There is one very simple, universal cure for Christmas at Luther stress, end-of-semester stress, approaching-Christmas stress, whatever. Well, maybe not a cure but an easement. And that is to put the da(r)n thing down. Seriously. Just put it down. Even if only for a little while.
What da(r)n thing am I talking about? 98 percent of the time, it's the smartphone and/or the laptop. Putting it down means checking yourself out of the insane constant feedback loop of email and messaging and ratcheting-up anxiety and stimulus and Facebooking and Candy-Crush-playing and Instagramming your cousin's Christmas decorations. Answer the email, finish the task, and then put the da(r)n thing down. Turn away from laptop to grading. Turn away from email to writing. Turn away, breathe deeply, and do something else and keep doing it until your brain stops whining for its electronic fix, probably between three to five minutes. Regain control of yourself, settle your feet back on earth. It can be done.
Because here's the inconvenient truth. We are very busy. We are overwhelmed. But secretly, down inside, there is a joy in telling ourselves that, some thrill we cling to as proof of our own importance. It's that little itch that makes us hold onto the very things with screens that stress us, that keep us jazzed up and irritated, because that irritated, over-stimulated blur of feeling is somehow proof that we are important, that we are real. I lose track of how many students going cross-eyed with stress during Christmas at Luther week also spend every spare minute (right up until class starts) fiddling with their phones. Colleagues, we're no different. (Look around you during a faculty meeting.) It's not just the phone we can't put down–it's whatever spiritual crutch we're crutching on, whatever notion of ourselves as so all-fired important the world can't keep spinning without our direct input into every single solitary thing. That's the illusion of control. Emphasis on illusion.
What if you put it down, put it aside, and focused on words on a page? The presence of your classmates? The bare cottonwood branches waving in the early-December wind right outside the window, the scraps of blue blown across the sky? What if you stopped to look at the people in the room with you–to take a deep breath and look at them?
What if you left your desk after typing for hours and went up into the woods just as it's getting dark, walked along with gloves off and hat stuffed in your pocket, climbed up among the bare trees above the river and let yourself be halted by a sound swelling toward you in the air–geese in wide Vs, one after another, calling and honking and slicing the oncoming night just above the tree tops, so close you can hear the swish swish of their wings?
That vertiginous hitch and halt, that slowing-down–that is re-contact with reality as it is, not as it is a story in our heads. That is where rest and freedom wait, if only for a moment. And that's what we shield ourselves from by snatching up the phone to stuff each scrap of our attention with just one more external thing. Cognitively, that is a recipe for more stress and more anxiety, not less. The work will still be here. But for a moment, it can wait. Stand up, take a walk. Turn off the noise.
Seriously. Just put the da(r)n thing down.