Kathy Coffey Solberg: Holidays can be source, fix to pressure

The season can add to our sense of being overwhelmed, but it also offers ways to cope with that feeling.

Kathy Coffey Soberg

Kathy Coffey Soberg

By Kathy Coffey Solberg / Herald Forum

As I think about the approaching holiday season, I am reflecting on expectations, traditions and our current circumstances as a community.

Halloween, Diwali and Thanksgiving have come and gone again in this “new familiar” which we’ve all been adapting to in our own ways: Health concerns. Financial impacts. Job losses, changes, or modifications. Family stresses. And … and…and. Now, here comes Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, the winter solstice, and so many other celebrations that would usually bring us together.

These holidays have traditionally been bright spots in a long winter; loving gatherings that break up the grey days and dark mornings. In the meantime, we are all navigating new norms at work and in our community. We’re wondering, are more shutdowns coming? Will inflation break my materials budget? Will my staff stay on in the coming year? Will my volunteers be able to keep coming in?

I’m reflecting and asking: How are we going to do this again? It feels overwhelming in a time when we already have decision fatigue. When we are grieving losses. When we are disagreeing with one another politically. When information swirls around us and wisdom feels elusive. When the lines between professional life and personal lives are ever more blurred, for good or for ill.

I’m reflecting and asking: How do you maintain momentum with all that needs doing, without tipping into the realm of burnout? How do you find some joy in these challenging days? What is working, and what is simply bringing more stress?

I’ve recently added a new strategy in this realm. I have made it a strong practice to say that I have overwhelm. This has been a great mental switch for me to not be overwhelmed but to have overwhelm. Overwhelm is a companion of sorts. It may seem semantical and not likely to make a difference, but try it on. See if it affects your outlook, energy or narrative. I’ve been fortunate to benefit from Sarri Gilman’s wisdom and expertise in this year. If you could use more strategies in this area, I strongly encourage you to check out her work at sarrigilman.com.

A premise in Leadership Snohomish County classes is to seek to understand. To embrace curiosity. To notice when judgement arises in you and use that as an opportunity to learn another’s story.

At Leadership Day this year, our speaker, Dr. Mark Jones reminded us all of the value in creating a beloved community. That can become a family of choice, a circle of friends or peers with common interests. We spoke of the value and human need of being seen, heard and loved.

Who in your world needs to be seen? To simply have someone listen? To know they are loved? Take notice. As you practice gratitude, creating merriment, and gathering, consider reaching out to someone with a call, handwritten card, surprise or another token of appreciation.

Even as holidays may be celebrated differently, we can seek out creative outlets for connection. I heard an LSC alum the other day tell how his family spent one entire weekend day putting up Christmas decorations inside their house. It brought them joy.

For more than 25 years, my family has had a holiday tradition of “make a gift, buy a gift.” Each year, we make and buy a gift for those in our immediate family. I can tell you over the years, we have many a story of our makes while most of us have to work to recall what was purchased.

I am making sure to take some time off to reset. A friend recommended that I spend time outside with nature. As I heard someone recount their tales of a hike and heard how grounded and full they were, I realized that my friend was correct. Time with nature heals.

As we continue to move through these times together, let’s know our limits. Let’s be honest about what we need to sustain and recharge ourselves. And let’s see one another’s humanity. This is especially important for leaders, whose teams are likely taking a cue from our responses and reactions. The connections we tend to, and the invitations we extend to others, can help us find meaning in how we spend these hours and days, even as we mourn, disagree, create, decorate, and celebrate.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Kathy Coffey Solberg is executive director of Leadership Snohomish County. She brings together professionals and community members to examine critical issues affecting Snohomish County to create a thriving community. To learn more, go to leadershipsc.org.

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