In the hustle and bustle of daily life, it can be difficult to take a step back and focus on ourselves—but scheduling a little me time is essential for our mental health.
So much to do, so little time. There’s always a good reason not to take time to recharge your batteries. But it isn’t a luxury: It’s a necessity. "Relaxation is not a frivolous pleasure," says Louise Handfield-Champagne, a Montreal-based psychologist. "It’s vital to our health." Among other things, it reduces blood pressure and decreases muscle tension. Here’s how to overcome six common justifications we give for not relaxing. Now’s the time to stop making excuses!
1. "I’d love to recharge, but I don’t know how."
You have good intentions. You try to take time out for yourself, but nothing seems to work. You just can’t find the right formula. Why is it so hard? Maybe it’s because we get caught up in our obligations and become disconnected from what we find pleasurable. Or perhaps we’re so busy ensuring other people’s happiness that we forget what we need ourselves.
Try this: Figure out what works for you. How? Whenever you feel good, take a mental snapshot of that moment. "Also think about what you used to do when you were young, when you had more free time, or about what you like to do when you’re on vacation," suggests Marie-Claude Lamarche, a psychologist in Montreal.
2. "Recharging is good for other people. I don’t have to do it."
Whether it’s because you’re passionate about your work or because you measure your self-worth by how much you accomplish in a day, you may feel that taking time out just for you is a waste of time. However, if you love your work and hope to continue doing it for a long time, it’s important to regularly take breaks. "It is unrealistic to believe that you don’t need to relax. That’s like saying that you don’t need to eat or sleep," says Lamarche.
Try this: Seek out interests outside of work. If you’re the competitive type, think about a team sport. Do you eat lunch at your desk? Big mistake! Your lunch hour is the perfect time to unplug. Taking a midday break will make you more productive for the rest of the afternoon.
Still need convincing you should take a breather? "Try a few different forms of relaxation," suggests Marie-Claude Pélissier, a Montreal-based psychologist. "It’s a good way to test your theory." You might be surprised at how refreshed and revived you feel after meditating for just a few minutes or striking a yoga pose or two at your desk.
3. "To unwind, I can just turn on the TV or the computer."
After a busy day, you like to simply zone out. But when you get off the couch four hours later, worries resurface, tensions return and you feel just as stressed as you did before.
"Channel surfing is far from relaxing: We’re bombarded with information and images," says Pélissier. Sometimes we watch TV because we don’t know what else to do with ourselves or we lack the motivation to do something more constructive. It takes a lot more effort to go for a walk than to reach for the remote.
Try this: Assess how you feel after turning off the TV. Are you energized and less stressed, or do you simply feel lethargic? If watching your favourite show has a positive effect on your mood, this form of relaxation may be effective for you. If it doesn’t, keep trying different activities until you find something that leaves you in a happy frame of mind. Or use a timer to remind yourself to get off the couch as soon as your favourite show is over.
4. "I’m not into taking yoga classes."
These days relaxation classes are all the rage. One of your neighbours might swear by yoga, while another might find peace in meditation. The key is to discover an activity that suits you; if it doesn’t, doing it may feel more like a burden than a pleasure. Taking time out for yourself should not be a chore.
Try this: Before you run out to sign up for the latest class, figure out what truly interests you. "To unwind, you don’t have to take a structured class or take off a full hour," notes Lamarche. "You have to find something that is easy and enjoyable for you." If you fancy yourself an amateur chef, try out a new recipe for your unsuspecting family. Or crank up the Michael Bublé and dance around the living room for 15 minutes - no lessons required.
5. "My mind never stops."
You know which activities are conducive to relaxation, but your mind won’t quit racing, leaving you thinking about the next item on your to-do list. Whether you’re taking a hot bath, seeing a movie or working out, in your head you’re still figuring out what to make for dinner, when to hem your son’s new pants or what to clean out of the front closet.
Some people live in a constant state of anxiety, imagining countless scenarios, obsessing over every possibility and being afraid to overlook something. But our brains need rest, too. "If your mind never stops racing, that’s a red flag," says Handfield-Champagne. "You need to put on the brakes." An athlete who never takes a break from training risks serious injury. The same holds true for "mental athletes," whose wheels never stop turning.
Try this: "Repetitive activities that don’t require much thought are beneficial because they’re almost hypnotic," says Lamarche. "We do them automatically, while continuing to think, but at some point we finally disengage." Such activities include knitting, walking, painting and kneading bread. "Weeding the garden can be very therapeutic. You don’t have to think or problem-solve, yet you’re accomplishing a concrete task," says Lamarche.
6. "I’ll rest when the cleaning is done, when I finish this important file, when the children are grown…."
Do you view time out for yourself as a reward? It isn’t necessarily so. If you believe that you have to earn the right to relax, you might have trouble unwinding when you really need to. You’ll find it hard to justify taking time out when two baskets of laundry are staring you in the face. If you wait for the ideal time to relax, it might never happen.
Try this: Tell yourself that it’s better to take a short break than to wait for the right time to take a long one. Start by scheduling a short pause in your day - and always keeping the appointment. "Simply taking three long, deep breaths is sometimes enough," says Handfield-Champagne.
You can also use transitions between daily activities as opportunities to take a few minutes for yourself. Getting into relaxation mode may simply mean spending 10 minutes writing in a journal before preparing dinner.
This stylish notebook might just be hottest organizing accessory of the year.
Everyone is supposed to have 24 hours in a day but for some us, it feels like there must be a rip in the space-time continuum. How else can you explain being constantly busy but having nothing to show for it? If this sounds familiar, learn how you can make the most of your time with our five fave productivity tips.
1. Write it down
Billed as "the analog solution for a digital age," the Bullet Journal is a diary, to-do list and catch-all for all your random thoughts. Developed by Brooklyn-based designer Ryder Carroll, this trendy organizing method involves writing down quick, memory jogging statements rather than complex entries. Use it to organize your tasks by day and month pages, keep tabs of books you want to read and things you want to buy or create new lists whenever inspiration strikes. An indexing system allows you to quickly find what you're looking for.
2. Plan your time
Sort of like HIIT for your to-do list, the Pomodoro Technique involves working on your tasks for a short, timed cycle of 25 minutes. With no distractions allowed, it’s great way for those with short attention spans to focus. Take a 5-minute break before starting your next 25 minutes of work and, after four of these cycles, you're rewarded with a longer, half-hour break. Sound a bit too structured? Maybe that's why it works—it was voted the most popular productivity technique by the readers of lifehacker.com.
3. Try a tech-savvy solution
The If This Then That app might be the closest you'll ever come to a personal assistant. Got any apps on your phone? Automate their functions by using If This Then That statements, or as IFTTT calls them, “recipes.” For example: get an early morning text when the forecast calls for rain, use it to get coffee going without getting out of bed (using a programmable outlet) or tell the family you're on your way home (with an email triggered by your location app once you've left work).
4. Go KonMari on your clutter
While organizing trendsetter Marie Kondo’s method of minimal living has been criticized for being a bit too twee, an organized, uncluttered home can be key to increased efficiency. "In most cases, things that function well are inherently neat and clean," says Clare Kumar, a professional organizer based in Toronto. It's not hard to see why. Simply owning less makes it easier for you to find what you need and streamlines your decision making (no need to choose between your 6 pairs of jeans, for example), saving you time that can be better spent elsewhere.
5. Let it go
There'll be days you can't get to everything. Your work presentation sits unfinished, the house is a mess and dinner was takeout (again!). Instead of stressing out, try to cut yourself some slack. "Our bodies burn out when stuck in fast-forward," says Carl Honoré, an expert on the topic of slow living. Sometimes the best way to be productive is to take some time out to recharge. So curl up with a good book, take a long bath, or enjoy a glass of wine...guilt free! After all, there's always tomorrow.
Crunchy-Top Blueberry Muffins
Photography by Mark Burstyn Image by: Crunchy-Top Blueberry Muffins <br /> Photography by Mark Burstyn
No one wants to feel hangry or get hit with a midday crash—but that doesn't mean you have to visit the office vending machine. Instead, curb hunger pangs with these healthier, expert-approved alternatives.
1. Swap: Microwave popcorn for cauliflower popcorn
Even light microwave popcorn can be loaded with sodium, trans fats (which raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol) and artificial colours and flavours, says Kelowna, B.C.–based registered dietitian Tristaca Curley. Instead, cut a head of cauliflower into bite-size pieces, then roast in the oven with some olive or coconut oil and sprinkle with sea salt flakes. This low-calorie, folate- and potassium-rich sub is a satisfying twist on that movie-night favourite.
Photography by Angus Fergusson
2. Swap: Store-bought gorp for DIY trail mix
Ready-made trail mixes can be full of sugar and salt, so create your own snack of walnuts (the nut with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids), unsalted sunflower seeds, dried apple bits and unsweetened shredded coconut. Add chocolate chips for an extra hit of sweetness. "For a tart superfood top-up, add golden berries, which resemble golden raisins," says Toronto-based registered nutritionist Joey Shulman. "They're lower in sugar versus other small berries, and they contain linoleic and oleic acids, which help with fat oxidation." Or add resveratrol-rich mulberries for their antioxidant punch.
3. Swap: Potato Chips for kale chips
"Regular chips contain trans fatty acids, the bad fat that can lead to heart disease and elevated cholesterol," says Shulman. "This superfood alternative is loaded with vitamins A, C and K." Tear kale leaves into bite-size pieces (discard thick stems), toss with olive oil and salt, then roast until crisp.
4. Swap: Salted pretzels for roasted chickpeas
Sure, pretzels may be low in fat, but they're loaded with salt and have no real nutritional value, says Curley. For a crunchy alternative, try oven-roasted chickpeas. These legumes are high in fibre, protein and iron, making them an ideal "fill me up" snack. Toss together chickpeas, olive oil, sea salt and your favourite spice (think smoked paprika, ground cumin, cayenne pepper or garlic powder), then roast until golden brown and crunchy.
5. Swap: Cheese crackers for a seaweed snack
Most crackers are processed carbs laden with artificial colours, preservatives and other additives. "In their place, top a sheet of nori with some canned tuna, smoked salmon or a meat alternative, like grilled tofu," says Curley. The seaweed is super satisfying and guilt-free: There are only five calories per sheet. Plus, sea vegetables are full of vitamins A and C, calcium, iodine (essential for metabolism) and iron.
6. Swap: Chocolate pudding for avocado and cocoa pudding
Chocolate puddings can be drowning in high-fructose corn syrup. For a healthier treat, mash an avocado, then stir in two tablespoons each of cocoa powder and hemp seeds and a quarter cup of honey, says Curley. This pudding is low in sugar and a great source of monounsaturated fats, vitamin C and fibre.
7. Swap: Granola bars for energy balls
Granola bars can contain as much sugar, fat and refined carbs as a chocolate bar. "Instead, stir together a cup of oatmeal with half a cup each of nut butter, hemp seeds and dried fruit," says Curley. Maple syrup or honey will help it stick together. This homemade option is high in fibre and protein, low in sugar and free of additives.
8. Swap: Chips and dip for hummus and carrot or zucchini coins
Processed foods like chips can raise blood sugar, triggering a release in insulin, which then lowers blood sugar. In the short term, these highs and lows actually increase cravings; in the long run, they can lead to weight gain. Try this clever swap from Curley. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, slice carrots or zucchini into coins. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, then bake until golden brown and crisp. Serve with a side of hummus. (Brownie points if it's homemade!)
9. Swap: Banana chips for a loaded banana
This snack is often coated in sugar and deep-fried to give it crunch, so choose a fresh banana, which is glycemic index–friendly, suggests Curley. (Foods with a low-GI value are digested more slowly, so they won't cause a spike in blood sugar.) Top the banana with two tablespoons of your favourite nut butter, then roll it in hemp seeds. "You'll get a slow, steady rise in your blood sugar, so you'll feel full for longer," says Curley. Plus, this satisfying switch-up delivers potassium, protein, iron and omega-3s.
10. Swap: Chocolate-covered almonds for apple rings with nut butter
Almonds are a great snack, but when they're coated with chocolate, they turn into a treat. For a healthier option, slice a cored apple into rings. Top each slice with natural peanut, cashew or almond butter and sprinkle with hemp seeds, which are a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. "Apples are loaded with fibre and vitamin C," says Shulman. "Look for unprocessed nut butters; they're rich in good fats, which contain essential fatty acids such as omega-3s and monounsaturated fats."