possible for humans to attain. Instead, improve what you can and love the rest.
  • Accept those around you. Ask for change in those relationships that are receptive to request. Match your energy and time in the relationship to that of the other person. If you are doing all the work of the relationship, limit your investment to the return you receive. If you have relationships in your life that are destructive, it is appropriate to avoid them.
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Bring Light into the World
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The ancients believed that their actions around the time of the winter solstice would coax the sun back so they celebrated the possibilities of what would happen with increased light. Of course we don't have control over the alignment of the planets but we do have control over bringing some light into our corner of the world but making it a bit brighter. If you have had extra darkness this year, try a little harder to brighten the world around you. Studies on stress management show altruism to be one of the healthiest stress fighting strategies.

  • Give to your favorite charity. If you don't have a favorite charity, find one.
  • Volunteer to help someone else - it will take your mind off your own troubles.
  • Drive a little slower; honk less. That might mean leaving a little earlier and allowing more "slop time" to get to where you are going.
  • Wait patiently in line when at the store or the doctor's office.
  • Perhaps your darker side holds the key to some personal growth you need to be working on. What might it be?
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Enjoy the Darkness
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My friends in Minnesota save up fabric all year for winter quilting projects. They tell me there are five seasons in Minnesota: spring, summer, fall, winter, and winter. They actually look forward to the time inside to complete all those projects. Can you take advantage of bad weather to complete projects or organize closets? What about all those recipes you have clipped and the family photos that need organizing?

So the dark and the cold could be good thing with the right attitude. My parents were married two weeks after Pearl Harbor so that my mother could travel with my dad when he shipped out for training before going oversees. My dad said of their wedding anniversary, "December 21st is a good time for a wedding anniversary. It's the longest night of the year."

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Conclusion
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Take some time in this busy season to take care of yourself. Find ways to bring some light into the world by random acts of kindness. If you can't find ways to coax the light, perhaps you can find ways to use the darkness as a gift.

Greetings of the season,
Susan Robison

Resources:
For more on Seasonal Affective Disorder: www.nmha.org/infoctr/factsheet/.27.cfm

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BossWoman Coaching
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I love coaching women who want improvment in:

  • work-life balance,
  • career transitions,
  • building your business or practice,
  • time management,
  • increasing productivity.
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Up and coming workshops
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Many of you have met me at presentations. I am accepting invitations for this coming year to speak to women's groups on leadership strategies for women, relationships, work-life balance, and change. For more information about how to have me speak to your group contact me.

Title: Will you be my Valentine?
When: February 14, 2003
Where: TBA
What: A workshop for couples wanting to keep the romance alive.

Title: How to Sell When You Don't Want to Sell
When: March, 2003
Where: TBA
Sponsored By: Executive Women's Network

Title: Qualities of Leadership
When: April, 2003
Where: EWN Spring Conference
Sponsored By: Executive Women's Network


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BossWomen e-Newsletter is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Coaching should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, legal, or financial services.

Copyright 2002 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. However, you may not copy it to a web site without my permission.

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