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.
Pull out all the stops for Santa this year, starting with a batch of cookies that are ALMOST too good to share.
For a shift from standard royal icing, we've topped these sugar cookies with marzipan, a mixture of sugar and almond paste, which is easy to roll out and adds rich flavour.
Get the recipe: Marzipan Star Cookies
Drop cookies make a fuss-free base for these delightful sandwiches, as there's no rolling out or cutting required.
Get the recipe: Minty Swirl Sandwich Cookies
A crunchy chocolate topping adds a whole new level of deliciousness to the winning combo of chocolate and peanut butter.
Get the recipe: Peanut Butter and Chocolate Crunch Cookies
A creamy, sweet and nutty filling takes these cakey chocolate cookies to a whole new level.
Get the recipe: German Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
Slice-and-bake cookies are great for time-pressed cooks because there's no rolling or cutting out shapes—simply form the dough into a log, chill and slice.
Get the recipe: Chocolate Almond-Slice-and-Bake Cookies
Buttery shortbread gets a warm hug from spiced gingerbread dough in this mash-up of two favourite holiday cookies.
Get the recipe: Two-Tone Gingerbread and Shortbread Cookies
Store a log of this oatmeal raisin dough in your freezer so you can enjoy freshly baked cookies at a moment's notice.
Gooey marshmallows and melted dark chocolate give these soft thumbprint cookies the irresistible flavour of the classic campfire treat.
Get the recipe: S'mores Thumbprints
Sesame seeds add the perfect amount of savouriness to these otherwise sweet cookies.
Get the recipe: Apricot Sesame Thumbprints
A buttery coconut filling takes these chocolate cookies into extraordinary territory.
Get the recipe: Chocolate Almond Coconut Thumbprints
Stuffed with a creamy cookie-crumb filling, these soft chocolate cookies are a cocoa lover's dream.
Get the recipe: Cookies and Cream Sandwich Cookies
Get creative when painting the glaze onto the trees. Windswept cedars, bending pines and evergreen boughs dotted with tiny bobbles look wintry and festive.
Get the recipe: Painted Tree Cookies
No ugly sweater party is complete without these themed cookies!
Get the recipe: Ugly Sweater Cookies
These colourful wreaths may look intricate, but all you need is a piping bag with a small star tip to give them their realistic look.
Get the recipe: Festive Wreath Cookies
White sprinkles give these stockings a fluffy-trim effect.
Get the recipe: Stocking Cookies
Every bite of these easy-to-make cookies will melt in your mouth.
Get the recipe: Classic Whipped Shortbread
Two buttery chocolate chip cookie doughs—one with an extra hit of chocolate—are baked together to make these scrumptious cookies.
Get the recipe: Two-Tone Chocolate Chip Cookies
These soft and cakey molasses cookies are rolled in coarse turbinado sugar for a pleasant crunch and an extra hit of sweetness.
Get the recipe: Big Fat Molasses Cookies
These festive drop cookies are both chewy and crisp.
Get the recipe: White Chocolate Sprinkle Cookies
Christmas colours add holiday flair to these giant cookies.
Get the recipe: Festive Canvas Cookies
We've added a subtle blend of spices to basic shortbread for extra festive flavour.
Get the recipe: Spiced Ombre Snowflake Cookies
These chewy, mildly spiced cookies are covered in a pretty crunchy coating. They may appear soft when they come out of the oven, but they will firm up as they cool.
Get the recipe: Chewy Spiced Double-Chocolate Cookies
Think about some of your warmest memories—drinking wine and reminiscing with girlfriends, chatting with your mom while she whips up a batch of your favourite muffins, having a dinner date that leads to cocktails that leads to stargazing by the water because neither of you want the night to end—that’s hygge. It’s finding happiness in the every day, and all you need to be able to attain it is to know about it.
Some say the Danish word is pronounced “hooga” but according to Marie Tourell Søderberg, author of Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness, it’s like this: The “y” is similar to the French “y” sound—think “huge,” and the “gge” sounds like the first syllable in “girl.” But, it doesn’t really matter how you say "hygge"—you just need to get it. And to get it, you need to know where it comes from.
Hygge originates from a Norwegian word that means “well-being,” and in English, it means “coziness,” but it’s much more than that. Hygge is appreciating the little things in life. It’s “all the small things that make us feel safe, loved and satisfied,” says Søderberg. Hygge is doing things with warmth and joy, being present in the moment, and having a feeling of home—in other words, the Danish way of life.
Denmark is ranked as one of the happiest nations in the world, and hygge is likely an “ingredient in the Danish recipe for happiness,” says author Meik Wiking in his book, The Little Book of Hygge. Compared to other Europeans, Danes “meet most often with their friends and family and feel the calmest and most peaceful.” And that’s why there’s a growing interest in hygge.
Books on the subject are quickly filling up store shelves—a simple Indigo search will pull up more than five books on hygge, all of which have come out in the later half of 2016 (including Søderberg’s and Wiking’s) or will be coming out in the early months of 2017—just in time for winter, which is pretty much the reason why hygge exists.
In her book, Søderberg says, “It originated due to the need to create joy, warmth and togetherness in a country that boasts long, cold winters”—something Canadians can relate to. Hygge encourages you to embrace the cold months instead of waiting for the sun to shine again. But, anyone, anywhere, can enjoy the benefits of hygge any time of year, as it’s all about sharing moments with those you love, indulging in comfort foods, and taking in the sights and sounds around you.
Understanding hygge and having a name for it helps you recognize it and look for it in your day-to-day life. “Including it in our daily narratives and language makes us aware of the qualities of the word. Saying, ‘let’s hygge tonight,’ states a clear intention of what qualities we want our evening to have—presence, lovingness, relaxed, informal—all these qualities in one word,” says Søderberg.
Intimate candlelit dinner parties, mulled wine by a fire and ice skating under twinkling lights are classic hygge moments, but it can also be found when you're not expecting it. Hygge can happen in the least hyggelig (the adjective form of “hygge”) locations or in those in-between moments throughout your day—like when you're hiding from the rain under an awning with a friend, listening to a sax player as you wait for the next subway to arrive, or laughing with your sister over the phone.
Although hygge can happen anywhere, the most common place for it is at home, so it helps to make your living quarters feel warm, safe and welcoming—think candles, warm textiles and plenty of personal touches. In Søderberg’s book, she shares decorating advice from Nordic interior design expert Christina B. Kjeldsen: “The hygge comes when you feel that the person behind the surroundings is completely comfortable with his or her choices, but at the same time isn’t afraid of decorating intuitively and trying out new things and ideas…When you put thoughtfulness into how and why you have chosen to surround yourself with particular furniture, objects, art, flowers, knick-knacks, curtains—whatever—then you relax and your guests will see and know you for who you are.”
But, it’s important not to feel pressure to create a perfect space or occasion and force hygge. Decorate your space for you and not how you think it should be, and let moments unfold naturally—something that can be all too rare in this social media age. Søderberg warns, “The most hyggelig evening can look like a disaster in a picture, and opposite—the least hyggelig can look like a perfect evening.” But, if you have a true hyggling moment, it’ll be a “piece of art to capture the exact sense of an atmosphere in a photo.”
So, keep hygge on your mind. Make plans to hygge, be present in every moment, and soak up life's glories. And if you do, you’ll be gifted with the ability to, as Søderberg says, “[find] the magic in the ordinary.”
These small surprises will make the people on your list smile—no matter their personality—and won’t break your budget.
Enamel pins, $8 each, pennypaperco.com.
Snowball maker, $4, ebay.ca.
Terra Delyssa Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil Infused With Garlic, $5, terradelyssa.com.
Bite Beauty Amuse Bouche Lipstick Duos, $17 each, sephora.ca.
Nadège Thé Vert Grand Cru Chocolate, $10, nadege-patisserie.com.
Happy Holidays Squish Mix gummy candies, $8, squishcandies.com.
Philosophy Hands of Hope Ornament, $14, sephora.ca.
Mini lint rollers, $12, meetflint.com.