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Happy holidays! Many people try to relax during this time of year—perhaps attending holiday gatherings or taking a vacation. But many of us struggle with truly relaxing. Modern life has a way of moving quickly…even when you’re trying to slow down.

According to the Center for Integrated Healthcare, there are numerous benefits of deep relaxation. These include reduced anxiety, improved sleep, better concentration, and even improved digestion. But how do you get into a state of relaxation when so many things are vying for your time and attention?

This week, let’s talk about 4 factors that tend to derail relaxation, and how to prevent them from doing so.

1. Notifications

Picture this: You’ve settled in at the dinner table and you’re about to eat a relaxing, homecooked meal with your family. Then, your phone dings and you see that someone has commented on a picture you posted on Instagram. You start dishing up your plate, but your phone dings again. This time, it’s giving you an update on your favorite sports team. Ding! You have a Twitter notification. Ding! An eBook on your wish list is on sale.

Before you know it, your mind is caught up in all the activity on your phone. You’re distracted, and your family dinner no longer feels relaxing. You want to hurry up and get through it so you can attend to all these notifications.

Few things clamor for our attention like our phones. The average person will pick up their phone 58 times per day. It’s clear phones have us on a tight leash!

To combat the pressure to always pick up your phone, try some of the following tactics:

  • Turn off app notifications
  • Periodically put your phone in airplane mode
  • Use an app to track screen time (this will help put things in perspective!)

2. Emails

For many of us, emails take up a large portion of the day. We see an email come in, and we’re immediately pressured to respond. Even if we choose to ignore an email for a while, we know it’s there, hanging out in the back of our minds.

I urge you to set healthy boundaries by taking control of your email. You might choose to only check and reply to email 2-3 times per day. Or you can set a firm “cut off” point (say 5:30 p.m.) where you mute your inbox and step away from emails.

3. Poor Sleep

It’s tough to feel fully relaxed if you’re lacking in the sleep department. Unfortunately, many of us struggle with catching enough zzz’s, and that can make everything more difficult. You can’t be the best version of yourself if you’re running on four hours of sleep and an abundance of caffeine.

To practice good sleep hygiene, try the following best practices:

  • Shut off all screens one hour before bedtime
  • If you’re using screens at night, use blue-light filtering glasses
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Don’t eat immediately before bedtime
  • Remove screens (like TVs) from your bedroom
  • Invest in a good pillow that fits your sleep style (side, back, etc.)

4. Over-Planning

If you’ve over-planned a holiday, it can be difficult to find the relaxation amidst the bustle. You might end up feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation! (See my past blog post on planning a relaxing vacation.)

If you can’t help your planning tendencies, try adding downtime into your schedule of events. Though it may seem strange, it can be immensely helpful to set aside “do nothing” time. This will essentially give you permission to relax, unwind, and go with the flow. You can fill this space if you want, but there’s no pressure to be up and about, doing things. Instead, grab a book, play a game, take a walk, or simply enjoy being present.

Even in our busy, distraction-filled lives, it is possible to relax. Take control of your schedule (and your phone!), don’t over-plan, and focus on being present. You’ve earned it.




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You’re worn thin. You’ve been busy juggling several different work projects with family life and other commitments. You haven’t taken quality time for yourself in ages. In short…you’re EXHAUSTED. What to do? How can you rest, rejuvenate, and forge ahead?

In past blog posts, I’ve talked about the merits of taking a break (a long break, if possible!), but not everyone has the luxury of being able to pack up and go on vacation whenever they’re feeling worn out. If that’s you, you might try taking some “mini breaks.” These brief moments away can help renew your energy and fortify you so you can face the stressors of work, relationships, or simply everyday life.

Keep in mind: when you take these mini breaks, it’s best to do so completely. Turn your phone to airplane mode, schedule “you time” on the calendar, and step away as much as possible. Otherwise, you’ll never fully relax…and that pretty much defeats the purpose!

Here are 7 ideas for ways to rejuvenate without taking a full-on vacation:

1. Set aside a “favorite things” day

What do you enjoy doing more than anything? Do you like to read? Watch movies? Wander through gardens, conservatories, or the woods? Visit museums? Enjoy good food and/or good company?

Pick some of your favorite things and plan a day around them! This mini vacation is all about YOU. Grab brunch in the morning, catch up on your reading list, go to a basketball game or a movie–whatever makes you happy.

Don’t forget to plan ahead! If you have responsibilities (young kids, work commitments, etc.) make sure they are taken care of so you don’t have to divide your attention during your “favorite things” day.

2. Designate a “slow cooking” night

If you enjoy cooking, make an effort to set aside one night each week to fully immerse yourself in “slow cooking.” Instead of rushing to put dinner on the table, luxuriate in planning a menu, prepping your dishes, cooking, and enjoying the fruits of your labors. If you don’t love cooking, have a nice night out instead. In many cultures outside the US, food is savored and enjoyed, rather than rushed through. Rediscover the pleasure in eating a nice meal.

3. Try an unplugged workout

When you go to the gym or take a walk outside, are you tempted to check your phone and reply to emails? Do you constantly see notifications coming in?

These little distractions take away from what could be very healthy, and potentially relaxing, activities. Instead of letting your phone derail your active time, turn it to airplane mode and listen to music or an audiobook you’ve downloaded. If you need to keep limited notifications on, try your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” function and only let priority phone numbers get through. That way, when you work out you can truly immerse yourself in the activity.

4. Have an art night

Do you enjoy photography? Painting? Woodworking? If you have an artistic hobby that you haven’t indulged in a while, set aside some time for it! You might even decide to have a weekly art night, dedicated to your hobby.

5. Take a spa day

There’s nothing quite like a spa day when it comes to self-care. Indulge yourself with a massage, haircut, facial, or whatever you need to help you feel more relaxed and rejuvenated. If you’re on a budget, make it a DIY spa day with an at-home facial, a bath with Epsom salts, scented candles, etc. On the other hand, if you’re able to spend some extra cash, consider going to an all-inclusive spa where you can relax and spend the night (there’s something to be said about being away from your own home and the mounds of responsibilities that await you there!).

6. Catch up on your reading list

Do you have a mountain of to-read books you’ve been meaning to get to? Take a long afternoon to enjoy a hot beverage or a glass of wine, and curl up with a good book. Take a “book afternoon” whenever you need to–whenever you’re feeling tired and need a cozy getaway.

7. Have a slow morning

Whenever you need it, set aside a day to have a late morning. Block off time on your calendar (just as you would if you had a doctor or dentist appointment), and clock into work around noon. Use your slow morning to sleep in, practice yoga or meditate, read a newspaper or book over a cup of coffee, or perhaps grab brunch at your favorite breakfast joint. It’s amazing what a relaxed morning can do for productivity!

If you find yourself feeling burnt out, but can’t spring for a real vacation, try some of these mini breaks! Spending intentional time relaxing and unwinding can work wonders for your energy and productivity.


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Whew! All the hustle and bustle of the holidays can keep you go-go-going in a million different directions. Balancing end of the year work projects, family gatherings, and holiday activities can make us burn the candle at both ends. With the multitude of events and projects, it’s easy to get stressed. And that stress can be compounded by a lack of sleep, an abundance of sugary foods, and the weight of holiday expectations. Not to mention, if you live in the northern U.S. like I do, it’s cold! It’s not quite as tempting to hop on a bicycle or go for a walk when the weather is below freezing.

All of this stress can have serious consequences for our well-being.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.” It can lead to muscle tension, digestion issues, and headaches.

Stress can also affect those around us.

When we’re stressed, we tend to lash out at others more. Or, we disengage and have trouble being present. We tend to get wrapped up in our own tension when we’re stressed and therefore do not give others the full attention and consideration they deserve.

How to combat the holiday stress? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Breathe. Take time to step away from stressful situations and focus on your breath. It only take a few seconds and it WORKS.
  2. Exercise. Go for a long walk, hit the gym, or ask a friend to go to yoga class. Movement gets your blood flowing and reduces anxiety.
  3. Treat yourself! Give yourself a gift this holiday season, some special treat that will help you relax. Schedule a massage, a pedicure, or a facial. Or, plan a relaxed night (by yourself or with a friend/significant other) that involves low-stress activities, like a nice dinner and a movie.
  4. Eat well. Good nutrition can increase our energy, improve digestion, and reduce headaches. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine reminds us to avoid high-fat foods (like pizza and mac ‘n’ cheese) when we’re feeling stressed because “they can make us feel lethargic and less able to deal with stress.”
  5. Practice quiet time. Read a book, knit, bake a pie. Do something that you love and DON’T feel guilty about taking this “you time.”
  6. Invest in yourself. If your stress reaches serious levels, you may want to consider reaching out to a therapist or career counselor to get yourself back on track. Pay attention to how you’re feeling. If this is more than “a little holiday stress,” reach out and seek help immediately.

Your mental and physical health is directly tied to your stress levels. Don’t let the holidays get to you! Take time to respect yourself and your wellbeing. Doing so will help set you up for success in the New Year.

Happy holidays!


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