Columnist Joanna Buoniconti: Giving myself the grace to relax this Christmas

Joanna Buoniconti

Joanna Buoniconti FILE PHOTO

By JOANNA BUONICONTI

Published: 12-04-2023 4:18 PM

As everyone knows the Christmas season can be perpetually chaotic and stressful. Between shopping, get-togethers with family and friends, cooking, baking and putting up decorations, it’s a holiday that brings out the perfectionists in all of us. Because we want everything to be perfect for our loved ones, we put pressure on ourselves to exude the same yuletide energy as Buddy the Elf.

But the constant grind and the expectations that we each put on ourselves do come at a cost. And speaking as a perfectionist and self-proclaimed workaholic, I am all too aware of them.

For those of you who read my columns on a regular basis, this will come as no surprise to you, but I have a very hard-time relaxing. Between grad school classes, homework, internships and my various freelance writing and editing projects, I do some degree of work — every day. This borderline unhealthy habit is not new for me though. In fact, it started about six years ago, when I was in my freshman year at UMass.

That was the period of time, before I had started the current treatment for my condition, in which I was losing a lot of strength and experiencing overwhelming anxiety for the first time in my life. Ever since I was little, my primary coping mechanism has always been to fully dive into schoolwork and/or actual work — the only two things in my life completely in my control. And being the Type A person that I am, I found comfort in being able to control something. So I clung on to that morsel of comfort like my life depended on it, and it quickly became a part of my daily routine that was both a refuge and a necessity in order to meet all of my deadlines.

My body becoming weaker also greatly affected the strength of my hands and, subsequently, the speed at which I was able to type. Because I type using a trackball and an on-screen keyboard, typing has always been a time-consuming activity for me. But, during this time, it was particularly more so. For instance, if I had a four-page paper due, I would have to dedicate at least three days to typing it because my hand would get fatigued very quickly. Coincidentally, the strength in my left hand was one of the biggest improvements that I noticed immediately after beginning treatment five years ago. My hand stopped falling off my trackball when I was typing for an extended period of time, and currently, I can type the entirety of this article within a span of five-to-six hours.

However, with this improvement in my strength also came my eagerness to take on more classes and internships. And I fully credit this surge in my strength to my ability to pursue and complete a double major while at UMass, in addition to writing a 123-page thesis during my senior year, not to mention, my decision to pursue grad school and maintain four internships during this past year alone.

And my type A, workaholic mind thrived upon coming to this realization because I felt slightly more in control of my body and the possibilities for my future. Now, as much as you all know that I love school and thrive in an academic environment, this does not mean that I haven’t experienced academic burnout. Because I have. When I graduated from UMass, I couldn’t physically stomach the thought of writing one more paper and I was adamant about not pursuing my master’s.

I took a year off of academics and focused on finding freelance writing jobs, while re-discovering my love for reading. I set boundaries for when I would tackle the assignments on my to-do list, I actually took weekends and holidays off to relax, which was very much a novel concept for me.

It was a year of recharging and gaining perspective. However, when I started grad school, all the boundaries that I had spent the previous year putting into place went out the window. I retreated to my old habits of being chained to my laptop until all hours of the night and sporadically on the weekends.

This is incredibly shameful to admit to you all, but I do not remember the last time I took a day to completely relax. It was probably sometime before my summer class and my second summer internship began. It’s not that I don’t attempt to relax because I do. It’s just that whenever I attempt to, my mind starts racing with all the things I have to do.

But this is something that I plan to remedy after my classes for this semester end in mid-December. I’m going to take some much-needed time to recharge before the new year begins, watch my favorite Christmas movies, finish reading the books I’ve been reading since August and actually be present in the holiday festivities with my family.

To make a long story short, I’m going to give myself the gift of allowing my mind and body to relax this Christmas, and I hope whatever you do this holiday season you remember to take some time for you too!

Gazette columnist Joanna Buoniconti is a freelance writer and editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s at Emerson College. She can be reached at columnist@gazettenet.com.