The aches and pains I have at home disappear, all of my tension drains, and I sleep better and have more energy. If only I could pack that blissed-out feeling into my suitcase as a souvenir.
“We feel so great on holiday because we let go of all of life’s stressors – finances, health, relationships, work – and tap into that relaxation response,” says Suzanne Zilkowsky, owner of Vancouver Health Coach, a company that coaches clients on health, fitness and stress management. “We don’t worry about timelines, we probably get more sleep, and we nourish ourselves better. Obviously, our stress is minimized.”
It’s a phenomenon that’s backed by research: Studies have found that vacations help relieve work-related stress and provide benefits for rest and recuperation, health and well-being and personal growth.
The trick, of course, is to capture that holiday feeling – bottling it like sand from a distant beach – and bring back the great sleeps, mindful meals, fresh air, exercise and restorative practices that are the hallmarks of time away.
Fortunately, it’s not as hard as you might think. Here are seven tips for achieving stress-reduced living, one for each day of the week.2 / 8
Sleep is vital to brain function. Not only does a good night’s slumber improve learning but studies also show that not spending enough time between the sheets can have a negative impact on your daily life. People who are sleep deprived have a harder time controlling their emotions, making decisions, paying attention and managing stress.
“When you’re tired, you tend to cope poorly, eat worse and have bad habits [such as caffeine consumption] that reinforce poor sleep,” says Dr. Atul Khullar, medical director of the Northern Alberta Sleep Clinic and senior consultant for MedSleep, a nationwide network of clinics that treats sleep disorders.
“If you’re sleeping better on vacation, you should really examine your sleep habits in your own bedroom.”
Dr. Khullar says that the most important thing is to not bring any problems to bed, which is what happens if you have your phone, computer or television in the bedroom.
It also helps to remove the clock (or angle it) so you can’t watch it and make sure that the room is dark and cool. Finally, you should aim for at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night. If you’re falling short, start by going to bed 10 to 15 minutes earlier. “Added up over a week, it can make a big difference,” he says.
Exercise is one of the best and most effective ways to lower stress, and it’s inexpensive and healthy for you. On holiday, you do it without even thinking about it by walking around a new city. At home, you should build it into your day.
“Even moderate-intensity activity, such as going for a brisk walk, releases ‘happy hormones’ like epinephrine, adrenaline and serotonin, which improve your mood and increase your energy,” says Zilkowsky. “It also lowers all of the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety.”
Start with 15 minutes of daily exercise, which is enough time to increase your heart rate and begin to reap the benefits.
Cycle to work, do a mini-yoga session or dust off the treadmill in your basement and walk while you watch TV.
“It doesn’t have to be a long marathon run or CrossFit session,” says Zilkowsky. As well, she recommends building regular movement breaks into your workday, where you get up from the computer to get a drink of water or stretch.
“It increases productivity and helps you stay focused,” says Zilkowsky. Set a notification reminder to help you remember.4 / 8
On vacation, we enjoy long drawn-out restaurant meals with loved ones; in real life, we scarf down processed foods in the car on the way to hockey practice. It’s a fact that stress leads to poor food choices, says Andrea Holwegner, a registered dietitian and owner of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting in Calgary.
“We have really good research to support that families that eat together have less anxiety, less depression and a reduced risk of obesity,” she says. “They score higher on tests academically, all because they’re simply eating together.”
Holwegner recommends that families eat at least one meal a day together to connect and eat healthy (no technology allowed). If dinner isn’t ideal because of work commitments or kids’ activities, let breakfast be the backup. To make meal planning less onerous, ask the question
“What’s for supper?” the day before and take something out of the freezer so you won’t have any excuses.5 / 8 photo credit: shutterstock
You know that moment when you lie back on your beach towel, toes in the powdery sand, tropical sun on your face, and literally sigh? That’s called the “ahh feeling,” and it’s important to make time for it daily to unplug, calm your mind and body and take a break from the world, says Zilkowsky.
“There are so many ways you can get that feeling, and it doesn’t mean you have to go to the spa,” she says. It could be quiet time with a good book, breathing exercises or meditation, which is gaining more fans as a method to manage stress.
“A restorative practice can be anything that makes you feel better,” says Martin Antony, a professor of psychology at Ryerson University and author of The Anti-Anxiety Workbook.
“For some, it may be a hot bath or massage; for others, it’s getting social support.” Carve out space for your “ahh” time and schedule it into your day or week until it becomes a habit.6 / 8 photo credit: shutterstock
It’s tempting to be a yes woman, assigning yourself to school fundraisers and volunteer committees even though you don’t have the time. That’s the beauty of vacations: We only say yes to things we want to do. Ziplining? Heck, yeah! Hula lessons? Not so much.
“Most people say yes to everything, and then they start getting stressed out and have to backtrack,” says Holwegner, who also coaches clients on workplace wellness and stress management.
“We see so many overextended people. People have to be very intentional about what their priorities are in life and create boundaries around what’s really meaningful.”
If you’re uncomfortable saying no to a request right away, ask for time to think about it. If it’s your boss asking and you really can’t say no, make sure to clarify what items can slide down the priority list to make time for the new project.7 / 8 photo credit: shutterstock
Part of what makes a vacation so exciting is the novelty of a new place. You eat at trendy restaurants, sign up for bicycle tours and try activities like surfing. In short, you do things that bring you joy and let you discover a destination.
The good news is, it’s easy to be a tourist in your own town, especially on weekends. Make a point of checking out that hot new jazz bar or signing up for a food or brewery tour. Try a new hike or visit a museum.
“Day in and day out, we get up, go to work, come home and turn on the TV while we’re doing chores,” says Zilkowsky. “We’re in a rut. A lot of that stuff empties our cup. So how do we fill it back up?”
In other words, what will make you feel alive, right here, right now? Go and do it.8 / 8 photo credit: shutterstock
Giving thanks is good for you: It breeds optimism, boosts immunity and helps people cope with stress. Every day on vacay is a little shout-out – we feel so fortunate and lucky to be spending time with friends, loved ones or even alone. It’s much harder to practise gratitude back at home while living the daily grind, but it’s tremendously important.
“Find gratitude in small, everyday moments,” says Lisa Jones, owner of Spark for Life Coaching in Calgary. “Put your head down at the end of the day – even if you’re just grateful for surviving the day! That can really improve your mood, your happiness and your sense of fulfillment.”
When we become consciously aware of all we have to be thankful for, whether by writing it down in a journal or just making a mental note of it, it puts the little aggravations into perspective.