‘Tis the Season to…Pause

Here’s a known yet under recognized fact: the holiday season puts a major strain on the brain’s executive functioning.

Our schedules get packed with holiday events. There may be travel plans to prepare for and implement. You shop for the perfect gifts while trying to keep an eye on your budget. There’s a home to decorate and “feasting” meals to plan and prepare. You stand in line to ship packages. You write holiday cards or letters (or spend time thinking you really should do this). And then there are all of the people who show up needing your attention and sometimes your patience.

Whew. It’s a lot for a poor brain to manage!

In Seeing My Time, I focus on helping people to notice what we call “pause points” in the brain. These are the moments when one can stop and consider what to do next. For those with executive function challenged brains, this equates to the executive function of impulse control – the ability to stop and think something through before reacting.

I am convinced that most people are functioning on autopilot, mindlessly pushing through the day’s tasks. An ambitious high school junior at a recent presentation shared, “I didn’t know that I could even make a choice about what to do next.” Without pausing and actively choosing, we end up drained, chasing the rabbits in our minds or the impossible to-do list.

By pausing and choosing using metacognition (thinking about your thinking), one can increase the odds of having a holiday season that is purposeful and satisfying.

How to Calm The Brain for the Holiday Season

Calm your brain by slightly arching your back

First, check in with yourself right now, and frequently as the month progresses. Are you feeling overwhelmed? Pause, feel your feet. While opening your chest and lengthening your spine, take a few breaths and gently arch your lower back. The arch activates your parasympathetic nervous system that calms your brain.

With your brain calm and centered, pause and reflect over the choices you are making connected to the holidays. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Am I making my decisions based on “I should” or “I would enjoy…”?
  • Have I planned time to take care of myself?
  • Am I remembering to say “no” to things that will tip me over the edge and are not personally satisfying?
  • How well am I budgeting my gift spending so that my future self won’t be suffering under credit card debt?
  • Can I simplify my choices to create the energy and time to enjoy the holidays?

Create a Plan

My final tip, – surprise! – is to PLAN out this month and your holiday weeks. Make a list of what you want to have happen and what is already scheduled. To get a clear picture of the open spaces in your weeks, use a form like the Weekly Commitments page in our Seeing My Time adult planner system. Use these open spaces well to accomplish your goals. Be sure to block some of those open spaces as personal “chill” time. You deserve it.

I’m actually super excited about the month of December this year. I’ve got some great plans for creating memories with loved ones. I have my chill time blocked out. I have time scheduled to work on some EFS projects for 2020. I am going to finally organize three kitchen cabinets that are not being efficiently used. I will set up my new planner with goals and vacations for 2020. And, I am going to cook a goose for Christmas Eve dinner. I’ve never cooked a goose. It sounds like an adventure!

Happy Planning and Pausing!

About the Author Marydee Sklar

Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program® and the Set Up Success and Seeing My Time® planners. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty-five years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.

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