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  • Writer's pictureMyrna Driedger

For this Christmas… and beyond: In praise of calmer, more meaningful living

With so few sunny warm days ahead of us, I decided to go for a walk in one of my favourite places, Assiniboine Park. I should make more time for myself to do that, but with the busy work schedule and family commitments I sometimes struggle with fitting the “me” time in.

As I was walking I was thinking about the Christmas season coming soon and planning the things I would have to do to get ready. I think we women put a lot of stress on ourselves to make the holiday season perfect. We are bombarded by the media on how to have the most beautiful decorated house, the best recipes, the gorgeously wrapped presents, the ideal gifts for children and grandchildren. We are barely over the holiday season when the media bombards us with how to get thin and fit in just two weeks. Do we need that added pressure?

During my walk through the Leo Mol garden, I gazed at the statue called “Family Group”. It is a father carrying a young tyke on his shoulders, a mother reaching out to him and a young girl carrying a doll looking up at her mother. I then caught a glimpse of the people around me walking through the garden. There must have been about two dozen people. Some were walking their dogs, some pushing strollers. What struck me was how every one of those people was looking down at their mobile phones, walking but staring down at their phones.

The stark contrast between the Family Group statue and the reality of what I was seeing around me carried a powerful message. Here we are walking through a beautiful, quiet, serene setting and we are not fully engaged in the beauty of the nature around us because we are glued or perhaps addicted to checking for messages.

This was a bit of a wakeup call for me. I admit on this walk I was checking for messages, too. I put my phone away and did not check it again until my walk was over. Instead I focused on the nature around me: the multi colours of the changing leaves, the birds chirping and singing their songs, the work the gardeners had done to clean up the flowerbeds for fall.

I noticed the plaques on the benches where families had dedicated words in memory of a loved one. The other thing I began to notice was how my shoulders felt more relaxed, my breathing calmed, how my mind had cleared of the business of life. I felt great.

Technology is very useful, but I realized that we should control technology not let it control us. People suffer a lot of stress these days. Some of it is caused by trying to keep up with the steady pace of email requests, the latest news, care-giving duties, parental and job duties.

The human brain is not made for multi-tasking constantly and this pace is not sustainable over the long haul. In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell uses this phrase to refer to “the stress people can withstand before that undefined moment when the pressure exceeds their tolerance and they become exhausted, collapse or snap.” He says that no matter how strong or capable a person can be, everyone has a tipping point.

This constant rush of trying to get everything done faster and better with no downtime will eventually take its toll, and result in either physical or mental illness. Perhaps this is why we have seen an increase in diseases such as cancer, heart, Alzheimer’s, depression. People have shorter fuses because they are overloaded and tired – no patience and hence more cases of road rage.

How do we cope? Start with small steps. Do not use your computer late at night before bed. Turn the TV and radio off for a few hours in the evening. Read a book instead. Get outside for a walk and leave the phone turned off for 30 minutes or an hour. Resist the temptation to constantly be checking things on your phone. Cut back on the coffee, which is a stimulant. If you don’t have time for the gym, you can still do a few stretches in the morning.

The first thing a dog or a cat does when they wake up is stretch, and we should, too. Drink plenty of water so you do not get dehydrated, which makes one tired.

If you are in a stressful situation and starting to feel tense, take a pause and ask yourself, in the scheme of life is this particular thing really that important to me, to others?

As this holiday season approaches, let us focus on our relationships, on quality time spent together, rather than rushing around in the malls for the perfect gift, or cleaning the house to perfection. We can make things great without striving to be Martha Stewart “perfect”. Friends and family will enjoy creating the memories rather than the ornate wrappings.

Last but not least, when the family comes over insist that everyone leave their phones off for the evening. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to stay healthy. We are the only ones who can make a difference to how we react to stress and lead a more meaningful calmer life. Turning our phones off for a few hours is a small step but effective.

In closing, I quote Mary Ellen Chase, writer (1887-1973): “It is quite possible to leave your home for a walk in the early morning air and return a different person – beguiled, enchanted.” To this I would add …and mentally and physically healthier.

Wishing you all the best for the holiday season.

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