When shops mount ‘Back to School’ displays at the start of the summer holidays, part of me feels sorry for schoolchildren. I also find the promise of the return to normality in September strangely comforting, but I’ve only just realised why.
Every day we need to make a lot of decisions. How many is unclear, but the extraordinary figure of 35,000 pops up all over the internet from various sources.
Assuming we sleep seven hours a night, that leaves us responsible for over 2,000 decisions per waking hour.
How did scientists come up with such a huge figure? I question whether some jiggery-pokery is in play. Perhaps it is analogous to my Fitbit’s insistence that I’d walked several miles when I was on a long journey in our camper van, doing nothing more active than knitting. It turned out the device was counting each stitch as a step, misinterpreting the movement of my hands.
Now there’s a handy tip if you’re struggling to reach your step target at the end of a tiring day: sit down and do a few rows of knitting.
Lifestyle app Noom’s estimate of 122 daily decisions is more plausible, and more manageable, considering that we spend a good part of each working day on autopilot. Many of our decisions are shaped by our routines: when to rise, what to wear, how to travel, and so on. The more rigid our workday routine, the fewer decisions we need make. Even a creative job like mine is shaped by a certain degree of habit. For example, I always write first drafts by hand with a fountain pen.
Holidays make us abandon our work routines. While freeing us of some sources of stress associated with our workplace – conflicts with colleagues, commuter journeys – they force us to make many more decisions every day.
However well you know your own mind, all decisions are a source of stress, some more than others.
As a teenager moving from a school with compulsory uniform to one with a liberal dress code added much angst to my mornings.
Most holidays are too short for us to lay down comforting new routines. It takes an estimated 18 days to lay down new habits, although there are exceptions. On holiday in Berlin this summer, my daughter and I quickly got into the swing of breakfasting on oven-warm pastries and good coffee at the Einstein Café on the Kurfürstendamm, cute sparrows hopping around our feet to peck up dropped crumbs.
Returning from our holidays – going ‘back to school’ in spirit if not in fact – and to our old routines, we leave the stress of so many extra daily decisions behind. Whether this means a net gain in well-being depends on how stressful your job is.
If you’re feeling blue as the autumn takes hold, try this top tip for keeping your spirits up post-holiday, courtesy of my friend and former colleague Becky: let your first decision be where to spend your next holiday.
This column first appeared in the September 2022 edition of the Tetbury Advertiser.
BACK TO SCHOOL WITH GEMMA LAMB
Go back to school with Gemma Lamb this autumn – St Bride’s School, that is! The new edition of the first Gemma Lamb Cozy Mystery, Dastardly Deeds at St Bride’s, is now available in ebook, paperback and audiobook, published by Boldwood Books. (Previously published as Secrets at St Bride’s.)
Order your copy here: