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Campus & Community

Systems Expert: Focus on the Present, Not the Presents

Plus 8 Campus Events for Destressing in December

By Pablo Suarez

Socks by the fireplace

Photo by iStock; illustrations by Valerie Morgan

Constantly worrying about what’s next comes at the expense of enjoying the present during the holiday season, says J. Gerald Suarez, professor of the practice in systems thinking and design.

What do we really mean when we ask, “Are you ready for the holidays?”

Packed calendars, frantic shopping and financial pressures can make it seem like we’re bracing for impact, rather than kicking back and enjoying, said J. Gerald Suarez, professor of the practice in systems thinking and design at UMD’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Too much of our focus and attention during the holiday season is consumed by rush, clutter and the next task on our to-do list, he said. Constantly worrying about what’s next comes at the expense of enjoying the present.

“The issue with busyness and things to do is that we forget life ought to be around ‘how to be,’” Suarez said. “With every little task we accomplish without mindfulness, we forfeit our joy.”

He acknowledged that the holidays are burdensome for employees in certain industries— retail and health care, for example— because of the nature of their work and the demands on their schedules. Those who are able to take time off,  however, must leverage that period and slow down.

“We need to take advantage of the chance to decompress, reflect and recharge,” Suarez said. “This is an opportunity to step back from the daily rigor and make an effort to adjust the pace of a hectic routine.”

To get the most out of the holiday season, Suarez offered the following tips:

  • Imperfect is perfect. “We need to let go of the self-imposed burden of perfection—the perfect house, decorations, dinner and gifts,” he said. “Rigidly adhering to these high standards is a recipe for stress, because there is always more to be accomplished if we are aiming at perfection.”
  • Recalibrate. Suarez recommended easing expectations and redefining what makes a great holiday season. “Maybe it’s disconnecting from technology, exercising more or relaxing and reconnecting with friends and family.”
  • Less is enough. “We have to indulge in simplicity and declutter our brains from things to do,” Suarez said. “Also, appreciate with mindfulness every moment and interaction, find meaning in what is happening around us and embrace the spirit of the season.”
  • Zoom out. “Look at the big picture of your day, not at the nitty-gritty of activities and the fragmentation of your day. Appreciate the big picture and approach it for what it is: a season. It’s not a short-term event; it’s a joyful time if we make it so.”

8 Ways to Destress at the Stamp
Looking to stress less in the run-up to finals and the holidays? From pups to painting to pizza, the Adele H. Stamp Student Union hosts a sack full of fun and relaxing events over the next two weeks. See the full lineup here. 

Illustration of dogToday: Wags for Wellness, 11 a.m.–2 p.m., Stamp Involvement Suite 

Play with some of the sweetest therapy dogs around!



Illustration of s'moreToday: S’more Studying, 10 a.m.–1 p.m., MICA Lounge 

Kick back with campfire treats while you study.



Illustration of Bob Ross paintingTomorrow: Bob Ross Paint Sesh, 2 and 3 p.m., Atrium 

Follow along to a Bob Ross tutorial; materials and supplies will be provided. Entry spots are limited—first come, first served. See for details.



Illustration of jewelryDec. 5: Art & Jewelry Crafting, 11 a.m.–3 p.m., MICA Lounge 

Create a piece that celebrates your identity or a social cause you’re passionate about.



Illustration of potteryDec. 9: Play in Clay & Picture Frame Painting, 6–8 p.m., Studio A

Ceramics techs help you get down and dirty with a pottery wheel.



Illustration of labyrinthDec. 9: Labyrinth Lights, 4:30–6 p.m., Garden Chapel & Labyrinth

The lighting ceremony at the Memorial Chapel Labyrinth starts at 4:30.



Illustration of hand squeezing stress ballDec. 10: Make Your Own Stress Ball, noon.–2 p.m., Stamp Student Involvement Suite

Squeeze out some stress on your own creation.



Illustration of handsDec. 12: Free 12-Minute Massage, 10 a.m.–2 p.m., Student Involvement Suite

Space is limited, so stop by early to sign up for a slot.



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