Consciously Well Holidays

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” This cheery tune becomes an earwig for many of us as we wander through any kind of store playing holiday muzak. However, “According to a survey, 45% of…people living in the United States would choose to skip out on the holidays, rather than deal with the stress of it all.” ( So, what’s so bad about holidays? Time off. Connecting with family and friends. Special delicious foods. Party-time! Sounds a lot like wellness, but what’s the all too common experience? Stress!

A poll by the American Psychological Association shows:
• Nearly a quarter of Americans reported feeling “extreme stress” come holiday time
69 percent of people are stressed by the feeling of having a “lack of time,”
69 percent are stressed by perceiving a “lack of money,”
51 percent are stressed out about the “pressure to give or get gifts.”

In contrast to the holiday season we have created, the natural season in the Northern Hemisphere is the polar opposite. These are the dark days that slow us down, invite us to rest, recuperate, and replenish our energy. It’s a time better suited to reflection, contemplation, intimacy, warmth and connection. The ecology of the world – which we are part of, not separate from – dives into a biological shift that allows for dormancy, hibernation and such. As larger mammals that don’t hibernate, we do remain active, yet, it seems we try to maintain an activity level that doesn’t change as the world around us changes. Electric lights and indoor heating keep us going like it’s the middle of summer. If anything, it’s not the time of year to biologically and mentally deny us what we truly crave – a break!

“Managing” our stress is only a partial solution, and often more of an illusion. What works is recovering from stress. Psycho-physiologically we need to counterbalance the over-activation of our Sympathetic Nervous System (the Fight-Flight or Stress Response) with time spent allowing our Parasympathetic Nervous System to counteract the former, bringing out the Relaxation Response. (See my previous blog post: “The Psychophysiology of Stress – What The Wellness Coach Needs To Know”

So, how can we more consciously live in greater harmony with the winter season? How can we slow down with it and recharge our physical, mental/emotional and spiritual batteries? We can look to some cultures in the world that approach winter differently. How about some Niksen and Hygge?

In a very informative Blue Zones article, “Niksen: The Dutch Art of Purposefully Doing Nothing” author Elisabeth Almekinder ( shows how doing less can give us more. “Doing nothing, but with a purpose to do nothing or no purpose at all, may help to decrease anxiety, bring creativity to the surface, and boost productivity. The Dutch have perfected the practice of doing nothing, or “niksen” so well that they are some of the happiest people on earth.”

For many people, “doing nothing” may seem like a huge challenge. Our minds are usually firing on all cylinders, sometimes fueled by stimulants such as caffeine. We are often continually distracted by our work, our phones, our online activity, the radio we are playing, etc. We are almost bombarded by media about “mindfulness” which offers one alternative solution, but Niksen is slightly different. “It’s not mindfulness: a better definition would be a short period of mindless relaxation” is how Almekinder describes it. She urges us to “loosen your concept of time and productivity and practice this simple exercise from the Netherlands. Allowing your brain to rewire from stress by doing nothing is a wellness practice worth implementing. If you are sitting in a cafe, you can indulge in some stress-busting niksen but sipping your coffee and looking out the window. Leave your phone in your pocket and let your mind wander.” So, when that empty moment comes, don’t fill it in. How many of us have conditioned ourselves to reach for our phone if nothing else is handy and search for something to occupy our minds. You might say that niksen is a way to liberate your mind from occupation!

So, there is value in “spacing out” however you do it. I love to practice this as a form of observational meditation. I’m fortunate to have a great backyard inhabited by lots of birds, squirrels and a few lovely rabbits. Trees, bushes and plants change with the seasons and weather brings sunshine, wind, clouds, and sometimes rain or snow. I simply sit and watch as I rid my mind of thoughts about the rest of the world, what I need to do next, and such. The key is to simply observe. Refrain from connecting what you are seeing with what it might be related to. Just watch the snow fall without thinking about the meteorological implications.

Another culture that knows how to make the most of this time of year is Denmark. The Danes call is Hygge. I wrote about this last December in my blog post “Maximizing Wellbeing During Pandemic Holidays”

“Hygge, a Danish term defined as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” Pronounced “hoo-guh,” the word is said to have no direct translation in English, though “cozy” comes close.” ( Taking pleasure in the simple things of life that yield contentment is a great way to make it through the winter. Whether alone, or with whomever you can get cozy with, we can slow down and give ourselves permission to “indulge” in things that give us comfort. Shutting off the television and reading a good novel under a warm blanket with a hot cup of cheer on hand can start to reframe our whole mood.”

Coaching It Up

Health & Wellness Coaching clients sometimes postpone their sessions until after the holiday season passes. While this might be fine for some, it could be the time when coaching could be of great value. Inquire with your client about how you might adjust what areas of focus they are working on to fit their more immediate concerns, such as holiday stress. Ask permission to offer some resources they might find interest in such as the information above in this post.

Current wellness goals may need some specialized attention during this time of year. Weather changes may require new strategies for being physically active as outdoor options may become more challenging. Clients may worry about maintaining progress on weight loss as they face the temptations of holiday treats, parties, etc. Explore with them their attitude, fears, and assumptions about their upcoming holiday dinner. Explore the pressures they are experiencing around holiday gift giving and their financial wellness. There is actually plenty of coaching that can be done to help our clients come through the holidays successfully.

For You and Your Client

Think about what your holiday goals are this year. Consider substituting the stresses and pressures you’ve experienced before with a whole new set of intentions. Sitting down, either by yourself or in conscious deliberation with your partner/others and set intentions for a holiday that actually meets your needs. Those needs can include sharing your abundance with others through gift giving, philanthropy or through volunteer work, etc. Think through how you can create a holiday season less focused on material wealth and more on the kind of personal, spiritual, and physical wealth that enhances your wellbeing and serves others.

Have the grandest of holidays!
Coach Michael

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. ( Dr. Arloski is a pioneering architect of the field of health and wellness coaching. He and his company have trained thousands of coaches around the world. Dr. Arloski’s newest book is Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft

Question Your To-Do List and Be Well: Coaching The Urgent/Important Matrix

Naughty, Nice, and TOO MUCH TO DO!

Despite our best efforts to avoid “holiday stress” it always seems to arrive as reliably as Santa himself. The “to do list” seems impossible and we pay the price physically and emotionally when the stress is too much.

The way to tackle a “to-do list” is not to whittle away at it, it’s more like running it through a filter or processor and determining priorities and what really needs to be done and what just doesn’t. That filter is the Urgent/Important Matrix made famous by former president Eisenhower and Dr. Stephen Covey. When we squeeze everything on our to-do list through this matrix it comes out in one of four quadrants: 1)Urgent/Not Important; 2)Urgent and Important; 3)Not Urgent/Not important; and 4)Not Urgent/Important. Sounds easy enough but this simple matrix requires a lot of clarity about our values, priorities and beliefs.

A simple tools that brings up larger questions!

Today’s information driven world can push us to believe that everything on our list is Urgent and Important. This can drive you to the edge of your “stress cliff”, feeling overwhelmed and out of control. There truly is more on your to-do list than one can possibly do.

Try running your to-do list through this filter and you suddenly realize that you are requiring yourself to get very clear about your values and priorities. You realize that some of what you thought was urgent actually isn’t, and that “importance” requires some serious self-reflection.

Coaching Questions for The Matrix

Question your to-do list. Here are some great coaching questions to have your client ask themselves that can help them prioritize each item on their to-do list. The result will be less stress and more wellness.

Important: “Does completing this lead towards the achievement of my goals?” “How does this serve me, others and the world around me?” “Is this an expression of who I am?” “Am I being true to myself?” “Does this affect my family, employment or health?” “Does this add joy to my life?” We may choose at times to put our own needs aside, but we must do so consciously not habitually.

Urgent: “Will failing to complete this task in a timely manner result in: anyone getting hurt; a loss of business/profit; a performance penalty?” “Is the urgency more about my own anxiety than reality?” “Is my anxiety exacerbated by poor wellness practices, e.g. not enough sleep, to much caffeine?” “Am I clear about what other people expect?” “Have I set myself up by “over promising” and thereby increasing my chances of “under-delivering” ?” “Am I personalizing something that is not personal?” “Am I trying to “please” others?” “Who is setting the dead line and can it wait?” ”Can someone else do the task?”

For more ideas on how to coach with this matrix take a good look at this MindTools article (

What drives urgency?

As you coach your client through this process you may find that the coaching becomes about values clarification, operating on true priorities, even meaning and purpose in life! However, what you also may encounter is more in the realm of the Urgent dimension. An exploration of this area was initiated for me by a coaching colleague who asked what an example of Not Urgent and Not Important could be. The quick answer was items on your list that are the kind of time-wasting distractions that keep us from getting the more important items done. Are we crowding our to-do list with items that have very little to do with our real goals? Are we deceiving ourselves into believing it really is important to rearrange our sock drawer?

Then the question got me thinking: In today’s world with it’s heightened expectations in workplaces, families and in society, it is important to be more conscious about what you value and to become a savvy list manager. It’s more important than ever not let your “to do list” rule your life. Does everything really have to feel urgent?

We often refer to this as “a sense of urgency”. That very phrase attributes the urgency to inside of us. Sure, we have demands from others, but what’s new about that? Whether you were a 11th Century peasant or a 1950’s steel mill worker there have always been systems and bosses making demands that were excessive. Yet today’s technology pushes the illusion that we can perform beyond human capacity and emulate machine capacity. The external pressure is, in fact, greater, but it is the internal pressure that we can readily do something about. This is what Stephen Covey referred to as “responding” instead of “reacting” to external demands.

A coach’s job is to remind people that they do have choices. All of our technological devices have a built-in stress management device. It’s called the off-on switch. How “accessible” do we really need to be? How driven by fear is that need for accessibility? As a coach you can help your client distinguish what is a realistic fear or concern, and what is an irrational, unrealistic fear.

Coaches can also help people with their stress management by helping them live according to their own values, their own vision of living the good life. This is in contrast to living a life of continual striving to meet the expectations of others. How can we help our clients find within themselves the courage to set boundaries and take charge of their own lives? What ends up on the to-do list are items that enhance one’s life instead of just stressing it out.

Please add your comments about how this topic affects your own life and/or your coaching with others.