Waking up when the sky is still dark and starry is common during December, our darkest month of the year. The days of December often pass quickly as families work toward the joy of the holidays. We face sharp drops in temperature, snowstorms, holiday shopping, Christmas pageants, and the end of hunting season. We go to basketball games, hockey matches and dance recitals. We also spend a lot of time in the kitchen, baking cookies and breads for sharing the spirit of holiday feasting. Decembers are full and rich, and sometimes stressful.
So what can ordinary Adirondackers do to work some stress-busting into these already busy schedules? Primarily, they have to be committed to finding some sort of inner peace every day. If you notice, you'll see some people seem to actually like holiday stress. They enjoy letting you know how much they have to do, and how they will manage to do it all. I'm not focusing on those people.
For the rest of us, those who have not backed out of all holiday activities, there are some tricks to balancing the pieces. It just may start and end with a window.
Every day during December, Adirondackers should take a moment to gaze out a window, to look outward instead of inward. If you live in the woods like I do, look at the trees, the birds clinging to branches, the way the snow decorates the limbs and ground underneath. If you live in town, look at the neighborhood, at friends' decorations and lights, at the way morning sunlight angles into your rooms through these windows. Take a moment to not think, just see what there is to see, and enjoy it for the moment. This appreciation is a start to beating stress.
Breathing fresh air
If you're able, a great stress buster is to bundle up and go outside. This is not to go to the car to drive to the store to shop for gifts. This is not to go to the woodpile to heft and carry more wood to the woodstove. This is to put one foot in front of the other to move through the December world. It is to breathe in the air and let your lungs know they have a jolt of Adirondack freshness inside them. It is to see firsthand what crisp clarity is, right outside your door. And it is again a chance to empty your mind of lists and responsibilities for a few minutes every day-a few minutes to recharge using Mother Nature's recharging station-the great outdoors.
If you're fit and active, a good break in the holiday pressures is to go for a ski, hike or run. Outdoor physical activity is a surefire way to give your mind a break while your body carries you through time and space. Almost no one who participates in outdoor winter activities complains about the season-they feel the endorphins and the rosy cheeks of good health, and do not fret about not having enough time for wrapping gifts. It's nature's anti-anxiety drug, and it is free.
Add some kindness
Another stress buster is when you decide to lend a hand to someone less fortunate. What exactly does this mean? If we're already busy, how can helping someone else ease our stress? I'm not sure how it works; I just know it does. If you have elderly neighbors, stop in or give a call to see if there's something you might be able to do for them, maybe shovel a sidewalk, or take them to a store, or bring them some cookies. If you can, donate to the Christmas-for-kids collection bins. If you can, volunteer to help at a food pantry or prepare meals through church organizations. Volunteer to walk dogs at the Humane Society. Do something that takes you out of your own routine and adds some kindness to the world. It absolutely is a stress-buster.
So even though our daylight hours are at a minimum, the choices we make on how to spend our time can bring light and joy to our own lives and the lives of those around us. Look out your windows, and appreciate what gifts are offered to you when you do. Be sure to add some time to your to-do lists for others and for your own inner peace. It's not crazy. It might be the sanest thing you could do this holiday season.
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths, and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.