Welp…as I write this, it’s the night before the first Monday back after New Years, and like many of you, I’m having mixed feelings about it.
Mind you, I recognize my privileges as a fairly successful-to-date ghostwriter: I set my own hours, serve individual clients in a collaborative fashion rather than a hierarchical corporate command chain, and never have to put on pants or drive anywhere to get to work (though as we approach a year into the COVID-19 Pandemic, those benefits are no longer the exclusive domain of the freelance life).
Still, whatever December holidays you celebrate, it’s likely within that same 2–3 week span of time, and that’s usually headed up by a week of intense shopping, finishing up of deadlines, and last minute tasks that tend to amplify the sense of burnout (and relief) when the holiday itself finally starts.
During normal, non-locked down years (and depending on how sociable you are and if you have the time and money to do so) you likely spent the second half of December going from one mall to another, one party to another, eating and drinking and cooking and arguing and Boxing Day shopping and otherwise just a twisting, swirling mass of activity and stress punctuated by the physical discomforts of overindulgence.
Those 14 days of “vacation” tend to only see maybe 2–3 days of actual rest (that is, if you’re lucky enough to not have to work during the quote-unquote “break”).
Here’s the funny thing about time: what we call it changes nothing in the ultimate reality. The axial tilt of the planet, the decay rate of subatomic particles, the motion of the sun, moon, and stars across the ecliptic : we assigned structures to these things by various names for various reasons (e.g. “Monday”, “12:43pm”, Christmas Break, Chanukkah, etc..), but what we tend to do is mistake the names and measurements for the phenomena they describe, as well as any human activity that takes place within them.
Simply calling it “a holiday week” doesn’t mean that everyone gets to take a holiday. It doesn’t mean everyone comes out well-rested in the end. It’s just a name we give to a particular chunk of time that comes loaded with preconceptions.
That said, your supervisor doesn’t know that. If you’ve ever worked for any kind of boss, you know that when you walk back into your workplace on Monday morning, your management team expects you to be well-rested from the “break”.
And if you’re actually still tired or burned out, if you really could use a few more days or even a week off, well…that’s gonna be a tough sell to say the least.
This is all rhetorical stuff, I know, generalized and unsupported by citations and proof that, frankly, I’m too lazy to add to what is really just a way of me making use of my Medium account more than I usually do. Still, I’ll bet $10 and a box of donuts that most people reading this see a little too much of themselves in what I’ve described.
All right, here’s one third party source for you. Researchers recently found evidence that early humans in the Iberian peninsula may have hibernated during the winter. Where regular food sources were scarce during the colder, darker months (unlike the Inuit and Arctic peoples, who could live off of fish and seals year-round), hibernation may have been the way to go.
This connects, albeit weakly, with my recent sentiments to my friends and family that we’ve forgotten, in this 21st Century technological and capitalist North American society, that winter is for resting. We’re not supposed to be running on all four cylinders all year round, especially during this season.
It used to be that this was the time you sat inside, venturing out only to take care of the livestock, chop wood, use the latrine, hunt for game, fight off the occasional bandit or intruder, or clear away ice and snow. A few would travel for the purposes of trade or business, but for the most part, you stayed inside, reading books, living off of preserves and baked bread, and going to sleep when it got dark.
In other words, winter used to be a time for doing…not much. That’s what our bodies are used to. It’s only with the relatively-recent advent of industrialization and the invention of night lighting that this stopped being so.
Fast-forward to today, where many workplaces and clients expect you to be on call nearly all the time, no matter what is happening outside with the early dark or the snow, and then expect you to somehow be at full power after only a two week official “holiday” (during which, as we’ve already established, you’ve probably had no more than the equivalent of a regular weekend actually relaxing). Is it any wonder you’re so tired?
That’s not even including the mental health aspect of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which I strongly feel is connected to that almost epigenetic memory of those earlier times of resting the entire season. Only a non-stop, growth-driven technological culture, disconnected from natural rhythms, would see low energy in the colder, darker months as a pathology.
And in case you’re wondering, yes, I have SAD. The lamp and supplements help, but not as much as staying in bed whenever possible.
Finally, there’s the stress of the pandemic and lockdowns and having work (and food, and shelter) when so many don’t, which adds a layer of guilt to the whole mix.
So, here we are, an hour after I started writing and ever closer to that first Monday back. And that’s our problem right there.
We’re making too big of a deal out of it. Tomorrow’s just another day: it’s what we’ve constructed around that day that’s the cause of the anxiety.
This wasn’t meant to be a how-to piece, but I feel the need to trot out a hypothetical “solution” to this “problem”. I have evidence for the effectiveness of neither of these, but I am experimenting with the second one this year and I invite you to try it on, see if it fits your work and life.
The optimal solution, of course, would be to take the rest of the cold season off until spring, but that’s not an option for the vast majority of people.
The second best option may be to ease into your flow once again by spacing it out over the first weeks of January.
What this looks like for me is tending to the clients and deadlines I had going into the Christmas season and not doing anything else. I answer a few emails, hit my word counts for the day, and that’s it. Nothing more or less for the first week back.
Next week, I’ll start scheduling prospect calls again and maybe add in some personal writing projects to my plate as I start to pick up steam. The week after that, I’ll be back at full speed.
Of course, this is not what I want to do this winter. We keep telling people to be “authentic” about what it is that they want, but that can lead to some uncomfortable or unpopular answers. What I’d love to have happen is for me to have the next eight weeks (at least) be no different than the previous two: I do no work and still get my bills paid. Sadly, that’s not where we live, but that doesn’t mean we can’t mitigate our circumstances even just a little in the service of our natural rhythms.
The least we can do, and the last thing I’ll say, is take the pressure off of ourselves for feeling as if we have to get back to full power right away. As best as you can within the limitations of your work, be gentle with yourself. Honor those very real physical and mental needs for rest as much as you can, and just do whatever your best is at any given moment.
And don’t sweat that first day back. There’s a long winter ahead still to get through, and it’s just a day.
Jody Aberdeen is an author, ghostwriter, book writing coach, and foodie (to name just a few). You can follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, all listed as “Jody Aberdeen”.
Jody lives in Hamilton (Dundas), Ontario, Canada and would love nothing more than to sleep in tomorrow, but has both a dog and a deadline to take care of, so he won’t.