Santa, reindeer, and Christmas music fill the stores, strings of colored lights shine from the housetops, and the holiday season is upon us again with crowded shopping malls, busy drivers fighting for a parking space, so much to do in so little time.
What does all this rushing get us? Extreme stress, which can lead to anxiety and depression as well as panic attacks, gastrointestinal problems, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, stroke, heart attack, chronic fatigue, dementia, and a long list of addictive behaviors (American Institute of Stress).
And all this stress makes us insensitive to others. One December day, years ago, two psychologists held a classic experiment at Princeton Theological Seminary, asking ministerial students to prepare a short talk on a religious subject, then walk over to another building to present it. Some of the students were told to hurry because they were running late.
On the way, the students ran into a man slumped over in the alley on this cold, winter day, coughing and groaning, in apparent distress. While some stopped to offer help, 90 percent of the “late” students simply rushed right by the man, too concerned about giving their talks on time. Ironically, many of these students were rushing to give a talk about the Good Samaritan (Darley & Batson, 1973).
What explains this apparent insensitivity? Rushing. Under stress—and rushing is a form of stress—we narrow our focus into “fight or flight,” numbing ourselves to other people and the complexities of the world around us (Selye, 1976) Stressed-out people can become thoughtless and insensitive, acting with poor judgment because they are not fully “present” to themselves and others.
Have you been rushing through your days in this traditional season of peace and goodwill?
If so here’s a challenge this holiday season: When you find yourself racing around, trying to do too much in too little time, stop, take a deep breath, and take time to reconnect with your body and the world around you. A moment of mindfulness (Kabat-Zinn, 2003) just might be the best present you can give this holiday season.
The American Institute of Stress, http://www.stress.org/stress-is-killing-you/
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 144-156.
Selye, H. (1976). The Stress of Life. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.