Why Am I So Cranky?

Have you noticed that - no matter how organized you are, no matter how far in advance you plan and do and prepare, and even if you don't participate in the religious and cultural customs and rituals of winter in the Northern Hemisphere - this time of year makes you cranky? Out of sorts? Stressed?
 
There are lots of reasons why you might feel this way – everything from being overwhelmed by holiday activity to something as serious as the onset of seasonal affective disorder. Although you can find plenty of advice on how to cope with the stress of the holidays, and you can buy light boxes to fool your brain into thinking it is still midsummer, I want to suggest an alternative, one that moves past Surface Mind solutions and addresses the needs of your Deeper Mind.*
 
When you live in a temperate climate, Deeper Mind responds to seasonal changes in ways that are easy for Surface Mind to ignore or override, even when doing so leaves you with a feeling of being out of step and out of sorts. Deeper Mind speaks in images, in symbols and signs, in dreams and in synchronistic “coincidences.” Tune in to that language and you will learn how to work with the seasons, all year round.
 
We respond to the change of seasons in ways that are rooted in our evolutionary past, when everyone (except babes in arms) contributed to meeting the needs for food, shelter, clothing, water, sleep, and play. Our ancestors’ brains evolved, and were trained as they grew from child to adult, to respond without conscious effort to seasonal changes. That included changes in the level of activity needed to find, grow, preserve, and store food; the need for more or less shelter and warmth; the need to make or mend clothing and footwear.
 
In Winter, the time of darkness and cold, our Deeper Mind craves rest. We both want and need longer periods of sleep, quiet conversations, more time to ponder and process and plan and, yes, play. Contemporary culture stands in clear opposition to this craving: we are surrounded by bright lights, noisy crowds, and insistent demands that we go out – out of our safe, warm places and into the cold and the dark. With Surface Mind handing us a list of all the things we should be doing while Deeper Mind is saying, "Stay in where it’s warm, rest, reflect, and dream. . . “ it’s no surprise we feel cranky.
 
So give yourself a break. Literally. Take some time each day to meditate or just sit quietly. Put on music that soothes you, and tell Surface Mind to pipe down. Give yourself permission to turn down party invitations in favor of staying home, or take a stay-cation. Be conscious of how fulfilling work or family obligations might contribute to your feeling less than optimal. You don’t need to renege on all of your obligations, just build in some alone time, some play, or some other way to bring yourself back into balance. 

Then, if you wish, make some use of this season of darkness and rest.

Winter is the best time to do the thoughtful, inner work related to deep or large change. (The custom of "New Year's Resolutions" is a distorted remnant of this.) If you want to develop a new line of business or research, start a new career, or find a new job, Winter is the optimal time for laying the groundwork of research and planning.

And then, as the days begin to get noticeably longer, and as Deeper Mind stirs, gently and slowly, with a longing for sunshine and the out of doors, you’ll be ready. Spring - the time for moving from planning to planting, for taking the first small steps to making what you dreamed of in Winter a reality - is just around the next turn of the year. 
 
Happy New Year to you and yours!
 
*Your Deeper Mind is variously called the unconscious, the subconscious, the intuitive brain, and the primitive brain. Deeper Mind takes care of things like breathing, digestion, body temperature, and other body functions. Deeper Mind generates your experience of the world by processing and filtering the information coming in through your senses. Deeper Mind responds to changes in your environment in ways that Surface Mind pays little attention to. The feelings you experience – the sensations in your body and the emotions that arise as you interpret those sensations – are a product of Deeper Mind. They are also messages from Deeper Mind that, as you attend and respond to them, can bring you into greater harmony and ease in your life.

Photo by Axel Antas for UnSplash

Photo by Axel Antas for UnSplash

When Was the Last Time You Just Played?

I recently rediscovered the joys of coloring books! And color pencils! And color pens! All the coloring things! Coloring has become my new favorite way to get my brain to relax and focus at the same time. It’s how I play, throughout the day.

Do you remember what it was like when you played as a child? Children at play, more often than not are in the much-touted “zone,” where time disappears, attention is relaxed and focused, and nothing else matters except the matter at hand. Even as an adult, you can use play to reach that state on a regular basis. Practice it enough, and you’ll find it easier to reach when you are not playing – when you are “working,” for example.

Here’s what makes for optimum workday playtime:

  • Do something that requires the use of your body – hands, feet, arms, legs, torso. Note: using your fingers on a keyboard, phone, or video game controller does not count.
  • Do something that requires paying attention to music, rhythm, images, pictures, or symbols. For most of us, activities that involve words or numbers lead to way too much of the kind of thinking that you are trying to escape for a short time
  • Do something that you can pick up and put down easily after 10 or 15 minutes. 

Coloring works for me because I’m not so great at drawing, but I love to play with color. Other ways I play are: practicing my drumming, dancing around my office to an inspiring bit of music, working on a big jigsaw puzzle, and taking a walk in the park without plugging into my iPod, so that I can listen for birdsong and other nature sounds.

When I take a play break, I come back to my work refreshed, often with more energy and new ideas. Yep, it is better than coffee!

Imagine how much more we could accomplish if every workplace had a playroom, full of art supplies and coloring books and building blocks and jigsaw puzzles and puppet theaters and sand boxes. (OK, that last one might be a bit messy, but it sure would be fun!)

How do you play? What do you want in your workplace playroom?