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Coping with the Holidays

Monday January 23, 2017

As I begin to recover some lost productivity at the end of January, I’m reflecting on the fact that the holidays were bad for my health. It feels blasphemous to say so, but it’s true.

First, I found myself struggling with illness. Right around the end of November, I caught Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD). I caught this from my children, who caught it from their peers at school. It hits adults harder, so while my kids barely showed any abnormal signs, I could hardly use my hands, it was painful to walk, and I had to cancel several work meetings as a result.

Second, after finishing my first big weight loss cycle, losing 100 lbs. / 45 kg. to reach a “healthy” BMI, I had decided to start a “bulk” up to 190 lbs. from 175. I overestimated my free time and understanding of this process, didn’t account for illness, and ended up injuring myself early on in November, in my hurry to make muscles appear (ha) while gaining weight. Did I reach my goal of 190 lbs.? Definitely! Am I more fit and muscular as a result? No! So now I’m losing the weight again…

Third, not just my physical health, but my mental health suffered. My anxiety floor went up a bit due to my illness and injury. But it went way up due to things like:

  • Having family around for holidays and the accompanying family needs
  • Social outings that happen every year with friends of various kinds
  • Schedules changing to accommodate this or that
  • Inability to keep my normal work pace
  • Cold & rainy weather making otherwise easy exercise like outdoor walking, harder
  • Going to sleep later and getting up later, as a result of family activities
  • Eating extra holiday food, with opportunities to eat being unscheduled and more frequent, or scheduled and less frequent.
    • Interestingly, there was LOTS of food, but sometimes we were traveling around in e.g. a state park and had “oh we didn’t plan on what to eat” moments, leading me to a sort of feast/famine mentality. (You can tell I didn’t plan the food, because “contingency” is my middle name…)

When your weaknesses are called upon to do extra duty, it almost always results in anxiety, depression, irritation, boredom, or some combination of those. So I had to “put myself in therapy” several times, in order to address these problems directly and resolve them before they got worse.

My tools for dealing with this actually helped quite a bit, so I’ve got to give them credit. They were:

  • Talk to spouse about any problems
  • Take as much free time as you need
  • Write your thoughts and feelings as much as you want
  • Make meta-plans—plans that sit on top of others’ plans for the group. For example, let’s say we’re hiking through the woods in a place I’ve already been about 20 times. I’d tell myself, eat a piece of candy every 20 minutes if you’re feeling tired and irritable. Or we go to the beach—I bring my sketchbook and some watercolors. Or we go out to eat: I plan what I want beforehand.
  • When feeling extra anxiety or depression, all normal social rules, etc. are off. Just take care of yourself until you feel better again. (I’ve learned that if I don’t do this, things just get worse)

I remember one day, close to Christmas, when I was struck by a deep feeling of depression. In a fog of confusion and exhaustion, I walked out to my backyard office and started to write & think about the situation. I realized I had been trying for the last while to make chit-chat with a friend for whom extraverted feeling was the inferior function. This friend wanted nothing more than to engage in some idle chit-chat as a way of relaxing, and the act had drained me of whatever was left in my battery. I ended up taking the rest of the day off for “me” time, actually avoiding this person. However, after about two hours of heavy introversion—writing, reflecting, Youtube, Netflix, etc.—I was feeling good again. He had no idea that what felt relaxing for him was really discharging my energy; luckily for me, I did.

Should I fix myself?

When I scored 100% on the “J” dichotomy of the Majors PTi (a psychometric instrument which yields a four-letter Jungian personality type code), my mentor Mark Bodnarczuk remarked, “looking at this score, I’d tend to think: Maybe here’s a guy who needs to loosen up a bit.” And of course, I’ve been deeply cognizant of that ever since. Our strengths, magnified, become a liability.

However, you can’t just turn around and “fix” a problem like that. To even begin such an attempt, it’s wise to have a lot of scaffolding from your gifted side to help you out. Otherwise you’re just asking for anxiety problems and some awful results, like awkward extravert outbursts, etc.

For now, I’ve decided to keep reflecting on realistic and unrealistic behaviors, and find areas where I can keep my sanity and loosen up a bit more than usual. This low-hanging fruit method has helped me make significant progress in other areas.

The first low-hanging fruit I identifed were my new years’ resolutions. I realized that these were adapted for a holiday schedule, rather than my normal work schedule. They were actually quite far down my priority list, and while they sounded fun, I believe that they were in fact tips from my subconscious that it would be a good idea to get back to my normal, organized schedule. I have already reduced them in scale dramatically and have started on a framework for a more fulfilling resolution-achieving process (this started with my evaluating, and then changing, the idea of SMART goals to VERY SMART goals; more on that later probably). But mostly, I see the goals in a healthier perspective, and I’m more laid back about achieving them, or not.

Going into the 2017 holiday season

I’ll probably have lots more holiday seasons to celebrate. I’m healthier than ever, I’m more in control of my life than I’ve ever been, and things are looking up overall. But I am changing my outlook on the holidays a bit. From now on, I’ll attempt to see them more as they are: A bit of a test. Some of the test questions will be:

  • Am I learning to adapt to changes and uncertainty?
  • Can I let myself relax and improvise when needed? What are some problem scenarios?
  • Are my goals for this time period very realistic?
  • What are common risks of this season, and how will I deal with them?
  • My weaknesses will be tested—sociality and ability to go with the flow, etc. How will I rate myself and allow for deficiency?

That’s my scaffolding for next time around.

For the record, my favorite moments of the 2016 holiday season were:

  • Keeping up with my ISTP son on a hike through the woods
  • Playing board games with family
  • Sketching at the beach
  • New art supplies for Christmas
  • Getting excited about new areas of study
  • Messaging other INTJ friends
  • Watching favorite Youtube channels

Well, that’s pretty introverted, and not a big change from any other holiday season. Both are fine with me.

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