The best way to minimize stress? Escape the busy trap
A quarter of Canadian women feel stressed out only a daily basis. And no wonder, when you consider what we're juggling: work, kids, household chores... Here's how busyness impacts our health, and what you can do about it.
Hilary Letwin finds it nearly impossible to silence the nagging voice once it starts, usually in the middle of the night. That's when her bottomless to-do list begins to creep into her consciousness. "I try not to let those feelings overwhelm me, because that can be quite paralyzing," says Hilary, as she struggles to meet the demands of running a household and raising a 3 1/2-year-old while working from home as a research writer.
The "busy trap" that plagues Hilary is maddeningly familiar to many Canadian women who feel as if they're being pushed to the brink as a result of jam-packed work schedules, family obligations, household chores and the self-imposed pressure to continually take on more.
Kathryn Lavallee, 33, is caught in the same trap. The sense that she's always on the run starts as soon as she opens her eyes in the morning. She's immediately checking email for any urgent work-related issues to handle. Next, it's down to the kitchen to make breakfast and pack lunches for her five- and eight-year-old sons before walking them to school. "I feel like there's always something else to do," says the single mom. "There are days when I get a little panicky."
After dropping her kids off at school, Kathryn, who lives just outside of Regina, heads back home, where she runs her own website full time. And after she picks up the boys, she starts the nightly ritual of snacks, karate or Scouts, meal preparation, cleaning and bedtime. Even then, Kathryn often finds herself typing away at her computer late into the night.
Finding ways to cope
Research on the long-term negative effects of stress is leading women like Kathryn and Hilary to realize that this busy trap is about more than momentary angst—it can seriously affect their health. While it's unlikely that many of the obligations keeping Canadian women so busy will disappear any time soon, there are effective coping mechanisms that can help minimize stress and promote a healthier life.
For Hilary, who lives in Port Moody, B.C., daytime list-making is a useful tool for managing stress. Once she wrestles tasks onto paper, the 36-year-old mom feels one step closer to getting them done. Hilary and her husband also make a conscious effort not to overcommit to social events or engagements—taking a pass on after-work functions and too many kids' activities—that could leave them scrambling to get everything else done.
Karen Duncan, work-life balance expert and associate professor at the University of Manitoba, says that, beyond a simple list, the key to escaping the busy trap is figuring out your priorities. Many people believe they can achieve a perfect balance between work and home life if they just work hard enough, she says. "It's setting people up to fail."
Instead, Duncan suggests giving careful thought to what you can and can't control. "Putting in this work in advance to identify your real priorities can give you a more realistic idea of what you can take on and achieve without feeling burned out and also help you focus on areas where change is within your control," she says. "Yes, we may be able to manage stress, but it's so much better if we can understand the cause of that stress and eliminate it if possible and, if not, adjust our expectations accordingly so we meet our priorities."
For Jody MacArthur, the juggling act of life itself seems like the cause. A 40-yearold mother of two young daughters, Jody runs a public relations and social media management business from her house near Halifax. Though working from home affords her flexibility, it also means Jody is never far from the demands of the office. Once she and her husband are finished making meals, shuttling the girls to activities and looking after household chores, Jody often ends up finishing her work after the kids are in bed. She finds herself limping toward the end of the school year and using summer holidays to recharge her worn-out batteries. But she also acknowledges that she brings on some of the tasks that keep her in high gear.
Thankfully, as a culture, we're starting to discuss the lure—and perils—of our busy ways. Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, says that society places too much value on being busy. "There is a certain amount of pride when we show how much stuff we can cram into our calendars," she says. It's hard for women to shed this mindset, given that it's increasingly easy to compare ourselves to the Pinterest crafting brigade and the Facebook humble braggers.
Schulte says that letting go of those unrealistic expectations is critical. When women—who so often carry dual workhome roles—recognize that the default in modern society is to aspire to be busy all the time, it's easier to let go. "You can't control time, but you can control your expectations, and you can control your priorities," says Schulte.
Jody hears that advice loud and clear. Lately, she's been making the effort to check her expectations and to clear her schedule so the family can enjoy more downtime. They find themselves taking spontaneous outings to the movies, something that once seemed impossible. "It feels a lot healthier than it did; it feels a lot slower. For us, that works," she says.
Erin Chrusch, 36, agrees that the busy trap is often self-inflicted. "You make choices about what you want for your family," says the Calgary wife and mother of two, aged five and seven. She catches herself when she complains about her crowded schedule, because many of the things that keep her family busy—taking the kids to dance or hockey—are privileges. But it's still a mad dash for the working parents, especially when one of the kids is sick or childcare falls through.
Striking a balance
Scott Schieman, researcher on work, stress and health and a University of Toronto sociologist, says pressures faced by families are often caused by rigid work hours and the "technology creep," which makes many employees reluctant to stop checking email. Schieman believes employees should be able to talk to their managers about schedules and have more flexibility when it's needed. And he argues that employers should be prepared to offer more of their workers arrangements that fit their lives.
In that regard, Erin is lucky. Her boss, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, understands she has obligations outside the office. "It's good to have a work environment that allows me to do what I need to do," she says. "It makes me feel like I can balance it all."
Back in Regina, Kathryn has been learning to say no when she's stretched too thin. She goes out for dinner once a week to give herself a break from cooking and to prevent busyness-induced stress. "You're away from all of that pressure," she says. "It's hugely helpful."
Put your slow cooker to work and save time with these 20 easy and satisfying recipes.
Serve this saucy pulled pork as sandwiches: piled high on buns, with bowls of garnishes, such as pickled jalapeños, sour cream, shredded cheese and thinly shredded red cabbage (or better yet, red cabbage slaw), and let guests build their own sandwiches.
This recipe can easily be left to simmer away in a slow cooker for eight hours before adding the chicken. It yields a large quantity of sauce that freezes well if you're feeding a smaller group. Serve over hot steamed basmati rice.
This roast, inspired by a classic Belgian stew, is juicy and tender over mashed potatoes, and the leftovers make the ultimate hot sandwich. Cook the bacon and onion mixture the night before so it's ready to add to the slow cooker in the morning without a lot of fuss.
This beanless regional specialty is a point of pride in Cincinnati, where fierce loyalty divides the city over which restaurant serves the best version. Cooked low and slow, with the distinguishing flavours of cinnamon and cocoa, the meaty, saucy chili is served over spaghetti.
This mild, sweet curry has all the comforting flavours of a curry without too much spice, making it a great choice for the entire family. Serve over steamed rice or with warmed naan bread.
You won't believe how tasty and easy it is to make this classic dish in your slow cooker. A piping bag - or plastic bag - makes easy work of stuffing the manicotti. Serve with a tossed salad and garlic bread for an easy family-style dinner.
A brisket needs to be cooked slowly, so using a slow cooker makes perfect sense. Ensure tender slices by cutting the brisket thinly across the grain.
Inspired by Portuguese caldo verde, this hearty, richly flavoured soup is a yummy way to use up an entire bunch of kale in one go. It freezes well, so leftovers make quick and easy lunches all week. The soup thickens as it stands; thin with water and adjust the seasonings as desired when you reheat it.
My mother, Shu-Lai Fong, makes famous pressure-cooked black bean spareribs. They're the inspiration for this recipe, which is just as delicious but uses a slow cooker. You'll find bite-size bone-in pork spareribs at most Asian grocery stores, or you can order them at your butcher's counter.
This hearty sauce is best served over a short pasta with lots of nooks and crannies it can tuck into and cling to. This ragu also makes a delicious lasagna filling when layered with sheets of fresh pasta and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. Cost: $2.15/cup
There are few things more comforting than a bowl of rich, creamy seafood chowder. Sweet, licorice-like fennel naturally complements the seafood. Serve with oyster crackers or crusty bread and a simple green salad for a complete meal.
Chorizo sausage and flavourful spices make this chili a real treat to come home to. Stirring in chopped herbs at the end adds a welcome touch of freshness.
Slow-cooked then quickly finished on the grill, sweet and sticky glazed ribs are guaranteed to impress your guests. Pork side ribs are also called St. Louis–style ribs, but back ribs are equally delicious.
Finally a flavourful risotto that doesn't need any stirring! Dried mushrooms work perfectly to create an earthy aroma, we've used dried porcinis here as they're readily available, but any dried mushroom will do. Hearty pot barley makes adds a healthful twist and doesn't become overly mushy - even after 8 hours.
Sweet honey and tender shallots mellow the typically strong flavour of lamb shoulder. Serve with roasted potatoes and steamed greens for a complete meal.
We've swapped beef broth for chicken broth and onions for tender leeks but kept all the flavour in this lighter version of classic French onion soup. When you get home, just toast the baguette, broil the cheese and enjoy!
This veggie-loaded chili is so hearty that even meat lovers will ask for seconds. To freeze it, cook as directed, but don't add the mushrooms. Cook them separately and add to the chili after reheating it. Serve with crusty bread to soak up every bit of sauce.
Inspired by the traditional Mexican tacos served with spicy thin pork slices and pineapple, this slow cooker version features pork shoulder broken into tender bite size chunks. If you don't want to serve these as tacos, try serving the pork on top of steamed white rice instead.
This all-in-one meal is a roast version of classic beef and barley soup. The barley thickens the cooking liquid to make a delicious gravy.
Using stewing beef instead of ground meat adds delicious bulk to this otherwise classic chili. Serve as is or use it as a topping for baked potatoes.
Whether you're celebrating Easter, Passover or just the arrival of Spring, we've got ten gorgeous tablescape ideas to help inspire you.
This bright green and pink colour scheme sets a calming tone, perfect for an Easter brunch or garden party. The fresh floral napkin rings add a great personal touch and can be easily made using flowers from your garden. Check out the tutorial here.
Add bright flowers and gold accents to your spring tablescape decor to achieve this level of whimsical charm. You can find similar plates and cutlery over at Anthropologie.
If you're hosting an Easter brunch, use pastel colours to set a light and fresh mood. Get the kids involved with dyeing hard-boiled eggs in accent colours to use as decor.
Bust out your fine China and go all out with an all-pink ensemble for your tablescape theme. If an all-pink palette is too much for you, try toning it down with a muted table linen.
Use the Easter bunny as inspiration for your tablescape theme. Simple dinnerware is key and trading in your regular chargers for decorative bird nests makes for great table decorations and ties the theme together nicely. You can also make your own burlap bunny napkin rings.
Sometimes simpler is better. Use a real or faux foliage garland and white candles for a relaxed spring table decor mood.
Make your guests feel extra special by making Easter egg place cards. You can go for this speckled pastel teal look or try this pretty DIY.
Add candles and peach tulips to your Passover table setting for a peaceful and elegant experience. You can also pipe guests names in chocolate on matzos in lieu of traditional place cards to add a unique touch.
Pops of denim blue and copper offer a fresh and romantic take on spring table decorating.
Using a neutral colour palette, accented with silver metallics creates an elegant table setting for a Passover feast. Roses and ranunculus in blush pink and salmon pull the entire look together. You can make your table decorations extra special by customizing your own Haggadah. Check out how to make a DIY Haggadah cover.
The Perfect Dutch Baby Pancake Image by: James Tse
Tired of your usual breakfast routine? Check out our scrumptious breakfast menu and discover eight new recipes that will make you fall in love with breakfast all over again.
The warm, heady spices of pumpkin pie shine through in this crisp, golden granola. If you close your eyes, it's kind of like eating pie for breakfast!
Individual frittatas make a great grab-and-go breakfast. Reheat them in the microwave or, wrapped in foil, in the oven. To change it up during the week, sandwich a warmed frittata in a toasted English muffin.
There's just enough cornmeal in these fluffy golden pancakes to give them a lovely, toothsome bite without being heavy and dense. Enjoy them with your favourite topping.
Here's a simple flavour twist on a Canadian muffin favourite – blueberry lemon. These muffins will have you jumping out of bed all week long. The glazed muffins are best enjoyed within 24 hours.
This quick bread, chock-full of carrots, raisins, coconut, walnuts and banana, is great to have on the counter for a quick breakfast fix.
Oat flour has a mild, slightly sweet and nutty flavour that makes these pancakes a satisfying breakfast. Find oat flour in health food stores or make your own.
Kids will love these breakfast pockets; they might even love helping to make them. Pizza dough is stretchy and tacky, so be sure that your work surface and hands are well floured to make the rolling process easy. Serve with salsa, ketchup or hot sauce. For best results, reheat frozen pockets wrapped in foil in the oven or toaster oven.
You probably have all of the ingredients for these puffy pancakes in your fridge and pantry right now! And since they're both delicious and quite quick to make, they're an ideal last-minute brunch dish for any season.